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How to handle incomplete information on an application

Q: I am a new supervisor. I recently began the hiring process for a position which now reports to me. I have a question that I am embarrassed to ask anyone here. Several candidates have completed our company’s employment application in a very sparse way, answering some but not all of the questions. They often will write “see resume” or “see attached” particularly in the sections which ask about the candidate’s employment history. I am not sure if this is acceptable. Candidates often attach a resume to the application form. Do you have an opinion about this?

A: Great question. Let’s start off by discussing the purpose of an employment application. The purpose of an employment application is to collect and document job-related information about a candidate. If used, an employment application should be given consistently to all candidates for a specific position.

Resumes are usually developed by a candidate. The main purpose of a resume is to showcase a candidate's background and skills in the most positive light. There is no requirement to include all positions held or even accurate information. Some candidates will omit negative information, like a position from which they were terminated.

Most companies that use an employment application are looking for detailed and consistent information about a candidate. Often an employment application form will include “fine print” on the bottom or top of the form. The “fine print” discusses that the information provided should be truthful and complete. It may even explain that a candidate could be terminated if the information provided is not complete or truthful, regardless of when this misinformation is discovered.

Your instincts are on target. You should require all candidates to complete the employment application form. A resume may contain inaccurate or incomplete information. When a candidate signs an employment application, the candidate is agreeing that this form contains truthful and accurate information.

I would suggest explaining to candidates, in advance, that you require all candidates to complete the employment application fully. You can encourage candidates to submit a resume also but be clear that the completed employment application is required. I have even had to say “please don’t enter explanations like ‘see resume’ on the employment application form.”

Good luck in your new position!

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