ComplianceJanuary 29, 2021

Preparing to screen job applicants

When you are trying to fill a position, you're likely to have several applicants for that position. Your next step will be to screen your job applicants which means that you should first determine who is an applicant and then acknowledge those applicants. You will have to determine by what means you're going to obtain the information you need from your applicants to fill your open position with the best candidate for the job.

You're hiring help for your business and assuming you have effectively publicized the opening, responses in the form that you have requested will now start to arrive. So what's the next step in the hiring process? Do you simply shift through the paper or virtual stack of resumes or filled-in applications?

Actually, there is a clear-cut process to follow once responses to your job opening are coming in:

  • Determine if the person is indeed an applicant. This is particularly important if you are covered by federal and perhaps state anti-discrimination laws for employers.
  • Decide on the type of information that you are going to require from applicants and how you are going to get it. Do you have an application you want them to fill out or are you going to rely on resumes? Which other types of application materials could you ask for? Will you need to test your applicants?
  • Decide how to respond to applicants. It's always a good practice to acknowledge everyone who applies for your job, even if you decide that they aren't suited for it.

Determining who is an applicant

If you're not receiving a lot of resumes, calls, and letters, you don't need to worry too much about setting up a formal policy for deciding who is an official job applicant and who isn't. In the smallest businesses, anyone who expresses an interest, orally or in writing, can be considered an applicant.

However, if you have 15 or more employees, federal anti-discrimination laws and rules under the the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) require that you keep records of all applicants for one year to ensure that you aren't excluding people in protected groups (groups by race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, age (over 40), disability, or veteran status). Therefore, it becomes important to decide exactly what a person must do in order to be considered an applicant. Your state may have similar laws regarding applicants which apply to businesses with even one employee.

Technically defined, applicants are those persons who have indicated an interest in being considered for hiring, promotion, or other employment opportunities. Applicants need not necessarily include those who submit unsolicited resumes if you have a policy not to accept them.

The best way to facilitate your applicant process is to set up an uncomplicated intake system for responses you receive in regards to filling your open position.

It's up to you to design your application or resume intake system. When doing so, you'll want to weigh the following considerations:

  • Once you determine that someone is an applicant, you cannot discriminate against that applicant if he or she is in a protected group.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires you to keep recruiting records, including applications, for one year.
  • Vague or confusing procedures are more likely to be challenged.
  • In order for someone to be considered an applicant, you must know that the person was seeking that job. If your business has an informal application procedure, it may be easier for the applicant to show that you were, or should have been, aware of his or her interest.
  • Since applications remain "active" for a reasonable period of time (unless the employer otherwise states), it can be argued that an applicant has expressed an interest in any similar vacancy that occurs within that reasonable period of time.
  • Your response indicating an awareness of the applicant's continued interest may also require you to consider that applicant for a vacancy even if the application is no longer formally "active." You may want to state on your application form that the applications will be retained on file for a specific period, such as six months or a year.
  • A person can still be considered an applicant even where no application was made if that person can show that he or she would have applied but was discouraged from doing so by the employer.

Methods to obtain the information you need from applicants

The two most common ways to get information from job applicants are through applications and resumes. Each has pros and cons:

  • Applications are chosen or designed by you. These may limit the applicants in telling you all that they want to tell you. To have one that is truly customized to your needs, you have to design it yourself. If you have only a few applicants for one job every two or three years, that can be a lot of trouble. On the other hand, applications make sure that you get all of the information that you need and allow you to tell the applicants some things about your company.
  • Resumes are completely applicant-driven. The applicants give you the information that they want you to have, and that's all. The advantage is that you don't have to do anything in order to get them except ask for them. No time is spent designing them, no money is spent printing them, and there are no legal headaches about the fairness of questions.

Testing applicants is another method of getting information from them. A few industries and jobs require certain testing, but most are at your discretion. Generally, what you need in an employee will determine what, if any, testing you want to do. Refer to your job description if you have one, and see if any of the requirements necessitate testing.

Other types of materials might be requested, depending on the type of position you are trying to fill.

Acknowledging job applicants

It's a good practice to acknowledge everyone who applies for a job with your business. Why? It maintains good will and saves you from getting lots of inquiries from applicants who want to know if you received their application or resume.

If you don't get a lot of inquiries, the cost (in time and dollars) of acknowledging applicants generally won't be so prohibitive that you can't afford to do it.

What if you are inundated with inquiries? In that case, you'll have to make the call as to whether the good will you may receive from sending out acknowledgments is worth it.


Nikki Nelson
Customer Service Manager
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