Why your initial application process should NOT ask applicants for numerous documents

Posted by Tegan Kavanagh | March - 19 - 2021 | 0 Comment
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When preparing your job advertisement and application process, it may seem intuitive to ensure it is as comprehensive as possible in order to avoid time-wasters and select the most suitable candidates for the role. However, an application process that is too comprehensive may actually do more harm than good.

If your initial application process is asking applicants for their whole life story straight off the bat, not only do you risk scaring off high quality applicants, but you could also unintentionally put your business at risk of breaching anti-discrimination and/or privacy laws.

Keep reading to find out why asking applicants for numerous documents in the initial application process can have adverse consequences for your recruitment team and business as a whole.

1. Applicants do not want to spend too long in the application process

Simply put, applicants know that their time is valuable. The internet provides ample amounts of employment opportunities, so if one application process is deemed “too difficult”, applicants will simply abandon the process in search for a more succinct and user-friendly application.

This creates a catch 22 for hiring managers. On the one hand, hiring managers need to be asking certain questions to ensure they are shortlisting and ultimately hiring those who actually meet the criteria for the role.

However, on the other hand, job boards are increasingly subscribing to the “convenience culture” that has been established over the years. If you don’t want to cook dinner, use an app where a stranger will go to your favourite restaurant, pick up your food and deliver it to your door.

If applicants don’t want to take the time to customise each of their applications, job boards are providing a platform where they can upload their generic information and resumes to multiple job vacancies within a matter of seconds. This, of course, sounds fabulous for the applicants but is a nightmare in disguise for the employer.

As such, hiring managers are finding an increasing need for systems to be in place to help manage this influx of generic applications that do not tap into an applicant’s true motivations for applying for the role, and help point them in the right direction towards which applicants they should be focusing on.

The perfect application form is a balancing act between not being too long that applicants are scared away, but not being too short that the submitted applications hold no informative data. Motivated applicants are willing to take the time on an application process within reason.

Employers need applications that can at least gauge an applicant’s commitment to the process so that they may also learn more about the role, duties, company and culture.

Expr3ss! provides a quick way to do this (only 10 minutes to apply!). If an applicant won’t take 10 minutes to apply… would you really want to hire them? What is their commitment going to be like when they start working in the role?

2. Legal implications surrounding discrimination

Here in Australia we are extremely lucky to house some of the most inclusive and extensive employment laws that protect both organisations and employees (current and potential). These laws exist to provide all individuals with equal employment opportunities and protections, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

However, despite these positive steps, we are all still human and unfortunately, humans will always be prone to bias, albeit oftentimes unconsciously.

Psychologically, the human mind is hardwired to make shortcuts in everyday life through the use of patterns and stereotypes. As such, anything that differs from our internal representations are harder for our minds to accommodate and therefore take longer to process.

This is how bias occurs, and when this bias is unconscious it can be hard to avoid (how can we fix what we are not aware of?). However, steps can be put in place to remove the opportunity for bias – unconscious or not – to occur in the first place.

This is why it is so important to only be asking applicants for information that specifically relates to their ability to successfully perform the role in the preliminary application stage. Our employment laws dictate that if certain individuals are less likely to be considered for recruitment, the employer must be able to demonstrate that their hiring process is not discriminatory.

Asking applicants to provide additional background documentation in the first round of the recruitment process opens up the opportunity for applicants to make an adverse action claim against the employer on the basis of discrimination.

Of course, employers have their own legal guidelines to follow when hiring new staff, such as not hiring someone who is not legally qualified to work in the country.

However, a simple question such as “do you have the legal right to work in Australia?” will suffice at this stage of the recruitment process. Leave the formal visa checks for the shortlisted candidates. This will save time for both yourself and the applicant.

The Australian Human Rights Commission have developed a checklist on how to prevent discriminatory recruitment practices. Some of their points include:

  • Broaden your talent search as wide as possible to create a diverse talent pool
  • Treat all applicants consistently and fairly
  • Do not ask for irrelevant personal information in your applications
  • Focus on the essential requirements of the role
  • Set aside personal bias and stereotypes
  • Record all decisions

As such, it is best to ask applicants for personal documentation during the onboarding stage when such information is required by the employer. Doing so will cover your bases in avoiding adverse action, as it will act as proof that this documentation did not influence your hiring decision (as they will have already been hired!).

Something as simple as requesting a copy of a Driver’s Licence in the application process can be used to discriminate against (whether it be intentional (conscious) or unintentional (unconscious) bias!).

Of course, certain roles have exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation. However, this is purely when it is relevant to the individual’s ability to perform the role. For example, some roles require that applicants have a criminal or financial history check prior to being offered the position.

In these instances it is still best to leave these checks until the shortlisting phase of the process. Asking all applicants to pay for a Police Clearance check even though they may not be so much as shortlisted is a waste of time and money for them, and provides unnecessary documentation for you!

3. Legal implications surrounding privacy of personal information

Whilst discrimination issues are arguably the main concern for hiring managers when it comes to excessive documentation in the application process, issues surrounding the privacy of an applicant’s personal information can also arise.

In Australia, certain businesses have responsibilities under the Privacy Act 1988 when it comes to how an individual’s information is handled. Businesses who have responsibilities under this act include Australian Government agencies, organisations with an annual turnover more than $3 million and certain small businesses.

The Privacy Act 1988 includes responsibilities around how an individual’s personal information is gathered, stored, accessed and destroyed once no longer required. Of particular interest here are the guidelines surrounding the destruction of personal information once no longer required by the business.

If you are asking applicants for excessive identifying data, you also have the duty to take reasonable steps to destroy or de-identify this information once it is no longer necessary to store within your records.

Therefore, it is best to limit the amount of information that you gather on all of your applicants. Not only is it unnecessary to store certain sensitive personal information about each and every one of your applicants (remember – the initial application phase is to purely assess a candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities related to the role), it also creates unnecessary risk when it comes to the proper storage and destruction of personal information.

Whilst your business may not be legally required to follow the Privacy Act 1988, it is still best practice to follow these guidelines, as they are sensible in mitigating any risks involved in the use of personal data. Not only are there legal implications involved in asking for too much sensitive information in the first round of recruitment, this also discourages applicants in applying.

Although you know that your retrieval and storage methods of personal data is completely safe and secure, your applicants do not know what you know, and therefore may not hold the same level of trust in your systems.

With cyber security threats and identity theft being a major concern for individuals in this day and age, applicants may feel uncomfortable in providing this information straight away, having not had any prior communication from your recruitment team in relation to their application within your company.

Overall, as a rule of thumb, your initial application process should only be used to assess a candidate’s overall fit to the advertised role. This means that your initial application form should realistically only be tapping in to your applicant’s knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics (such as culture fit or their motivations for applying) relevant to the role.

Leave the legal documentation to either the shortlisting phase (e.g. if a Visa Check or Police Check is required prior to being hired) or to the onboarding phase when certain personal information is required for their employee file.

This avoids any issues surrounding anti-discrimination or concerns about privacy breaches, and allows you to build a large and diverse applicant pool, whilst also streamlining the initial application for both you and the applicants. Win win!