Best practices for designing a bias-free job application blank

Newturn Wikirefu / Posted On: 9 July 2021 / Updated On: 28 September 2022 / Recruitment and Selection / 598

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Best practices  for designing a bias-free  job application blank



A Blank Application Form is intended to get a written record of candidates' details;  educational details, employment history, marital status,  physical data, extra-curriculum activities, and references. Improper selection can have far-reaching repercussions for any organization and hence the need to develop weighted application banks. Application Banks provides one systematic method for determining which personal factors are essential in specific occupations and how to use them in selection. These more or less standardized forms appear as Biographical Information Blanks (BIB), Biographical Data Forms, Application blanks, Interview Guides, and Individual Background Surveys. According to research evidence, the standard application blank has a high degree of face validity for employees and employers. Research summaries indicate reliability coefficients ranging from .87 to .97 for application blanks. This calls for a need to develop and implement application blank best practice guidelines to eliminate application blanks not recognized as best practices. Best practices are recommendations that may evolve based on ongoing key expert experience, judgment, perspective, and continued research (Health Canada, 2008).

 

Guion (1965) extended the use of the Weighted Application Blank as an empirical keying method for scoring and combining biographical data' (Anastasi, 1979). Research on pre-screening activities and evaluating candidates for employment has focused on biodata and its stability and validity as a good criterion predictor of future candidate performance. The use of biodata items, whether standardized on instruments or more loosely gathered on application blanks, "has both intuitive and intrinsic validity probably based on the fact that it speaks directly to a central measurement axiom; namely, that what a man will do in the future is best predicted from what he has done in the past" (Owens, 1976).


According to Hough (1984),  three general ideas support the use of data related to the assessment of past accomplishments and performance records of individuals as secured in application blanks:

  • past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour
  • biodata are samples of past behaviour and are the best indicators of future behaviours

 

In line with the argument above,   Neiner and Owens (1982) reported in their investigations of the utility of biodata that, "The results support past behaviour as being a good predictor of future behaviour'. Although the findings are modest, they suggest that relevant biodata on individuals may reveal unique patterns of experience that are significantly related to future behaviour. In this light, biodata may indeed be regarded as providing a postmortem view of the development of an individual.

 

Generally, standardized application blanks solicit biographic data on a candidate's background and related experiences. As a selection tool, the application blank is efficient, robust. In addition, the standard application blank has a high degree of face validity for employees and employers.

 

Best practices are recommendations that may evolve based on ongoing key expert experience, judgment, perspective, and continued research (Health Canada, 2008). They are also known as systematically developed statements of recommended practice in a specific area and are based on best evidence, and are designed to provide direction to human resources practitioners and business practitioners. Despite the dire consequences of inadvisable items, there is still a substantial number of inadvisable questions being asked by recruiters. This is an obvious cause for concern since the use of such information in a discriminatory fashion could potentially lead to adverse consequences for the applicant (e.g., feelings of injustice; adverse impact) and the employer (e.g., discrimination charges). Human Resources practitioners should know what inadvisable items on application blanks are. If HR professionals are not knowledgeable about the possible detrimental effect of including problematic questions on application forms, they are likely to perpetuate such questions. However, it should be noted that state laws vary regarding which types of blank application items are considered to be unlawful or inadvisable.

 

Ivanovich and Lowe' reviewed 85 retail applications and found an average of 7.4 problematic items. Similarly, Burrington examined 50 general state employment applications and found an average of 7.7 inadvisable items. More recently, Wallace, Tye, and Vodanovich'" discovered an average of 4.2 inadvisable items using a sample of 42 Internet-based state government applications.

 

The prevalence of inadvisable items commonly found on application blanks

The prevalence of inadvisable items commonly found on application blanks

These findings indicate that practitioners include a host of inadvisable items on application forms despite research identifying the problems with such a practice. Recently, Rynes, Colbert, and Brown' stated that "it is a well-known fact that organizations often fail to adopt practices that research has shown to be effective". For example, an item inquiring about graduation date could be used to discriminate against someone who graduated earlier based on the age estimation that could be derived from such a response.

 

Measures that can be taken to correct inadvisable items

 

Avoid Asking Irrelevant Pre-Screening Questions that are not related to job performance

 

When developing sample interview questions, recruiters should avoid asking sample interview questions about age, colour, national origin, race, religion, gender, or veteran status as they will amount to discrimination. They are certain questions that need to be avoided, for example:

 

The prevalence of inadvisable items commonly found on application blanks

 

Avoid asking questions about the previous salary

Similarly, inquiries about past salary, although not technically illegal, could be used to "perpetuate the existence of lower salaries for women and other minorities by basing the starting salary on the prior earnings, thereby offering less pay to these protected groups. Avoid asking questions about personal web pages and personal email addresses.

 

A unique and potentially problematic issue that emerged from the current investigation is the common use of items inquiring about personal web pages and personal email addresses. For example, pictures on a person's web page could be used to gain information about age, race, gender, and national origin. This information could possibly lead to discrimination against the applicant for information found on web pages or 'screen names' commonly used on email addresses. We recommend that employers be cautious in the use of such information if it is available. Perhaps it is advisable for companies to actively discourage job applicants from including their web page addresses in their application materials until a more thorough examination of the impact of this information on applicants has been conducted. However, companies should be advised to request email addresses that do not convey personal information (e.g., gender, ethnicity, employment status).

 

Do not ask for information about Social Security Number

Employers should avoid asking questions about Social Security Number on an employment application form because the application is often viewed by individuals who do not need to know this information and raises identity theft issues and general privacy concerns.

 

Our results indicate that companies frequently request email addresses on application blanks, which in and of itself is not problematic. However, companies should be advised to request email addresses that do not convey personal information (e.g., gender, ethnicity, employment status).

 

Several ways to correct inadvisable items, such as simply re-wording certain items. For example, a question about past salary could be rephrased, such as, "Will you accept the salary for the position you are applying". '

 

The collection of this information (e.g., race, gender, national origin) is sometimes needed to comply with specific regulations, but it should be voluntary and separated from the actual application form so that those involved in the hiring process do not have access to such data.

 

Application blank developers should ask themselves if the answer to a particular question used in hiring practices could adversely impact members of a protected group. Additionally, the EEOC suggests that an item should only be included if the item is relevant to the particular job. Miller recommends that blank application developers consider each item for any conflict with federal or state statutes. This is particularly important as each state has its policy regarding the appropriateness of blank application items. Miller also recommends that each item should be examined for the possible invasion of personal privacy. Also, we caution employers and application blank developers in using new technologies such as web pages to gain information about applicants that could pose legal problems.

 

Given this result, one effective approach to reducing such questions may lie in efforts to increase public awareness of the potentially detrimental effects of various application blank questions by organizations. Over and above that, all the items on an application blank should be checked to see if they are in any way indicative of future successful job performance.

 

Conclusion

Based on the above analysis organizations need to devote more attention to the training of HR employees regarding the potential detrimental impact of blank application content to close the knowledge gap between research findings and practice. Over and above that, all the items on an application blank should be checked to see if they are in any way indicative of future successful job performance.

 

Newturn Wikirefu is the Talent Acquisition Manager at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.

Phone +263 4 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number +0784 597343 or email: [email protected] or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com 


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