Employment Applications: What to Include and What to Avoid

Although resumes are a valuable addition to the hiring process, it is advised that employers still use employment applications because they can provide legal and practical advantages. Some companies even reject resumes and require all job candidates to complete the company’s application. 

Why an employment application?

The primary purpose of an employment application is to ask the right questions. Those are the questions that lead to the candidate that best fits your organization or has the greatest chance of success in the current open position; that means learning specifically what skills, training, experience, achievements and behaviors make that person the best candidate for the job.

The employment application is often the first contact a job seeker has with your organization. It is the beginning of the employment relationship. The information you request from a job applicant is different than the information you will request from hired employees.


It is best practice for a company to include certain disclaimers and authorizations in the application form. To avoid a wrongful discharge legal suit, include an “employment at will” statement, along with a place for applicants to sign off on their acknowledgement of this statement. 

There are no federal or state laws that require a company to include an equal employment opportunity statement on their employment application, however including this statement confirms for the applicant that the company adheres to these employment practices.


An application should always include a section for an applicant's signature to attest that he or she has read and understands certain policies and procedures of the employer that are spelled out on the employment application. These frequently include the fact that the employer is an at-will employer, that the employer is an equal opportunity non-discriminating employer, and any other facts that the employer wants the applicant to read and understand on the employment application.

What to avoid

The application should avoid questions that may reveal that an applicant is a member of a protected class. This includes questions about religion, age, race, disabilities, medical history, gender, marital status, and national origin, etc.  Although many equal opportunity laws do not directly prohibit employers from asking such questions on an application, these kinds of questions may be used as evidence of an employer’s intent to discriminate, unless the questions asked can be justified by some business purpose.

Background Checks

Information needed to conduct background checks should be obtained on a separate form authoring the employer to conduct a check.

Some common questions to avoid are:

  • Protected Characteristics: Federal and Ohio employers are prohibited from making hiring decisions based on characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, military status or any other characteristic protected by law. Although outside the definition of protected class of “sex” the EEOC now includes gender identity and sexual orientation within that classification. 
  • Date of Birth: If there is a state imposed minimum age for certain positions, it can be asked if the candidates meet the minimum age requirement , but avoid asking for date of birth. In addition to the date of birth, stay away from questions about specific graduation dates.  If educational background is important, ask for the name of the educational institution and the degree or credentials, but no dates.
  • Marital status: Discrimination based on marital status is prohibited in many states. Wait until an individual is hired to gather information on benefits and employment forms.
  • Emergency Contact: This information is only relevant once a candidate has been extended an offer of employment, and should not be requested on the initial job application. This type of inquiry may elicit information about familial status, marital status, a domestic partnership, or other associations unrelated to the applicants qualifications. 
  • Citizenship: Employers should not inquire on an application about an applicant's country of origin, but can ask if the applicant is authorized to work in the United States. 
  • Medical Information: Avoid asking questions related to a disability, amount of sick leave taken, or workers compensation history. Both FMLA and ADA prohibit discrimination and retaliation against applicants who have exercised those rights. An employer may inquire about these areas after it has offered the applicant employment if it makes the same inquiries of all applicants.
  • Criminal History:  Enforcement guidelines issued by the EEOC recommends that employers not ask about convictions on job applications. Federal law does not prohibit employers from asking about criminal history. But, federal EEO laws do prohibit employers from discriminating when they use criminal history information.

Using criminal history information to make employment decisions may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII). The fact that an individual was arrested is not proof that he/she engaged in criminal conduct. Therefore, an individual's arrest record standing alone may not be used by an employer to take a negative employment action.

Many states and cities are enforcing “Ban the Box” laws which prohibit employers from asking about or considering an applicant’s criminal background until the later stages of the application process, such as the first interview or after a conditional offer of employment has been made.

By using an application, an employer can avoid a number of potential problems in the hiring process and promote a selection process that is fair to everyone. 

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50 Sample Interviewing Questions for Employers

50 Sample Interview Questions for Employers examples of behavioral interview questions interviewing questions for employers

When conducting interviews, it's helpful to not only develop standard interview questions unique and specific to each position's requirements, but also to compile a bank of questions for critical competencies common to many jobs that you can choose from for your interviews.

Such competencies include a number of soft and analytical skills including critical thinking, judgment, decision-making, initiative, risk taking, creativity, diligence, resilience, communication, conflict management, time management, supervision, among others. Many of these are relevant to a number of jobs.

We've compiled a list of 50 common interview questions, mostly behavioral in nature, which you can use to interview your job candidates.

  1. Tell me about a time when you were creative in solving a problem.
  2. Give me an example of a time when you found an innovative or a new and better way of doing something on the job.
  3. Describe an idea that came to fruition because of your efforts. What was your role? What was the outcome?
  4. What is the biggest risk you've ever taken at work? What happened?
  5. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  6. Give me an example of a time when you used good judgment when solving a problem.
  7. Give me an example of a difficult decision you had to make at work in the last year.
  8. Give an example of a time when you had to make a decision or come to consensus in collaboration with others.
  9. Tell me about a time when you had to make an unpopular decision. What was the outcome?
  10. Describe a problem at work that you were unable to solve. Why couldn’t you solve it?
  11. Explain a situation in which you needed to successfully convince or influence someone to accept your viewpoint.
  12. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a coworker.
  13. Discuss a situation in which you had to work with a frustrating coworker and how you worked with them.
  14. Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult team member on a project or task.
  15. Describe a negotiation you were involved with. What did you do and what were the results for you and the other party?
  16. Explain a time when you had to motivate others to achieve certain results. What did you do?
  17. Give me an example of a time when you had to change your behavior or work style to effectively work with others.
  18. Describe a situation when you had to change your style or actions to respond to someone else's needs.
  19. Tell me about a crisis that you had to handle at work. How did you respond to the crisis?
  20. Describe a time when you had to communicate sensitive information to others. How did you communicate this information?
  21. Explain a time when you had to adjust to a change over which you did not have control.
  22. Discuss a time when you encountered a difficult obstacle that you had to overcome on the job. What steps did you take? What was the result?
  23. Tell me about a project that did not go as planned.
  24. Tell me about a work-related decision you made or a situation you handled where, if you could do it again, would do something different.
  25. Tell me about a time when you felt like giving up on a certain job or task.
  26. Describe a time when you encountered a stressful situation at work.
  27. Give me an example of when you made an unusually positive impression on a customer.
  28. Describe a time when you had to deal with an upset customer.
  29. Tell me about a specific project or task that you were involved with that resulted in improving something in your department and/or organization.
  30. Tell me about a time when you had to analyze information, identify issues, and develop a plan to solve a business problem.
  31. Describe a time when you had to present a plan or proposal to an authority figure and did it successfully.
  32. Tell me about a time when you compiled and/or wrote a report that was well-received. What attributes of the report led to the positive outcome?
  33. Give an example of a time when you had to analyze information and make a recommendation. How did you go about this? What were the results?
  34. Explain a time when you needed to step into a situation, create support, and achieve results.
  35. Tell me about task you did at work in which you had no experience. How did you address your inexperience?
  36. Describe a situation where you had to learn something new. What steps did you take?
  37. Describe how you have developed others in the past.
  38. Explain a time when you had to instruct or train someone on how to do a task. How did you go about this?
  39. Explain a situation when someone asked you for help outside of your job.
  40. Describe a situation when you had to coordinate or manage a project. What steps did you take to ensure that the project met its goals?
  41. Describe a task that you had to accomplish without any direction.
  42. Tell me about a time when you delegated a project or task effectively.
  43. Give me an example of a goal you set that you reached successfully.
  44. Tell me about a time when you exceeded your manager’s expectations.
  45. Give me an example of a time when you had to go above and beyond your usual duties to accomplish a task.
  46. Describe a time when you had to balance multiple conflicting priorities and did so effectively.
  47. Provide an example of a situation when you prioritized elements of a large project or initiative.
  48. Tell me about a time when you faced an unreasonable deadline and how you handled it.
  49. What work accomplishment are you most proud of?
  50. If I was to contact your previous manager, what would they say about you?

These sample interview questions can help you identify how a candidate would act in real life work situations based on how they have acted in the past on many general competencies. But be sure to supplement these with questions that evaluate specific competencies you are looking for and the essential skills you would like your ideal candidate to have. 

Behavioral Interviewing Training

Behavioral Interviewing Training

Participants will learn the importance of proper preparation for an behavioral interview.

Train Your Employees

Hiring & Selection Practices Survey Results

This report summarizes the results of ERC’s survey of 117 organizations in Northeast Ohio, conducted in February of 2011, on practices related to hiring and selection.

The survey reports trends in:

  • General selection methods
  • Reference, background, and credit checks
  • Drug tests
  • Employment tests
  • Pre-screening interviews
  • Hiring decisions
  • Sign-on and employee referral bonuses
  • Introductory periods
  • Hiring metrics
  • Hiring projections


11-Hiring-Selection-Practices-Survey.pdf (174.54 kb)

Interviewing Tips: What to Say and Ask (PDF)

When conducting an interview, employers and their hiring managers need to keep in mind what to say and what not to say and ask in an interview to stay legal, attract great talent, and make good hiring decisions.

We've compiled a list of What to Say, What and What Not to Ask, How to Ask and How to Close. Click below to download the PDF:

Download: Interviewing Tips: What to Say and Ask (PDF)

Additional Resources

Interviewing Skills Training

To learn more about interviewing, including legal issues, effective questions, planning and evaluation strategies, and actual practice in preparing and delivering interviews, consider attending ERC’s upcoming workshop on “Interviewing Skills for Managers & Supervisors.” For more information or to register, please click here. Or, for interviewing training delivered on-site and customized to your organization’s needs, please contact ckutsko@yourerc.com.


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