Big Brother and the Hiring Process (Kelly)

By Barbara Kelly
Guest Commentary Denver Post.
Reprinted with permission of the author

Sunday, May 26, 2002 - Perhaps, as the unemployment rate continues upward, it might be appropriate to focus on subjects less lofty than the economy or the administration's policy toward it. Let's instead examine job applications and the human-relations people who review them.

Looked for a job lately? If you have, you know that just to apply you must reveal:

Your social security number.

Your complete educational background, regardless of relevance to the position, as well as the location of each school.

Your complete work history, whether relevant to the position or not.

The name of your supervisor at each previous job, his or her phone number, and whether its OK to contact him or her.

Your starting and ending salaries.

Why you left.

Whether you've ever been fired (applications don't ask whether you've ever been promoted).

Any previous applications you've made to the company.

The latest wrinkle is to ask applicants to sign releases allowing hiring institutions to access credit histories, medical records and any other private document the companies want to look at.

Maybe I was fired because I didn't go along with a company's unethical treatment of its customers or employees. Maybe I was promoted because I slept with the boss - or maybe I was fired because I didn't. Why is it any of a potential employer's business?

Likewise, why would I keep track of previous applications to a company if I didn't get a job? Do employers really want people who are so anal that they keep records of positions for which they were not hired?

Remember, please: All of the above information is required just to get in the door. A standardized one-page initial application form that asks for contact information and qualifications for a particular position isn't used. Instead, an applicant painstakingly fills in the same blanks at every company to which he or she applies, even if all that information is duplicated on a resume.

What does being willing to replicate all that effort say about both the applicant and the application reader? And what does being willing to put up with intrusive questions in the employment process say to employers about intrusive treatment after a person is hired? Are applicants so desperate for jobs that they are willing to turn over intimate (or what should be intimate) details of their lives to prospective employers - before they are even interviewed?

Suppose a screener tosses an application. Who knows who's going through the trash?

Whoever finds it is has access to an applicants name, phone number, address and social security number. In many cases, she/he/they will also have access to the applicant's mother's maiden name. And remember, were not talking here about information an applicant has supplied when being seriously considered for a position. This is information to be viewed by a screener who decides whether an application is round-filed or passed on.

What qualifications do screeners have to possess such sensitive information? We'll never know. Rejections are usually anonymous; application forms seldom bear the signatures of their creators. Imagine if the women in human resources departments (have you ever seen a man?) had to be personally accountable - both for the applications they distribute and their outcomes.

I have to wonder: Did Kenneth Lay have to fill out an employment application? Harvey Pitt? Dick Cheney? Has anybody at the executive level had to do so? Or is it only worker bees who have to put up with the indignity of being asked questions that are no business of businesses?

Broomfield resident Barbara Kelly, M.S. reports on business topics for several Colorado newspapers.