Do Organizations Ask What They Shouldn’t Ask in Job Applications?

Topic: Fairness, Recruiting
Publication: International Journal of Selection and Assessment (DEC 2010)
Article: Science-practice gap in e-recruitment
Authors: A.L. Garcia-Izquierdo, H. Aguinis, and P.J. Ramos-Villagrasa
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

The gap between the science of HR and its practice in actual organizations is well known.  Sometimes, the practice of HR outpaces the research (e.g., organizations implement systems that are “hot” in the popular press, but not well understood or under researched), while in other cases, the practice of HR lags well behind the research…and sometimes even the law!

In a recent study, Garcia-Izquierdo et al. (2010) analyzed online job applications of over 60 publicly traded organizations – first in Spain in 2005, and again in 2009.  According to the authors, Spain provides a natural setting to study the science-practice gap in IO psychology because employment legislation regarding Equal Employment Opportunity is still ongoing (unlike in the U.S.).  Specifically, these dates were chosen due to recent legislation changes in 2007 (e.g., an Act prohibiting sex-based discrimination).  

Common information that was required of job applicants included age or date of birth, nationality, gender, marital status and place of birth.  About 20% of companies in 2005 even asked job applicants for personal photographs (this increased to 25% in 2009).  Overall, the percentages of companies asking applicants for such information did not change significantly from 2005 to 2009. 

What’s alarming is that the frequency with which information that can be used for unfair/unlawful discrimination did not change from 2005 to 2009 despite the recent EEO legislation changes in 2007.

While these results do not necessarily suggest that these companies use this information illegally, it does suggest that organizations gather a lot of information about applicants that can potentially lead to unfair/unlawful discrimination.  Even if an organization’s purposes for collecting such information are legitimate (e.g., adverse impact reporting, assessing diversity-related hiring goals), asking candidates to report information that is sensitive or could potentially be used for unfair/illegal discrimination can open the door to litigation.  In other words, if applicants feel that organizations are being overly intrusive, negative applicant reactions and increased litigation may result.

As the authors note, this issue highlights the gap between science and practice in e-recruitment.  But, this study should also serve as a wake-up call to organizations that currently require job applicants to provide information that can be used for unfair/unlawful discrimination.  In addition to considering applicant reactions to their online recruitment sites and applications, organizations should carefully consider what they’re asking candidates to divulge about themselves and for what purpose(s).  For example, organizations may ask: Can this information be used to illegally discriminate against candidates? Is this information necessary for any legitimate business purpose?  How are job applicants likely to react to these questions?

Garcia-Izquierdo, A.L., Aguinis, H., & Ramos-Villagrasa, P.J. (2010). Science-practice gap in e-recruitment. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 18(4), 432-438.