I hear from clients regularly who in the process of their job search must fill out online applications to be considered for work within a given organization. The internet has made the process of looking for a job a bit easier as everything can be and is done via computer. However, many companies refuse the unsolicited resume’ and when you send them one, they are totally unprepared: It’s like they don’t know what to do with it or how to respond. They are clueless because it doesn’t fit into a form or a box.
Maybe it’s not the Human Resources professional’s fault but someone took pleasure in creating a form, rules, boxes for personal information, references and social security numbers. The applicant is required to provide all of this information and send it along mindlessly to someplace in an organization. It’s the hope that the information will be respected and protected. How smart is it to comply with these requirements? How can we be assured that the Human Resources professional is good at his or her job, is attentive enough to go through the resumes’ they receive, and consider the information with enough care or interest?
I realize that there’s probably no changing the status quo of the impersonal nature with which employers are able to treat people, but maybe there’s a better way…some middle ground so to speak. I would never put my social security number on an application online to other than a well-respected financial institution to which I am affiliated. And why would I want to disclose my references on an impersonal application on a computer? Whatever happened to ‘references available upon request’? Who would submit to a background investigation unless there is sufficient interest in the particular candidate? Yet applicants are asked and expected to provide this personal information to complete strangers, regardless if they are interviewed and are a serious contender for employment. That is TMI (too much information).
Why do we agree to provide this information to people we don’t know? Fortunately not all organizations have resorted to such anonymous tactics and will actually respond and talk to potential applicants who choose to take initiative and approach the decision makers, regardless of what the application wants you provide. But not everyone has a choice and not all companies provide that person-friendly option. One of the reasons companies request this confidential information is to perform automated screenings for those times when they receive hundreds or thousands of applicants for a limited number of positions, which is common when applying on job boards.
It appears somewhat inhuman, but we call it Human Resources and the applicants are now called ‘talent’ as if that means they appreciate those who may want to work for them. I think companies need to rethink their policies and the love of forms designed to garner information prematurely. Aren’t they taking things a bit too far? The Wharton School of Business and the Wall Street Journal seem to think so and issue cautions. (Is Your HR Department Friend or Foe? Depends on Who’s Asking: www.knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1253 and Data Privacy is Key Concern In Online Job Applications www.online.wsj.com/article/SB1119189472129153041.html).
I have to wonder why psychologists have resisted discussing the implications of companies having all of the control in this situation. Who knows how many background and credit checks are run technically without one’s knowledge but with implicit consent. It’s very disempowering for a potential candidate to submit to this one-sided power. What can potential candidates do to take some of their power back? Psychology is playing an increasing role in organization’s behavior but has not dealt with this issue effectively, and should.
What is the solution? According to Stuart Meyers, Ed.D, MBA, and Executive Search Consultant in the Washington, D.C. area, “We are very careful about the information we request and clients know if and when we will run checks via a signed consent form separate from the initial application and resume’. The best way to handle situations like this is to contact the company and always speak to a human being. Tell them your concerns and that you prefer to supply personal information at a later date, providing there is interest from both parties.”
There is no guarantee that this will solve the problem of supplying too much information if someone is really interested in working for a certain organization, but perhaps if enough people express concerns, organizations may begin to think about the excessive information requirements they ask for up front. According to The World Privacy Forum and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, they have received “credible complaints from consumers who had their identities stolen after using the services of online job search sites.”