Job Application Controversies

Think Employers Should Ask for Extensive Personal Info on a Job App?

••• Employers Request More Information Than Job Searchers Want to Provide. Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

Controversial with job searchers are certain requests that employers make in job postings. These requirements leave job searchers in a quandary. They know that if they don't comply with the requests that they may never get invited to a job interview.

Controversy swirls around employers requiring the social security number in a job application, salary requirements at job application, and salary history or proof of salary at any point in the application and interview process.

The employer has every right to ignore their application if they didn't follow the instructions in the job posting. For an application’s validity, the job searcher must fulfill all requests listed by the employer.

In fact, to complicate the situation further, many online application processes won't save and enter a job searcher's application unless all relevant spaces are filled. Few provide a way for the online applicant to reach Human Resources staff to discuss providing certain information when, and if, the applicant becomes a viable candidate for the job.

Social Security Numbers on Job Applications

Most controversial is the practice of employers asking for social security numbers from every applicant whether the individual will receive further consideration or not. While I understand why employers do this, I don't advise it as good practice.

Just as I don’t recommend that employers ask for this information from every candidate, even though it’s legal to do so, I don’t recommend that candidates provide this information on a job application.

With all of the new laws about guarding employee and applicant information security, no client with whom I work asks for this information until the person is hired. No one wants to be responsible for guarding this information for the year that it would be accessible in a file.

Is Collecting Social Security Numbers Legal?

According to Alison Doyle, the practice is legal: “Employers are permitted to ask applicants for their social security numbers in all states.

Several states including New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts require employers to put safeguards like encryption in place to protect the privacy of job seekers.”

Keep in mind, though, that on many job applications, the applicant is signing to provide permission to the employer to check references, do background checks, allow criminal record checks, and affirm that everything you have provided on the application is the truth.

If the applicant did not supply the social security number on the application and the employer wants to make a job offer, he or she will likely have to make another trip to the company to fill it in.

Employers have informed me that having this number up front allows them to streamline their hiring processes. But speaking from the long-term experience of listening to the readers of this website, some of the best candidates are refusing to supply their SSN. Some will not fill out an application that does not give them the option of refusing on the assumption that they won’t receive consideration.

Salary History, Salary Requirements, and Current Salary Proof

Not as controversial as required social security numbers, but still controversial, both salary history and salary requirements requests from employers also disturb job searchers.

Job searchers regard the request for salary history as an infringement of their privacy.

They also believe that by giving a potential employer that information, they have also given the employer the upper hand in any subsequent salary negotiation. This makes sense when you consider the opposing interests of the two in a salary negotiation.

While not as strongly an invasion of privacy as the request for salary history, the provision of salary requirements is also viewed as giving the employer the upper hand in a salary negotiation. Most candidates are looking for the largest salary increase possible when changing jobs. In fact, making more money may be the reason they are changing jobs.

Requiring proof of current salary is invasive and problematic for many job searchers and has generated many questions at this website.

Readers often question whether it is legal for a potential employer to ask for a copy of their income taxes, W-4s, or most recent paycheck. 

Asking for these things is a redundant practice that turns off potential job candidates when you can obtain this information in a reference check with the candidate’s permission.


Because of how job searchers feel and react, employers need to consider carefully when and how they request this kind of information. You may lose exceptional candidates who are voting with their feet. You could cause candidates to experience a conundrum and all sorts of panic over how they can refuse your request without destroying their candidacy.

Employers face a problem, too. If you've requested this information and most candidates supply it, how can you hire the candidate who did not? The goal of hiring an employee is a job match "happy dance," so why let your process turn off your prospects?

Find out more about salary requirements and salary history.

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