Application forms versus CVs: what’s your preference?

When recruiting, it is important to find the best person for the role but, to comply with the legal requirements, it is also important to carry out a fair process. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Code recommends that employers should adopt a “standardised process” in order to make an objective assessment of an applicant’s ability to do the job. This enables applicants to compete on equal terms and assists the employer to demonstrate that it has assessed applicants objectively.

Application forms

Application forms should obtain the essential information needed to sift out unsuitable candidates and decide on the best shortlist for interview.

It is important to review your application forms regularly to make sure they do not contribute to any significant disparities between the success rates for different groups of people sharing the same protected characteristic. You should generally avoid including questions about protected characteristics but if it is necessary to do so for the role, you must include a clear explanation as to why that information is needed and confirm that it will be treated in strictest confidence. These questions should only be asked where they reflect occupational requirements for the role and then should only seek as much information as is required to establish whether the candidate meets the requirement.

In the last few years, many employers have chosen to remove the name of applicants in application forms to avoid discrimination or unconscious bias on that basis. This a great initiative given that bias can occur at all stages during the hiring process. Those involved in hiring should be trained to understand what recruitment prejudices are and how they can influence decisions.

The EHRC Code also suggests that an employer can also reduce the possibility of discrimination by ensuring that personal information is requested in a section that can be detached from the rest of the application form or that it is requested separately. This information can then be withheld from the people who are shortlisting or interviewing because it could allow them to find out about a person’s protected characteristics. However, where an applicant’s protected characteristics can be identified by information provided elsewhere in their application form (for example, qualifications or work history), those who are short-listing or interviewing must not use it to discriminate against the applicant.

What method of applications is best?

Application forms can be easier to sift through as you are able to go through them relatively quickly and focus on the most important areas of the form, comparing these answers at the first stage. You can then assess the applicants on the remaining questions for those who have made it through the first sift. Applications forms are also a useful way of obtaining more specific information than is often included in a CV as you are able to ask for the exact information you need for the particular vacancy.


CVs are seen as more informal than application forms and can give candidates the opportunity to showcase their personality by the way in which they present the document. Some candidates can be put off by the length of application forms and in some circumstances requesting a CV could result in a larger pool of candidates.

Candidates are also able to showcase their qualifications and skills in their CV in a way that may be limited in an application form. With this said, comparing CVs can be a difficult task for an employer. All CVs have their own layout and candidates usually follow their own structure in respect of listing their work history and skills. It can therefore be difficult for an employer to compare different candidates solely based on their CVs.

There is no one size fits all approach to shortlisting candidates. The size of your business, your resources, the vacancy and the number of expected applicants will all play a part in deciding whether it is best to request CVs or application forms as your method of application.

The Grant Saw employment team are hosting a free webinar on 15 July 2021 at 12pm where we will be discussing the five key steps to achieve a fair recruitment process and will be taking a closer look into shortlisting candidates. Whether your business is currently recruiting or you intend to do so in the future, this webinar may be for you. To secure your spot, please click here.