Interesting — and possibly offensive — wording for a job application?

I plan to spend my summer in Washington, D.C. Earlier today, someone at my future temporary employer got in touch and asked me to fill out a formal application through a website called Jobvite. The application* asked for all the usual information — educational history, past employment, &c. — but there was one question that stuck out as unusual. More specifically, the way it demanded information:

Employment App - military

The request for further information is, of course, understandable. It matters (as I learned in detail just last night) whether you served as a colonel or a corporal. But the use of the word “explanation” struck me as bizarre.

A background of service in the US military might call for “elaboration” or “expansion” or for a polite request to detail the extent and type of one’s service; a demand for “explanation” has — and maybe this is just me — a different connotation altogether.

Just kidding — it’s not just me. According to my dictionary, to explain means [bolded for emphasis] “to make clear the cause or reason of; account for: I cannot explain his strange behavior. Synonyms: justify.”

Of course, there are also less-confrontational definitions of the word, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that “explanation” holds this somewhat suspicious-sounding and adversarial connotation.

To reinforce my point, here’s the other place in the application form where the word “explain” makes an appearance:

Employment App - felony

As I’ve learned repeatedly from watching Jon Stewart, returning veterans have a hard-enough time finding jobs. Asking them questions that subtly stigmatize them for their service can’t possibly help.

Seems to me, Jobvite has some explaining to do.

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*To be clear, I’m not accusing my employer of having written these particular questions; the application language looked to be standardized by Jobvite.

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