A handful of top German companies recently participated in a government pilot project designed to test the effect that personal details – things like age, sex and appearance – have on hiring practices.
Steffen Müller was fast losing hope: all the job applications he'd sent out were getting “No” for an answer. Not even a single first interview.
Following a major illness, Müller – an experienced and well-qualified administrator in his mid 40s – is severely disabled. He finally got a bite – from the municipal government of Celle, a city in Lower Saxony -- where he'd applied anonymously. Müller was asked for an interview and, lo and behold, got the job.
Celle's government is one of eight public and private sector employers participating in a pilot project called “Anonymized Job Application Procedures” launched by the German federal government's Office Against Discrimination. “Anonymous applications mean that only qualifications – not looks, gender, age, or background – are what determine if a job applicant will be asked for an interview or not,” said Christine Lüders, the office head.
A status report showed that the procedure demonstrably increased the chances of women and immigrants being asked to interview. The pilot project began in November 2010 and ran for a year. Participants were Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telekom, L'Oréal, gift service provider Mydays, Procter & Gamble, the Germany Ministry of Families, the Federal Jobs Agency NRW and the Celle city government. From 8,550 anonymous applications on which only qualifications were listed, 246 jobs were filled.
The report's authors stressed that because of the small scale of the project, its results were not necessarily representative. Also, the researchers did not test to see if more women and immigrants actually got jobs or were just invited more frequently to interview. According to Lüders, research has shown that discrimination takes place most often during the first phases of recruitment, when clichés and prejudice kick in often unconsciously as employers view CVs. In Germany, unlike many other countries, it is still common practice to include a photo with a CV, as well as personal details such as age and origins.
In the first phase of the anonymized procedure, name, age, gender and marital/family status are left out. Some of the applicants blacked out these details on their normal CVs, but others used a standard form developed for the project.
The head of Germany's Institute for the Future of Work (IZA) noted that discrimination during recruitment costs the economy billions, as many companies place their prejudices ahead of who is best qualified for the job. He added, however, that the procedure was not a panacea: objective and transparent selection criteria need to be established for the entire hiring process. “It pays for companies to go for ethnic diversity, a balanced gender mix, and teams comprised of people of all ages,” he said. Ironically though, he noted, people hoping to have a more diverse staff might be hindered in doing so by the anonymized applications.