Gender. Age. Marital Status. Number of Children. Nationality. These are standard details required on an applicant’s resume in Germany. Likewise, it is common practice to attach a photo, which makes characteristics like race, gender and age quite obvious to potential employers.
You could imagine my disbelief as I prepared my standard German curriculum vitae. How are any of these requirements relevant to my application? The simple answer is that they aren’t.
Unless it is a legal requirement for a job—which is rarely the case—these pieces of information do not belong on a resume. Not only do they scarcely ever provide meaningful details as to an applicant’s qualifications and experience, they also extend a blatant invitation for recruitment and employment discrimination. In the U.S., fair hiring laws prohibit the use of all pre-employment inquiries that disproportionately screen out members of minority groups or members of one sex and which are neither valid predictors of successful job performance nor justified by business necessity.
It is, therefore, surprising that most everyone in Germany, the country that holds personal privacy as an inalienable right, seems resigned with the status quo of providing this personal information to prospective employers. Not only is it antiquated, it kicks the door open for clearly discriminatory recruitment practices.
Your Name Is Your Virtue
Biases in hiring are most likely to happen in the initial stages of the hiring process. A 2012 study by the Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA), a German research outfit, found that applicants with German-sounding names were 14 percent more likely to land an interview than those with foreign-sounding ones. For immigrants and ethnic-minority candidates, this makes finding gainful employment much more difficult.
To address this disparity, the German government initiated a voluntary “name-blind” application scheme back in 2010. Major corporations such as Deutsche Telekom, L’Oreal, and Proctor & Gamble took part in the yearlong pilot project of anonymizing job applications. By removing names, pictures and other references to race, ethnic origin, gender, marital status and other personal information, the project aimed to reduce discrimination against people with immigrant backgrounds, women and seniors. This means that an applicant’s chance for an interview depends only on his or her qualifications. The program showed that anonymous job applications boosted the interview prospects for immigrants, women and the elderly alike. Hiring managers have also extolled the program’s benefits, claiming that name-blind applications help recruiters look at more qualified candidates from the onset.
Yet despite the promising findings, anonymous applications still have not garnered significant traction in Germany. Many companies continue to ask for resumes that disclose sensitive personal information. Some companies claim that they use such personal information to deliberately hire people of different social and ethnic backgrounds, genders and age, and that removing such information can actually get in the way of achieving a company’s diversity goals. Other employers, particularly small companies, decry the additional costs and burdens associated with anonymized applications.
A Small, Sensible Step
These concerns are specious. Diversity stems from personal and professional experience. A hiring manager can glean from the information about education, travels abroad, international work experiences and foreign languages the applicant’s potential contribution to a team’s diversity. The cost concerns also do not hold water. Standardized anonymous applications can improve the efficiency of the recruitment process because they enable hiring managers to more quickly shortlist candidates based on more relevant criteria. Besides, anonymous applications are not a substitute to the actual interviews. In the interview itself, hiring managers can still assess an applicant’s suitability in joining the organization.
Marital status, number and age of children and personal details are necessary for insurance, reporting requirements or other business purposes, but these can be obtained after a person has been employed, not before the offer of employment.
Elsewhere in Europe, many countries are trying anonymous job applications. Local governments in Finland, Sweden and Belgium prohibit the inclusion of personal information on applications for public-sector positions. France passed a law requiring anonymous applications for companies with 50 or more employees. These are welcome innovations in hiring practices. Anonymous applications can lead to more transparency, objectivity and equal chances during the hiring process. Although not a panacea, this policy helps reduce discrimination and hiring biases at a critical moment in people’s careers. What is important is that applicants, regardless of their names, genders, ages, appearances or marital statuses, are given a fair shot.
Fill in the Refugee Gap
Beyond the principles of fairness and equal opportunity, more transparent hiring practices lead to a more open and flexible labor market. This is especially critical for countries like Germany that face an aging population and that are in dire need of young and dynamic labor participants.
The recent influx of immigrants and refugees to Europe is a significant source of such labor, which presents an opportunity to reinvigorate Germany’s shrinking workforce. They can be net contributors to the society if given the opportunity. It would be a shame to limit their chances to succeed and contribute simply on the basis of their names or ethnic backgrounds. An equitable shot at worthwhile employment is critical to the social and economic integration of the refugees and migrants.
The sad reality in Germany, however, remains. A job applicant named “Hassan,” no matter how qualified, has a diminished chance of getting an interview simply on the basis of his name. In an age where we continue to fight against barriers to equal treatment and opportunities, Germany and other European countries should close the doors that lead to potential discrimination. Anonymizing job applications is a sensible start.