Both employer and applicant win when using an anonymous job application process.
Do hiring managers really need to know how old a job applicant is, or if she has children? What about where the applicant was born or what he looks like?
Anonymous job applications, which exclude personal information that is not related to an applicant’s qualifications or experience, are one way that leading employers are trying to focus on choosing the best person for the job.
Various forms of anonymous job application procedures have been tried in many places around the world, including in the public sector – for example, in the local governments of Helsinki (Finland) and Gothenburg (Sweden). Both Canada and Belgium prohibit the inclusion of personal information on applications for public sector jobs. And it is a particularly welcome innovation in German cities.
In Germany, job applicants traditionally list a number of personal characteristics in their applications that are not related to their qualifications, such as place and date of birth, nationality, and marital status. In addition, it is common practice to attach a photo, which makes characteristics like race, gender and age quite obvious to potential employers.
In 2010-11, the city of Celle was one of eight public and private sector employers that took part in a pilot project initiated by the federal government’s Office Against Discrimination. The pilot project aimed to test how anonymous job application procedures could reduce biases in hiring.
Previous research conducted by the Office Against Discrimination indicated that bias in hiring was most likely to happen in the initial stages of the hiring process. Often, a brief glance at an applicant’s name, gender or age was enough for human resources staff to discard an application. In particular, these biases affected people with a migrant background, women with children, and older workers. This confirmed studies conducted in other countries showing that employers are influenced by these types of biases. The pilot therefore focused on the initial stage of hiring – the job application.
During the pilot, the participating employers tried a variety of methods to try to prevent these biases from influencing the review of applications – including blacking out personal details such as name, age, gender, and marital/family status, or using standardized application forms developed for the project. In the end, using standardized forms proved to be the most efficient method.
“The anonymous application process means that whether you will be invited for an interview depends only on your qualifications and not looks, gender, age or background,” says Christine Lüders, head of the federal government’s Office Against Discrimination.
Indeed, this pilot showed results similar to those conducted in other parts of the world – ethnic minorities and women are demonstrably more likely to be invited to an interview. “I was skeptical at first,” says Jockel Birkholz, the head of Celle’s human resources department. But he admits, “In the traditional process, I glanced at the photo, the CV, the marital status – there were biases despite all attempts at objectivity.”
Anonymous job application procedures are being credited with improving the hiring process. Mayor of Celle, Dirk-Ulrich Mende says, “We are now looking more at qualifications during the hiring process. This is the case for both leadership and apprenticeship positions. Many people who we’ve hired [with anonymous job applications] wouldn’t have been chosen before. And all of them have succeeded.”
It has been embraced by the human resources department, which finds the process more efficient. The standardized application forms make it easier for human resources staff to review the applications. “We can narrow down the candidates faster because we concentrate on a few important criteria,” explains Birkholz. This has become increasingly important as the city is often flooded with job applicants. Mayor Mende believes this is because the anonymous procedures have helped the city improve its reputation as a good employer.
The pilot was so successful that the city of Celle decided to continue using anonymous application procedures after the pilot ended. And this good idea has now spread to Göttingen, Hannover, Mainz, Mannheim, Offenbach and Nürnberg and to eight German states.
“The anonymous application process clearly leads to more transparency, objectivity, and equal chances during the decision-making phase and is an important building block towards a workplace without discrimination. We will continue with this process,” pledged Mayor Mende.
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