A picture as well as personal details like age, gender and marital status are common on German job applications. But an anti-discrimination office wants to change the practice and says anonymous applications are fairer.
By naming Thomas Edathy the new head of its public utilities, the city of Celle in the German state of Lower Saxony became the first municipality in Germany to fill a top position using the anonymous application process.
Celle's city administration has so far filled 23 positions using anonymous applications. It began using the process in 2010 when it took part in an anti-discrimination pilot project. Also involved in that project was the German Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth; the Federal Labor Office; and a number of private companies, including Deutsche Post DHL, MYDAYS, Deutsche Telekom, L'Oreal and Procter & Gamble.
"We can narrow down the candidates faster because we concentrate on a few important criteria," Jockel Birkholz, head of Celle's personnel department, told DW.
The new head of its public utilities is a 48-year-old with Indian roots and the brother of Sebastian Edathy, a member of German parliament for the Social Democratic Party.
Already used abroad
The project was started after a number of studies showed that, for example, job applicants with a Turkish name were less likely to be called in for an interview at companies in Germany despite having the same qualifications as other interviewed applicants. Children born in Germany to parents with an immigrant background were also found to have a harder time finding a job in Germany, according to a 2009 study by the Organization for Cooperation and Development in Europe.
In addition to fighting the discrimination of applicants with foreign sounding names, the anonymous application process promoted by Germany's Federal Anti-Discrimination Office aims to level the labor market for older workers and young women. Employers sometimes fear that young women could go on government-sponsored leave after the birth of a child.
Despite criticism from private companies, the government's anti-discrimination representative, Christine Lüders, said she took a positive view of the pilot project "because it showed that it produces more equality than conventional methods."
While anonymous applications are just getting started in Germany, they have long been de rigueur in other European countries, where photos are banned from the application process.
Belgium prohibited personal information in applications for jobs in the public sector in 2005. Sweden, France and Switzerland have also begun testing anonymous applications. In France, a trial project was launched in 2006 at Norsys. The company saw the number of women it employs double. The company has also seen an increase in older employees since the anonymous application process began.
No 100 percent anonymity
Unlike the city of Celle, which continues to use the anonymous hiring process, four of the companies involved in the year-long pilot project returned to their previous application processes therafter.
"In our company we did not detect an added positive effect," said Deutsche Telekom's Dennis Dennert, adding that there was no increase in applications from non-Germans, single mothers or older people.
Critics have also said that anonymous applications do not go far enough, since it still remains possible for employers to glean details about an applicant's background and other personal information.
"Candidates are often interviewed by phone, which can say a lot about an applicant," said Jürgen Hesse, a German employment and career consultant, adding that the application process can never be kept completely anonymous.
The Anti-discrimination Office said it is aware of how applicants' resumes can give potential employers clues about their background, age, gender and other personal information.
But that is not the purpose of this project, Lüders believes. "The point is that applicants who would have been eliminated because of their name or appearance get a chance to go to a job interview," she said.