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Immigrant youths are more often unemployed than natives. Is applying
anonymously for a job a solution, or is it better to shout out loud:” I am Yesim,
very Turkish and very good”?

To be honest - Would you have started reading this article with a different notion if there
was written in the heading ‘Fatima Özdemir’ instead of ‘Daphne van Paassen’? Would it
have crossed your mind: ”Özdemir, that’s probably a plea for an anonymous job
application?“ Because, one name or the other can make a substantial difference. That was
exactly the experience of Özlem Coban when she applied for a job two years ago. “Before,
I never had regarded myself as a non-native”, says the 25-year old economist – tailored
coat, fashionable retro Nana Mouskouri glasses, straight brown hair, cut in layers. She
orders, in unaccented Dutch, a plate of pasta with pesto and continues: “I followed a
higher vocational education and graduated from university. I had my work placement in
London and never noticed anything!” However, when after seven months and forty
application letters she hadn’t even received one invitation for an interview, she became
suspicious. “I thought, it couldn’t be my name, could it?” She wrote, really to comfort her
own anxiety, five letters under the assumed name Suzan Coban – “I only changed my first
name!” – and surely received three invitations. “None of the companies took me on board.
Maybe they had expected a different Suzan, and maybe not. But I was totally shocked by
the fact that a different first name made such a difference in the pre-selection stage”.

High unemployment rates
At the end of January the municipality of Nijmegen announced that it wanted to fight
discrimination at the ‘gate’ by allowing anonymous job applications. It was certainly no
coincidence that the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP) had issued a report a week
earlier about the high unemployment rates among youngsters from an immigrants’
background in fifty large Dutch municipalities: a staggering forty percent. This figure caused
some upheaval. The Central Office for Statistics (CBS) had found a lower figure, twenty-six
percent, nevertheless still a substantial number. The latter figure was the overall national
average, while the former represented only SCP’s figures on the larger cities, where
generally speaking the unemployment rates are already higher, certainly among youths with
an immigrant’s background. In the report SCP raises the alarm with sentences like: “These
percentages resemble youth unemployment rates in France.” And: “The recent
disturbances in the French suburbs found a rich breeding ground in the high
unemployment rates among the youth”. According to Jaco Dagevos, one of the SCP
researchers, the unemployment rates among the highly educated non-natives are slightly
lower, but their position on the employment market is far from strong. Dagevos: “They are
still twice as much unemployed as the highly educated natives.” Haseeb el Khafaji, who
graduated in aerospace engineering at the TU Delft, is the only one of his group without
employment, notwithstanding eight months of sending applications. He is from Iraq and
although he wishes to remain positive, he knows from previous experiences of finding a
work placement that his origins are against him. Even his professor couldn’t find a work
placement in the Netherlands, so that El Khafaji had to go all the way to South-Africa. Also,
research from a consultancy agency, Intelligence Group, shows that El Khafaji and Coban
are no exceptions: when natives send open applications they have twice as much chance to
be invited for an interview than non-native candidates. And researchers form the Erasmus
University additionally discovered that a quarter of the companies in the sector of small and
medium-sized enterprises do not wish to employ foreigners - and they aren’t making any
secrets of it too. An analysis of a Flemish site for vacancies revealed that C.V.s with a
foreign name received half as much clicks than C.V.s with native names. All this seems
good reason to introduce applying anonymously today rather than tomorrow. Obviously,
the precondition would be that it works, but until today there are no indications that it
does. Contrary to the Netherlands, there are some organisations in France and Belgium
which have experimented with a partly anonymous application procedure. In Belgium,
candidates who aspire to work with the government may apply electronically through Selor,
the federal selection office. The selection office removes the name and country of birth
from the C.V. before it is forwarded to the employment interview board of the indicated
federal department. But the question remains: does it work? According to a spokesperson
of Selor the effect will be only visible in the long run, even more because there isn’t any
registration of whom is a foreigner or not. “There isn’t even a consensus on what criteria
people are classified as foreigners.” In France employments agencies until recently worked
with anonymous application procedures, but that did not increase the number of foreigners
who applied. The French Minister of Social Affairs, Borloo, who is in favour of applying
anonymously, has in the mean time reconsidered his plan to make anonymous application
procedures compulsory. Applying anonymously is also prolonging the inevitable, its
opponents are arguing; no sooner has the candidate arrived at the interview and it will
become obvious that he is a Hussein and not a blond Jean-Paul. And because Hussein
behaves differently during the interview than Jean-Paul, he will still lose out. “Foreigners
unconsciously often communicate in a different manner than natives”, explains Jeanine
Klaver of the research agency Regioplan, commissioned by State Secretary Van Hoof for
Employment and Social Security to research whether there is discrimination taking place at
the work floor. “Especially when confronted with authority they will behave more
respectfully rather than thinking of selling their qualities.”

Ten application letters
But employers also behave differently with Hussein. According to SCP-researcher Dagevos,
when observing various interviews, there were fewer jokes made with foreigners. “The
atmosphere during those interviews was less relaxed.” That is still quite innocent. Oktray
Duzgun (26) applied at a law firm after he studied fiscal law. He was asked what his
opinion was about Turkey becoming an EU member. “I thought ‘oh dear’, I didn’t study
political sciences, I am here to apply for the job of accountant. Then they asked me if I
regarded myself as Dutch or Turkish. Purposely I answered ‘Turkish’, because I had already
made up my mind that I didn’t like what I saw. As an accountant, you do have a choice in
the end. However, the most important argument against applying anonymously is that
there are perhaps many employers who do not discriminate or even specifically look for
foreign employees. Yesim Candan (International School of Economics, Erasmus University
and Nyenrode) obtained, after about ten application letters, a job as a junior product
manager at Reckitt Benckiser (manufacturer of, among others, Glassex and Calgon). “After
a year I was so unhappy. It didn’t make me happy to increase the market share of a stain
remover and I wanted to do something purposeful.” She remained a year without a job,
but she resolved that she wouldn’t go for a ‘Reckitt Benckiser part two’. “My second job
had to be my dream job.” She discovered the training centre De Baak and instantly knew
that was it. “I have sent the director an endless stream of mails; I really stalked the poor
man. I made it very clear to him that, with my Turkish and Dutch background, I really had
something to offer him. After four months I got the job, notwithstanding their halt in the
requirement of staff.
Research, identical to the Flemish job vacancy department, but on a smaller scale, was
conducted by the job vacancy centre of Intermediar, which primarily caters for the higher
educated. Here it appeared that C.V.s of foreigners were not clicked on less often than
C.V.s of natives. This doesn’t necessarily mean that discrimination of the higher educated is
nonsense: for each occupation distinct differences appeared. In roughly two-thirds of the
researched occupations the C.V.s of natives received (slightly) more clicks, while in one-third
the C.V.s of foreigners were viewed more often. The C.V.s of foreign ‘consultants’ were
viewed eighteen times by employers, while those of the native ‘consultants’ were viewed
seven times. Apparently, there are also companies specifically looking for foreign
employees. For those companies the recruitment and selection company Ebbinge organised
a conference on the topic how to recruit foreign talents. The fifty participating companies
were not only politically correct government institutions, but mainly multinationals, banks,
insurance companies and law firms. “As soon as companies discover that they have large
amounts of foreigners among their clientele it becomes beneficial for them to employ
foreigners too”, says Jeanine Klaver of Regioplan. “In the service provision sector one can
see a growing interest of banks, insurers, retirement funds, law firms etc. Not only for the
contacts with clients, but also because one can fine-tune one’s products to the clients’
wishes.” Rabobank makes enormous efforts to attract foreigners as clients. At a branch in
Utrecht, they specially developed a new savings account, the ‘good cause account’, for
Muslims, because Muslims are not allowed to receive interest on religious grounds. The
interests of those savings accounts will be automatically transferred to a good cause. Oktay
Duzgun, recently graduated, found employment at Deloitte. He wants to open a special
desk solely for Turkish clients, in view of the steady rise of Turkish business people. Duzgun
was requested to start working on that issue and he accepted. For organisations such as the
police force the situation is even more precarious. “We need to reflect the composition of
society. Not because we need a Moroccan to arrest the Moroccans in the Diamond
quarter”, says Dünya Dalkiran, sergeant of police. “That is often not very wise, since
someone of the same group will be regarded as a traitor, and that is much worse than to
send a Dutch policeman to salvage the situation. But in order to solve cases of honour
killings one needs to have people who can understand that same culture.”

Swimming certificate
From research by Regioplan it appeared that forty percent of the employers who are
searching for foreign employees are not succeeding in this matter. Rather paradoxical, isn’t
it, as if anonymous applications had already been introduced. Anyway, discrimination still
could play a role, for example, when the highest ranks of the company agree to support
diversity but then fail to carry out that support in practice. Dünya Dalkiran wanted to have
an internal, and therefore discreet, orientating discussion about a different function within
the police force. When she tried to make an appointment the HR officer on the other side
of the line asked her: “Are you Turkish? Are you overweight? Aren’t all Turkish women
suffering from overweight? And do you have swimming certificates? You aren’t allowed to
swim, are you?” Dalkiran was dumbfounded. “I have been working for years with the
police force! And then they complain because at certain districts there aren’t any foreigners
who want to work there. The downside is that these kinds of incidents are giving the police
a bad name, while on the other hand there are many districts where discrimination is
unknown.” Then there is the phenomenon that employers and employees are looking for
each other but don’t know where to look. Various research papers state that ethnical
minorities are looking for jobs in a manner more associated with a lower level of education.
Higher vocational education graduates register more and more with employment agencies
and the Centre for Work and Income (CWI), while in fact that would be much more the
channel for candidates with an intermediate vocational training level. They are also quite
hesitant in sending open application letters. Generally, they would search through their
network, which mainly consists of people of the same group. Employers are also quite
conservative in their recruitment. They search, for instance, for incorrect C.V.s. The C.V.
format composed by a foreigner looks generally different from those written by a native. A
recent research paper by Intermediar and recruitment and selection company Ebbinge &
Company informs us that foreigners would very often have a job on the side and therefore
can show less management experience. “Employers, as a rule of thumb, still look for
management experience when they have a vacancy for an executive job,” says Willemijn
Rienks of Ebbinge, “while someone who has worked six years in a supermarket and has a
few years experience as section head very well may posses managerial qualities. Employers
need to start judging C.V.s differently.” In the meantime, they should start behaving
differently during interviews too. “Companies have certain benchmarks for hiring people
and these have shifted from technical-instrumental to social-normative,” says Arend Odé of
Regioplan. In other words, people are no longer hired because they have certain skills, but
on the basis of their personality. “The candidate must be able to fit within the team,” says
Jeanine Klaver. Odé adds: “During the interviews one subconsciously thinks: ”I hope he can
appreciate my sense of humour. Can I have an informal talk with her near the coffee
machine?” Executives are very often looking for clones of themselves, because that will not
disturb the team.

Very cosy
“The increasing number of companies that specifically is looking for foreign employees is
obviously not properly served through anonymous applications. And that is a pity, because
companies with a diverse workforce have reached that point mainly through offering an
extra contribution, rather than simply not discriminating,” according to Dagevos. These
companies, mostly multinationals, are already internationally orientated and do not posses a
monoculture like smaller companies. They have known for a long time that it is ok if
everyone fanatically follows football, but that creativity and the innovative powers of the
company are better served by an ethnical staff mixture. Introduction of an anonymous
application system would be regarded as a regressive measure by these companies. It is not
a wonder that foreigners prefer to work for multinationals (see caption). What undoubtedly
plays an important role is that such companies always are scouting for top people and they
have understood that if they ignore foreigners their supply will dwindle. An increasing
number of the higher educated is from an immigrant’s background. Rabobank already
speaks about the ‘decade of the foreigner’. The bank estimates that before the year 2018,
foreigners will represent fifty percent of the growth of the working population. Those who
cannot imagine such a scenario should enter a centre for higher vocational education or a
university in The Hague, Rotterdam or Amsterdam around lunch hour. Around twelve
o’clock in the colourful and modernly designed restaurant of the Hogeschool in Holland in
The Hague centre, it will get quite busy. The Intermediar of 2nd March 2006 writes that the
sandwiches in the display are at first sight very representative for the Netherlands – sticky
cheese – but surely half of the patrons are not extracted from the Dutch soil: Hindoes,
Surinames, Turks, Moroccans, Dutch. A lot of hipsters and tight glitter tubes, with some
scattered headscarves and baseball caps. And the seating is, how idyllic, quite mixed. They
have heard about anonymous applications, from the media. From a group of first year
juridical services students, who are spending a lost hour at table, most are against it. “If you
have followed a decent education, they will surely think: “Ah, that one has educated
herself, she has gained experience.”, says Regina Singh, “knowledge and education is what
counts,” agrees Rajhan Ramdayal. “Discrimination? I don’t know, I was never confronted
with it.” And Gladys Cleve declares: “They should have done that in the time that my
mother was looking for a job! It is getting better, not worse.” She looks around, and says:
“You know what it is? Now there are still only white people at the helm. But foreigners are
getting better educated and will occupy those seats later on. And then, they will simply
employ foreigners. Then it will be no longer an issue.” And possibly she is right. Since the
economy is growing and the population is aging, these freshmen will probably do not any
longer have to worry about their exotic sounding family names.