Positive effects of anonymous job applications

Anonymous application procedures are increasingly promoted as a way to combat employment discrimination. In 2007, the Institute for Labour Market Policy Evaluation provided for the first time empirical evidence to this effect in their evaluation of a trial period involving anonymous job applications in Gothenburg. Anonymous applications would seem to improve the chances of advancing to job interviews for both immigrants of non-Western origin and for women in general.


For some time, several municipal and governmental bodies have applied, to various extents, anonymous job application procedures in their recruitment. So far, the actual impact of such anonymous job applications is not well known although the idea is supported both in theory and practicse.

A 2005 governmental inquiry led to a trial period involving anonymous job applications in seven public sector workplaces during 2007. In doing so, the public sector aims to improve the recruitment process and to increase the ethnic diversity among its workforce. There is evidence to show that gender and ethnicity have an influence in the hiring process although this is considered as discrimination by current legislation.

Implementation and evaluation of anonymous job applications

The process of ‘depersonalising’ job applications is to make these applications anonymous. In the case of the Gothenburg trial, certain information about the applicant – such as name, sex, country of origin or other identifiable traits of ethnicity and gender – is hidden during the first phase of the job application procedure. The recruiting managers therefore do not see the full content of applications when deciding on whom to invite for interview. Once a candidate has been selected for interview, this information can then be seen.

The trial involving job applications of this nature in the city of Gothenburg is so far the most extensive in Sweden. For this reason, the Institute for Labour Market Policy Evaluation (Institutet för Arbetsmarknadspolitisk Utvärdering, IFAU) has carried out an evaluation of the impact of anonymous job applications in Gothenburg. The main reason for the trial period of this system in Gothenburg was to increase migrant workers’ recruitment chances for municipal jobs. The IFAU study thus provides for the first time empirical evidence of whether anonymous job applications effectively reduce discrimination in recruitment processes.

Evaluation method

The data used in the IFAU study derive from three districts in Gothenburg: two of the local government administrations implemented anonymous job applications procedures to select applicants for interviews in 2004–2006, while the third administration chose not to apply this system of application procedures in their recruitment process. The IFAU evaluation then compared the outcome of the application procedures in the three local government bodies. The participating districts were chosen on the basis that all of them appear to value the aim for ethnic diversity among their workforce; all three districts were geographically close and similar enough to be compared with each other. Information on the 3,529 job applicants and a total of 109 positions were collected from all three districts. The data contained in the job applications provided unusually detailed information on the applicant’s education and labour market experiences, which matched the requirements given in the advertisements for the respective jobs.

A difference-in-difference model was used to test the findings and to estimate the effects in the outcome variables: whether a difference emerges regarding an invitation to interview and job offers in relation to gender and ethnicity in the case of anonymous job applications compared with traditional application procedures.

Main findings

For job openings where anonymous job applications were applied, the IFAU study reveals that gender and the ethnic origin of the applicant do not affect the probability of being invited for interview. As would be expected from previous research, these factors do have an impact when compared with recruitment processes using traditional application procedures where all the information on the applicant, such as name, sex, country of origin or other identifiable traits of ethnicity and gender, is visible during the first phase of the hiring process. As a result, anonymous applications are estimated to increase the probability of being interviewed regardless of gender and ethnic origin, showing an increase of about 8% for both non-western migrant workers and women (see table).

Anonymous job applications and likelihood of being invited for interview (%)
This table outlines the probability to be invited for interview of women and non-western nationals in the case of anonymous job applications, as well as the difference when compared with people having gone through traditional job application processes.
  Group of anonymous job applications Control group Difference
Female applicants (compared with male applicants) 2.8 - 6.0 8.8
Non-western nationals (compared with Swedish nationals) - 0.4 - 8.9 8.4

Source: IFAU, 2007b

Furthermore, women increased their chances significantly of receiving a job offer, by almost 7%, in the anonymous job application system. However, no such effect is found in the ethnic origin dimension, suggesting that the interview stage may override the positive effects of the first phase of the hiring process achieved for the group of non-western nationals. It should be noted, however, that statistical uncertainty prevents the analysis from drawing firm conclusions on a possible backlash for the non-western group at the interview stage. Although the most disadvantaged group did not experience any real improvement in terms of job offers, they did achieve equality of opportunities in advancing to the second phase in the hiring process – the interview stage – through anonymous job applications. This represents one step forward towards a fairer hiring process.


Åslund, O. and Nordström Skans, O., Institutet för Arbetsmarknadspolitisk Utvärdering (IFAU), Do anonymous job application procedures level the playing field? (432Kb PDF), Working Paper 2007:31, Uppsala, IFAU, 2007a.

Sibbmark, K., Institutet för Arbetsmarknadspolitisk Utvärdering (IFAU), Avidentifierade jobbansökningar – erfarenheter från ett försök i Göteborgs stad (339Kb PDF) [Anonymous job applications – experiences of the city of Gothenborg], Report 2007:15, Uppsala, IFAU, 2007b.

Paul Andersson, Oxford Research

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