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Helsinki, Espoo inspire more Finnish cities to trial anonymous recruitment

In an effort to boost employment, city officials in Vaasa in western Finland are considering piloting anonymous recruitment following positive outcomes in cities like Helsinki and Espoo.

Image: Risto Koskinen / Yle

Capital region cities such as Helsinki and Espoo say they have seen encouraging results from adopting blind recruitment. But they say that moving to anonymous recruitment may require additional resources.

“It’s still worth it says Laura Ala-Kokko,” a Green politician who wants Vaasa in western Finland to test the anonymous approach.

That could mean good news for Francis Oyeyiola, a university graduate who moved to Vaasa from Ghana 14 years ago. He has since obtained a bachelor’s degree in IT engineering and master’s degree in economics from Vaasa University of Applied Sciences.

He worked for seven years at one of the many energy firms in the Vaasa region but was let go in 2012 when the company embarked on a cost-cutting programme. After returning to the same company to work short-term stints, he decided to look for a more secure position. So far, Oyeyiola said he has applied for between 30 and 40 jobs in the same field.

Last year, Oyeyiola appeared in an Yle Fem documentary series, "They call us immigrants". As a result of his role in the programme, he was invited to the only job interview he's had since he lost his job.

“I got as far as the psychological testing, but then they called and said that the other applicant got the job,” he recalled.

Story continues after photo.

Francis Oyeyiola has degrees in economics and engineering. He was laid off after seven years and has been job-hunting for four years. Image: Yle / Axel Brink

Oyeyiola said that he is sure that anonymous recruitment would help candidates like himself, who would otherwise be overlooked because of a foreign-sounding name.

“I'm 120 percent confident. If you see my CV without my name, you will see a well-qualified person. I have a B and C [driver's] license, I can communicate in Finnish. I have a degree in several subjects and work experience. What more is needed?” he asked.

The jobseeker said however that he is no longer sending out applications for open positions. He plans to concentrate on starting his own business.

Vaasa to test anonymous hiring

Meanwhile Vaasa politician Laura Ala-Kokko said she has tabled a motion with the Vaasa city council to begin testing anonymous recruitment. The proposal calls for all departments in the city to have tested the approach at least once in 2018.

“We know that it may be difficult for some people to [get an] interview because of their name or political background, for example,” Ala-Kokko explained.

She added that prejudice has tended to play a role in recruitment processes.

“Unfortunately. If you have an unusual family name, you may not get invited to an interview,” she stated.

She said that she hopes that a blind approach would help put an end to both positive and negative discrimination.

“If you know someone you might not pay as much attention to experience and knowledge. Instead, you may think that they are probably a good sort,” she noted.

Good but resource-intensive experiences

In 2013, both Helsinki and Espoo decided to pilot anonymous recruitment. After reviewing the experiences of other countries, Helsinki chose to split up responsibility for hiring among several people with different roles, ensuring that interviewers did not know the personal data of their interviewees.

The Helsinki pilot primarily targeted the youth employment unit, where officials hoped to achieve a more even gender and age distribution, as well as more applicants without Finnish as a first language.

“We got a larger age spread than usual. A Roma applicant was hired, but we did not get any non-native speakers,” said HR expert Lea Laine.

She said that although the overall outcome was positive, the pilot proved to be a resource-intensive hiring method.

She pointed out that during a regular recruitment process, applicant information is automatically transmitted across the network. The blind recruitment required officials to physically manipulate and “hide” personal data.

Meanwhile Helsinki’s Lea Laine said that elements of blind recruitment have been introduced to regular hiring.

Instead of a personal introduction, applicants are asked to respond to multiple choice questions that focused on their skills. Officials then developed a scoring system based on the responses.

“The scoring system has continued [to be used] in normal recruitment,” Laine said.

"The system helps recruiters feel they have hired the right person. It has become more of an intensive process,” she added.

For Ala-Kokko in Vaasa, the benefits of blind recruitment outweigh the potential costs.

“If we can reduce discrimination in our city, it is worth doing,” she said.

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