Ian McMaster, An Englishman living in Germany wonders at the superfluous information on German job applications:
Why, for example, would I be remotely interested the applicant's parents and their professions and religion?
Perhaps this has something to do with German thoroughness – giving the whole picture in order to establish credibility. A similar concept can often be found in German business presentations, in which a company's history is presented in great detail from day one of its operations. ("Our company was founded in 1897. In 1898, we moved our factory to…")…
But back to job applications. I still don't understand why I need to know the applicants' religion, let alone that of their parents. This is a private matter – like political affiliation or sexual orientation – and nobody's business apart from the individual's.
The same can be said of many other details that one finds on German job applications, including marital status, the number and ages of children, and even the names of brothers and sisters. What any of these things tell me about somebody's ability to do a job is a complete mystery. So here's the deal: don't tell me and I won't ask. Promise.
But let's take this a step further. Do I even need to know your age and date of birth? Well, maybe if we employ you it would be nice to know this, so that we can remember to say "Happy birthday" and buy you a present. But at the job application stage? Hmm, not really.
I find it hard to understand the opposition of some people and firms to Germany's current experiments with "anonymous applications" . Why do companies need any information that is not relevant to the candidate's ability to do the job? They don't, but clearly some Germans find it hard to give up their traditional idea of completeness.
There are a couple of things going on here, I think. First of all, the lack of an advanced anti-discrimination culture in Germany. This is a country, after all, which had a prolonged national debate before passing the most elementary of anti-discrimination laws. And even then, the title of the law had to be watered down to 'equal treatment law' (Germans need a law to stop them from discriminating? Heaven forfend!) and the resulting legislation is pretty much toothless (g). The main problem is remedies: anti-discrimination laws only work when they inflict financial pain on losing defendants, but the current German law doesn't come near to doing this. The idea of a federal agency which, like the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, routinely files high-publicity lawsuits against prominent corporations for racial and gender discrimination, is completely foreign to the producerist German mentality.
The second issue is cultural 'thickness': like medieval courtiers, Germans tend to carefully monitor each others' behavior, clothing, and accent very carefully for various subtle social cues. In British English, this is known as 'seat-sniffing'. And just as in Britain, people who speak with regional German accents will pay lots of money to try to get rid of them and learn to speak (g) 'high German.' You want to know where your employee comes from and how they look because you have to make a judgment about whether they will 'fit in' to your particular workplace. Whether they appear capable of doing the job is important, but not the only question. Further, German employment law makes it hard to fire people, especially after they've put in their six months' probation. You're going to pay a lot more attention to intangible questions of chemistry if you know you may be stuck working with this person for years.