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I recently learned a disturbing fact about France. Or rather, about applying for a job in France. I was unaware that when sending out a CV to a potential employer, a mandatory part of that CV is a photo of the applicant. If you have lived in the United States for any period of time, this concept seems downright outrageous. It undermines the social and legal tenets which have been designed to promote fair practice in the work place and fight discrimination. It feels so totally un-American that the word foreign seems a very apt way to describe this particular French employment practice.
In the United States one is trained (sometimes to the point of ridiculous political correctness) to be blind to gender, color, age, and even size. Discussing this topic with an American friend, we came up with the theory that by embracing the photo requirement, the entire French nation was in fact accepting a pact to look good. No one can deny that the French have an established reputation as a people who know how to make the most of their attributes. I can’t recall how many times I have been people watching in Paris and was struck by the way they’re “put together” rather than their inherent physical beauty. The whole package (male and female) just works – the funky reading glasses, the hair in natural windswept waves, the clothes in an infinite array of grey, the scarves tossed just so, everyone seemingly trim and ready for that unexpected photo op at the drop of a hat!
I decided to feel out one of my French friends on this issue. She didn’t see any harm in the practice of requiring a photograph, pointing out that it was logical that companies would want to see who they were hiring – after all, if the job required a female employee to have a lot of client contact they wouldn’t want a “dog” (her words, or the French equivalent of!). I felt personally affronted on behalf of all those unfortunate French applicants with less-than-perfect pouts, or who weighed in over the average national weight of 100 lbs.
Digging a little deeper, I found a fascinating study undertaken at Ben Gurion University in Israel that threw my assumptions out the window. Briefly, the study sent over 5000 résumés to more than 2,600 employers who had advertised job openings. Two virtually identical applications were sent to each employer except that one of the résumés included a photograph of the applicant. Sometimes the applicant was an attractive man or woman, and sometimes the photo showed a plainer-looking man or woman.
Not surprisingly, the response results showed that an attractive man needs to send an average of five résumés with a photo to get one interview, compared with an ordinary-looking man who needs to send eleven résumés before scoring a single interview. However, the apparent bias in favor of job candidates with photos didn’t hold true for women. Here’s the interesting part. The findings showed the highest call for interviews went to those female applicants without photographs and the attractive women were only half as likely to receive a response as plain women!
You may be wondering what was behind this reverse discrimination towards the attractive female job applicants. Well, kudos to the researchers who followed up with the hiring companies. Their findings revealed that in a majority of companies, the personnel in charge of the hiring process are young, single women. Quite simply, this means that hiring an attractive female applicant spells c-o-m-p-e-t-i-t-i-o-n! “Our results show that beauty distorts the hiring process,” the researchers concluded. Come on, let’s drop the dry scientific analysis – the unexpected results were caused by one of the oldest, most universal of human emotions: jealousy!
But where are the three pillars of the French Republic – liberté, égalité et fraternité – when it comes to discrimination in the hiring process? I learned that there have indeed been attempts to implement the anonymous CV. The French parliament voted to make it a legal requirement in 2006, but it has not been seriously enforced. Sarkozy himself claimed that the anonymous CV should be introduced in an organic rather than obligatory way. I believe it is symbolic of national character. The French tend to concentrate more on emotive, intellectual and personal qualities whereas Americans are more practical and achievement oriented. For this reason, the American resume focuses more on professional experience than on education, and less on personal data. So be forewarned if you are considering applying for a job in France, and remember – gentlemen, put your best face forward and ladies, try not to look too good!
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Word painting by Ben, courtesy Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art
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