UK managers are more likely to recruit graduates who share their middle class characteristics. A review by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission states that bosses prefer to employ candidates who, like them, have travelled and been on gap years. With recruiters admitting that factors such as accent and style contribute to whether or not they employ a candidate, managers are denying working class graduates the opportunity to even be considered for top UK jobs.
The research, carried out at law and accountancy companies in the UK, confirms that recruiters ask interview questions relating directly to the wealth, social class and background of interviewees. By preferring candidates who have travelled the world and basing their recruitment decisions on issues like these, working class candidates are excluded from the process on the basis that they were unable to afford such experiences.
When asked, recruiters admitted there were other unconventional factors that they also considered during their decision-making process, included things like accent – an issue that affects the working class almost exclusively – personal style and mannerisms.
One anonymous interviewer revealed her concerns about an individual she had previously employed, who she now believes is “short of polish”: “I recruited somebody… she’s short of polish. We need to talk about the way that she articulates, the way that she, first, chooses words and, second, the way she pronounces them. It will need, you know… it will need some polish because whilst I may look at the substance, you know, I’ve got a lot of clients and a lot of colleagues who are very focused on the personal presentation and appearance side of it.”
The chair of the commission and former Labour minister Alan Milburn commented on the desire of managers to hire those they perceive to be ‘posh’. He said: “This research shows that young people with working class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs. Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry.”
On the subject of managers preferring candidates with internship experience (which is often unpaid and therefore requires financial assistance from parents), he added: “Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.”
It might be that some managers inadvertently search for candidates who are from a similar background as them. For some, it may not be intentional, but it’s important that executives and recruiters ensure that they are open to recognising talent and skills beyond the ones they themselves have, and begin to appreciate talent in all its forms.
Leading the review, Louise Ashley from the University of London said companies need to “interrogate current definitions of talent, including how potential is identified and assessed” in order to ensure that the disadvantaged are only ever ruled out on the basis of aptitude.