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The Big Graduate Employers Are Attempting Diversification, but have they gone too far?

Businesses of all sizes need to tackle past problems of elitism and present a fair application process

Recently, some of the largest graduate recruiters have made commendable efforts to promote diversity in their workforce via their application criteria: Ernst & Young have announced plans to drop their degree requirement, Deloitte are hiding schools and universities from their recruiters, and PwC will be ignoring A-level results in an effort to avoid favouring private school pupils.

Creating a diverse workforce and providing equality of opportunity to job applicants is crucial for both moral and commercial reasons. Businesses of all sizes need to tackle past problems of elitism and present a fair application process. But can it be right to remove academic achievement from the selection process?

Universities are actively working to get rid of any inequality in their own processes, in July it was reported that Independent school pupils were twice as likely to attend a Russell Group university as state educated students, but it’s clearly not enough. It’s therefore fallen on the big firms to adapt their own policies.

Old systems are undoubtedly flawed. Firms overly reliant on A-level results will always end up favouring those who attended elite schools. But, if we’re going to correct the balance, the solution is not simply to ignore the results. Rather, it is to consider these results alongside the applicant’s school and background because, as Deloitte has pointed out, three B grade A-levels could be exceptional in one school, but average in another.

And recruiters can’t afford to ignore degrees either. A good degree from a top university marks a candidate as driven, as well as intelligent.

A university finalist has been working for at least seven years towards a series of grades and results. No company assessment process, no matter how rigorous it is, can assess academic aptitude as well as degree results can. Nor can an assessment process truly reveal how committed to results a candidate will be.

This is not to say that a degree result or other academic achievements are everything, but they are a part of the puzzle that we shouldn’t ignore. No graduate hiring process should completely remove them.

There are alternative systems that are better suited to the cause and avoid telling graduates who have worked to the bone for years that their degrees aren’t relevant when applying for a graduate scheme. Dividing the admissions process and dedicating a proportion of your graduate programme to those outside of the perceived elite education is one.

Another would be to run the traditional application process alongside an anonymised one. Last year, at Instant Impact, we worked with Simon-Kucher & Partners who did this with great success and continue to do so this academic year. They run a ‘normal’ application system alongside an anonymous competition where the first prize (judged on the strength of an essay) was an internship at the company.

There is no exact solution to addressing the issue of diversification in the workplace, and I commend all these companies for trying to tackle it through their graduate recruitment process. However, it’s via multiple angles and innovative solutions that firms can best attack problems of diversity, not by a blanket deletion of one specific aspect of their process.

About The Author

Rob Blythe is the founder and director of Instant Impact, the graduate recruitment agency that helps recent graduates find jobs and paid internships in fast-growing SMEs.

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