Majority of young people think nepotism influences hiring decisions, warns study

Experts urge businesses to apply a ‘robust diversity lens’ to their recruitment practices and ensure processes are transparent

More than four in five (81 per cent) students and graduates believe that nepotism is a major factor when it comes to who is offered a job, according to new research.

A poll of 1,000 students and graduates by Milkround also found the majority think recruitment decisions are largely made on the basis of physical appearance (58 per cent), ethnicity (52 per cent) and nationality (52 per cent).

However, the survey, which also polled 250 HR professionals, found a stark divide in the perception of recruitment processes between applicants and businesses. Just 6 per cent of people professionals said nepotism played a part in who gets jobs.

Similarly, while the majority (59 per cent) of employers think their organisations are doing enough to recruit a diverse workforce, two-thirds (66 per cent) of students and graduates do not believe companies employ a truly diverse workforce.

In the research HR decision-makers cited strong professional references (23 per cent), mention of industry-relevant skills in their CV (22 per cent) and prior work experience within the same industry (20 per cent) as the top factors that they filter candidates on.

The research highlighted “a real disconnect in thinking between graduate hires and recruiters”, according to Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD. “It underscores the need for employers to build an inclusive brand for their organisation – and to be more transparent about their recruitment processes and practices.”

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Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers, said a significant number of students still thought employers were biased, despite the huge steps most have taken to make recruitment fair and transparent. “More needs to be done on all sides to help students understand what employers are looking for and why they recruit the way they do – and stamp out bad practice where it exists," he said.

The poll found two-thirds (62 per cent) of students and graduates would like to see companies introduce blind recruitment as a way of reducing unconscious bias. The research found that just one in seven (14 per cent) employers practised blind recruitment, although one in three (37 per cent) planned to do so in the near future.

Kate Palmer, HR director at Peninsula, said: “These findings make it all the more critical for employers to prioritise equality in their companies in the future, something that can be key for both their internal and external reputation.”

Businesses that do not move with the times could miss out on talent and find themselves left behind. “As employers do start to rely on generation Z for new roles over the coming years, they will need to bear in mind what strong candidates look for in a company, and be prepared to make changes if necessary,” Palmer said.

Charlotte Woodworth, gender equality director at Business in the Community, added that more needed to happen to ensure applicants felt they were being treated fairly. “Many businesses are working hard to practise fair and unbiased recruitment processes, but this survey suggests they need to do better.

“At a time when some groups, young women among them, are being hard hit by job losses and downsizing, it’s more important than ever that businesses ensure they apply a robust diversity lens to their HR practices.”

Georgina Day, graduate employment specialist at Milkround, said in order to receive the best applications and hire the best talent – regardless of background – employers needed to have the right processes in place. “It’s then a case of clearly articulating what these processes are to potential applicants, reassuring them that they’re taking part in a fair recruitment process based on skills and experience, not personal characteristics,” she said.