From education to employment

‘Skills-based’ hiring drives 65% uplift in number of women hired onto graduate schemes 

woman at work

A UK study of over 48,000 applications to graduate schemes in the UK has found that there’s a 65% uplift in the number of women hired for graduate roles when a ‘skills-based’ hiring process is used, instead of a CV-driven approach. The findings come as this year’s intake of successful graduate scheme applicants prepare to start their roles with employers this autumn.

The study, led by inclusive recruitment experts Applied, tracked the gender split of 48,867 applicants to graduate schemes with 27 organisations across 11 industries between May 2017 and May 2022. 

Key Findings

Increasing the number of female graduates hired  

The analysis found that 66% of candidates successfully hired onto graduate schemes were female following a skills-based recruitment process. This marks a 65% uplift on the latest national figures: typically, women account for just 40% of the graduate scheme intake. 29% of successful applicants in this study were male, whilst 4% declined to disclose their gender and 1% identified as nonbinary.


Boosting applications from female applicants 

A skills-based approach also increased the number of female applicants by 17%. 55% of the applicants analysed in this study were female, whereas traditionally women are less likely to apply to graduate schemes, representing just 47% of the applicant pool. Just 34% of applicants analysed in this study were male, whilst 10% declined to disclose their gender and 1% identified as nonbinary. 


Getting more women into Accounting, Finance and Consulting

The Accounting, Finance and Consulting sectors are important graduate recruiters, responsible for recruiting approximately 7,926 graduates in 2021. As part of this study, Applied analysed the gender split of successful applicants to graduate schemes in the Accounting, Finance and Consulting sectors specifically – and found that 51% of successful hires were women, following a skills-based recruitment process. This marks a 19% uplift on industry figures: in 2021, women accounted for just 43% of PwC’s graduate intake.


Khyati Sundaram, ethical recruitment expert and CEO of Applied, comments:

“Graduate schemes offer excellent opportunities for young people to kickstart their careers. More needs to be done to address the historical underrepresentation of women on graduate schemes in the UK, and to empower women to take up their rightful places on these programmes.

“Skills-based hiring offers a solution. At a time when 99% of graduate recruiters feel they need to do more to increase the diversity of their hires, it’s time for employers to start embracing processes that really work. 

“All female graduates need is a fair chance. Once empowered to seize graduate roles and leverage the training, support and opportunities they come with, the sky’s the limit for the next generation of female talent. 

“In the meantime, as graduates enter the world of work this autumn, we want each individual to know that their skills are the only things that matter. Workplaces are enriched by diversity in all forms.”


Instead of using CVs, all participants in this study secured their roles following an anonymised recruitment process that focused on testing the skills needed for specific graduate schemes. The graduate schemes studied represented a range of different industries, including: Accounting, Finance & Consulting, Construction, Government, Health, HR, Publishing, Renewables & Environment, Tech and the Third Sector.

Candidates answered questions based on role-specific scenarios. Any questions that sought to identify ‘cultural fit’ or personal interests were removed. Answers were then anonymised, randomised and scored using a peer review system. Some of the roles analysed also used cognitive ability tests and numerical aptitude tests to assess applicants.

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