UK students fear that physical appearance (58%), race and/or ethnicity (52%) and nationality (52%) have the greatest impact on recruitment decisions, a new survey from leading graduate careers website Milkround has revealed. The new findings highlight a clear discrepancy between how employers filter candidates and students and graduates’ experiences when applying for graduate roles. In fact, 81% of students and graduates believe that nepotism, whereby employers favour relatives or friends in hiring processes, remains a major factor when it comes to who is offered a job, despite just 6% of HR decision makers saying this is a factor.

With today’s students and graduates due to enter a heavily retracted labour market impacted by Covid-19, it’s important that young workers, particularly those from disadvantaged or typically under-represented backgrounds, are supported in feeling confident about their future careers. Respondents from often underrepresented backgrounds were more likely to feel that their identity or personal characteristics have negatively affected their application for a graduate job, with 29% of Black, African, Caribbean and Black British respondents reporting so, compared to 13% of white respondents.

Georgina Day, Graduate Jobs Expert at Milkround, comments:

The research has revealed wider concerns from students and graduates as to whether companies are doing enough to recruit inclusively and equitably. Employers must ensure they have the right processes in place so that they’re receiving applications from the best talent, regardless of background. 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.”


Almost three fifths (59%) of employers believe their business is doing enough to ensure they are recruiting a diverse workplace and over half (53%) believe that their business is already diverse. Despite this, 81% of students and graduates do not think companies are doing enough to ensure they are recruiting a diverse workforce, and two thirds (66%) of students and graduates do not think companies employ a truly diverse workforce. Concerningly, almost a quarter (23%) of HR decision makers said that their company does not currently have any diversity and inclusion recruitment strategies in place.

Nonetheless, there’s clear motivation beyond social justice for businesses to improve, as employers may well be recruiting from smaller and less diverse talent pools, based on reputation alone. Over a third (34%) of students and graduates consider how committed a company is to diversity and inclusion before applying for a job role. This rises amongst often underrepresented members, including women (39%), those from multiple ethnic groups (46%), and non-binary people (73%).


In terms of the steps that employers can take, two thirds (62%) of students and graduates would like to see companies introduce blind recruitment, whereby a candidate’s personal details are not requested or are removed from the recruitment process to limit the impact of unconscious bias. Currently 14% of employers practice blind recruitment, yet a third of those not practicing it (37%) are planning to implement this strategy in the near future.

To encourage diverse recruitment, students and graduates are also calling for businesses to both offer living-wage salaries for graduate level workers (49%) and use diverse interview panels (48%) going forward. Additionally, eight in ten (81%) students believe that universities should provide support, particularly to students from marginalised backgrounds and identities in finding their first job.

Monica Deshpande, Head of Employability and Graduate Success from The University of Westminster, commented:

“Westminster’s employability offer is built on our ongoing commitment to helping students from all different backgrounds fulfil their potential. We are very pleased to have launched ‘Class of 2020’ – a careers support programme created especially for our graduating cohort. It’s a tough year to be entering the jobs market and this programme is designed to keep our graduates motivated and engaged in developing work-ready skills, as well as preparing for digital assessment centres and navigating online recruitment and selection processes.”

Georgina Day, Graduate Jobs Expert at Milkround, adds:

“The Class of 2020 has faced a multitude of challenges this year, and The University of Westminster is a shining example of an institution working to ensure all students and graduates have access to the same opportunities when entering the world of work. Diversity and inclusion needs to be at the heart of every employers’ business recruitment strategies. Whilst the future of university life and the graduate recruitment landscape is still unclear, our research has identified the positive steps employers and universities can take to support entry-level talent in 2021 and beyond.”

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