From education to employment

Graduate recruitment in a post-Covid world – guarding against ‘netpotism’

University of Northampton Covid heroes gain award recognition

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a significant effect on the economy and the job market, one that will likely continue into the foreseeable future. Whether it’s retracted offers, falling job vacancies or pervasive economic uncertainty, graduates are understandably concerned about their post-studies job prospects.

One bright spot from 2020, however, was the speed in which employers and universities managed to move recruitment processes online. At Handshake we saw universities respond to the Coronavirus pandemic quickly and effectively, embracing virtual careers fairs, offering advice and guidance on online interviews and helping their student body adapt to change. 

What’s more, many of us hoped that the rapid shift online would act as an engine for social mobility – leading to more equality of access for students, and helping employers to connect with a broader talent pool. 

But our newest research exposes a significant issue, which suggests that digital recruitment isn’t levelling the playing field in the way we’d hoped. In fact, employers have been reliant on existing digital networks or connections to find staff – with 63% saying they leaned more on online professional networks such as LinkedIn and more than half (57%) saying they used word of mouth to find staff. 

This suggests that those students from more affluent backgrounds, with personal connections into professional careers are still likely to be gaining an advantage over other candidates. We call this issue ‘netpotism’ and believe that it has the potential to act as another obstacle to social mobility. 

Our research suggests that the problem is compounded by a pervasive digital divide. A quarter of students told us that they simply don’t have the right technology at home to access virtual recruitment processes, with many citing issues like internet reliability or even a lack of shared space to conduct interviews from.

So, how can we tackle nepotism and open up employment opportunities to a wider talent pool? The most obvious way is to collaborate – employers, education providers and the wider industry must work together to take steps to combat the issue and ensure fair access. 

And beyond collaboration, we must ensure that young people have the technology required to access career opportunities, addressing issues like slow broadband – or device and connectivity provision for disadvantaged students. 

What’s more, when uninterrupted access is ensured, students also need to feel comfortable with the content they’re delivering – and this is where careers services excel. Meaning investing in careers service is now more crucial than ever. 

So, with digital recruitment looking certain to continue (two-thirds (66%) of employers say they will be conducting more of the recruitment process online going forwards), it’s crucial that we tackle the growing nepotism problem. But, ultimately, we believe ensuring equality of access isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense too. A broad and diverse talent pool helps businesses foster a culture of innovation, more rounded thinking and ultimately, better productivity – helping them to succeed in a hyper competitive market, and rebuild and recover post-Covid.

Handshake’s Netpotism report draws on new data and insight from universities and employers around the UK, offering practical routes to ensuring a more diverse and inclusive recruitment pipeline. 

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