Post-COVID graduate recruitment – why we must guard against ‘netpotism’

Ensuring equality of access to employment opportunities isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense too

The education industry is now starting to reflect on more than a year of extreme turbulence and uncertainty. And amongst the most important priorities is assessing how the pandemic is likely to affect the job prospects for the class of 2020/2021.

As the graduate recruitment sector rapidly shifted online last year, many of us hoped this would be a bright spot in a difficult 12 months. Online opportunities promise to act as engines for social mobility, leading to more equality of access for students, and helping employers connect with a broader talent pool. We also saw universities respond to the pandemic at speed, embracing virtual careers fairs, offering advice and guidance on online interviews and helping their student body adapt to change.

“Online opportunities promise to act as engines for social mobility, leading to more equality of access for students, and helping employers connect with a broader talent pool”

But, it’s not all a story of success. At Handshake, our latest 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.

Nepotism at large

And, it isn’t just employers who have found it difficult to adjust. The pandemic has highlighted  pervasive technology issues among students, a quarter of whom simply don’t have the right setup at home to access virtual recruitment processes. Key issues cited include internet reliability or even a lack of shared space to conduct interviews from.

This suggests that those students from more affluent backgrounds, with personal connections into professional careers and the resources to interview using effective technology, 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.

But it’s not all bad news; knowing about the issue presents us with an opportunity to combat it. And our report sets out ways for educators and employers alike to open up recruitment networks for the good of everyone. From the need for employers to be more proactive in their outreach to universities and graduates, to the impetus for careers services to provide more advice and guidance on connecting with employers digitally, there’s plenty to be done.

Accessibility is crucial

Beyond raising the profile of the issue, to tackle nepotism, 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.

And, when uninterrupted access is ensured, students also need to feel comfortable with the content they’re delivering and how they’re doing so – and this type of training and advice is where university careers services can further support those entering the employment field.

We know that digital recruitment is here to stay – two-thirds (66%) of employers say they will be conducting more of the recruitment process online going forwards – which means there’s a real impetus to tackle the negatives and ensure it works for everyone. But ultimately, we believe ensuring equality of access isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense too – fostering a culture of innovation, more rounded thinking and ultimately, better productivity.


You might also like: What can your school do about students’ change in behaviour over the last 12 months?


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