The UK’s top employers have been slammed for sidelining the UK’s bright working class applicants in favour of more privileged, “polished” candidates – who may even have less impressive grades.

Delving into the ‘non-educational barriers to the elite professions’, researchers for the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that former pupils of fee-paying or selective schools won 70% of the most lucrative graduate jobs last year, despite making up only 11% of candidates. To break into top jobs, state school candidates needed higher qualifications than their privately educated peers.

A number of factors are to blame. Top firms tend to recruit from Russell Group universities – where those from comprehensive schools are under-represented. Those from well-off backgrounds are also more likely to apply for the best jobs (perhaps indicating greater confidence they will be accepted?).

But most shocking are revelations about how employers define ‘talent’ when assessing applicants. This is not just about academic results. Desired attributes include drive resilience, strong communication skills and above all confidence and ‘polish’ (which participants in the research acknowledge can be mapped to middle-class status and socialisation). Those who had travelled abroad were also more likely to be considered favourably over those who had not, giving further advantage to those from wealthier backgrounds.

The report – based on interviews with staff from 13 elite accountancy, law and financial services firms – found that organisations are “systematically excluding bright working-class applicants” from their workforce.

Commission chairman Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary, said:

“This research shows that young people with working-class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs. Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry.

“Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.

“Thankfully some of our country’s leading firms are making a big commitment to recruit the brightest and best, regardless of background. They should be applauded. But for the rest, this is a wake up and smell the coffee moment.”

Graduate Fog is deeply concerned by these findings, which show that candidates from wealthier backgrounds have a huge advantage over those with the same academic results from less privileged backgrounds. We know that many firms acknowledge their need to improve on diversity and social mobility – yet few seem to understand the subtle ways that their supposedly sophisticated recruitment processes carelessly filter out some of the best candidates. We also question whether it’s right that we should teach graduates ‘how to pass as posh’ in order to compete for the top jobs. Here’s another idea: is it the business world that needs to change, to become more inclusive?

Do candidates from private schools have the edge over those from comprehensives when it comes to applying for the top graduate jobs? Do employers focus too much on classist criteria like ‘polish’, accent, mannerisms, etc? We’d love to hear about your views and experiences. Have you say below…

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