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Graduate jobs market risks becoming a closed shop following Covid-19

A report from Handshake shows half of businesses believe the shift towards online networks driven by the pandemic presents a chance to level the playing field – but in reality, the UK is seeing a swathe of inclusion problems dubbed “netpotism” – tapping into existing contacts online like family friends, former colleagues and school networks.

The graduate jobs market risks becoming a closed shop following Covid-19 – unless steps are taken to open up the virtual networks now relied on by businesses.

A report* shows that half of businesses (49%) believe the ongoing shift towards online networks driven by the pandemic presents a chance to level the playing field, with lower barriers to directly reaching candidates.

However, key issues need to be addressed to avoid a new swathe of inclusion problems dubbed “netpotism” – or nepotism driven by online networks made up of existing contacts, family friends, former colleagues and those you went to school with.

A significant proportion of HR decision makers admitted to leaning on networks of existing connections in the past year, with almost two-thirds (63%) saying they’re more reliant on LinkedIn connections due to COVID restrictions. Troublingly, most (57%) also say they’ve become more reliant on personal networks and word of mouth recommendations during the pandemic.

Similarly, more than one in four (28%) say they prefer to hire grad/student candidates they already know as they’re less of a risk in the current environment, while 30% have asked colleagues to suggest grad/student candidates during the pandemic, or even turned to friends (24%) and family members (17%) for recommendations.

All this has the potential to entrench existing privilege and exclude candidates from less well-connected backgrounds, unless more is done to directly link employers with a wider pool of candidates going forwards. And the problem won’t disappear along with the pandemic either – based on their experiences in the past year, 66% of businesses say they’ll conduct more of the recruitment process online going forward.

As a result, a third of students and graduates (33%) think job applications and interviews are biased towards people who have existing connections, while 15% feel excluded from job opportunities due to their background.

The research found that measures to support students and graduates in establishing Early Career Networks would help improve the digitized job hunting and application process. A third (32%) of respondents said they want to more often hear directly from employers that are looking for student and graduate candidates like them.

And while 48% of students and recent grads score their experiences with university careers services 4 out of 5 or above, there is still room for improvement – one in five (18%) still feel their university doesn’t do enough to facilitate useful connections with employers.

Meanwhile, student and graduates identified the need for more support and practice ahead of video interviews – one in four (24%) feel they haven’t had enough training in this area.

These changes could also go some way to helping ease frustration with the applications process more generally. Overall, just one in five submitted applications (20%) lead to a response from an employer – whether positive or negative. Meanwhile 13 per cent of students and graduates say that none of the applications they’ve sent have been responded to in the past year.

Dimitar Stanimiroff, General Manager EMEA at Handshake, comments on the findings: “The increasing use of technology as part of the applications and hiring process has the potential to really help out both businesses and those starting out in their career. But it also presents a very real danger of supplementing one set of closed networks like overreliance on word of mouth, for another set, via online professional social networks that rely on existing connections. All of this means a less diverse pool of applicants to draw from.

“At a particularly complicated time to be entering the jobs market, businesses, university careers services and tech providers need to be pulling together to make the hiring process as smart as possible. There’s a huge amount of talent out there that faces disproportionate barriers, which is why at Handshake we’re working with industry and academia to help create Early Careers Networks that intelligently connect those starting out on their career with the right opportunities and help solve overcome some of these boundaries.”

*Research from Handshake

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