Is privilege the number one criterion for getting a job?

In this blog by Gertie for the #MakeEducationWork campaign, the young creator breaks down the impact of privilege in the job hunting world and how to overcome some of its biggest hurdles.

Young people are constantly surrounded by the pressure of what to do with their future – career fairs, university applications, the constant question of ‘So, what are you going to do when you’re older?’

But, the pressure doesn’t stop there. They pick their career path, be it a set designer on the stage, a research scientist, a teacher, or an accountant. They are then faced with what they need to do to get there: the answer is work experience – and a lot of it.

Hurdle 1 – the skills gap 

Over a third of UK employers stressed that it is ‘not very likely’ or ‘not at all likely’ that a graduate would be successful in securing a job if they had no previous professional experience. This figure highlights both the increased competitiveness in the job market, and that academic excellence is no longer enough.

This aligns with the conclusion drawn by the ‘It’s our future’ report by Restless Development, that there is a significant gap between the skills acquired during education, and the skills needed to secure a job – employers recognise that the skills they desire candidates to have, be it professionalism and business skills, leadership skills, or technological skills, are best learnt through practical hands-on experience, making internship experience the number one candidate criterion.

The problem with this is that young people are faced with an invisible hurdle in gaining this experience. This hurdle is not writing their cover letter, the rounds of interviews, or even finding the experience in the first place, it is much deeper and deadlier – the power of privilege.

Hurdle 2 – the impact of privilege 

Privilege manifests in many different forms, It aides those of certain classes, races, ages, sexual orientations, and economic backgrounds, in both the workplace and hiring processes, specifically due to the rife nepotism that plagues professional industries, whether that’s fashion, media, law, or NGO’s.

Nepotism is a form of privilege that is the act of a person with power or influence favouring their friends or family for jobs – a study by the Debrett’s Foundation found that 72% of privileged Britons admitted to using familial connections to secure a job.

Whether it be asking for advice on what to say in your interview or what to include in your cover letter, being able to stay at a family friend’s house during an unpaid internship, or simply securing a position solely based on who you know, not what you know, the privilege of having connections is undeniable.

The same survey found that just under 50% of young people from underprivileged backgrounds didn’t apply for internships away from home as they couldn’t afford the associated costs, be it travel, accommodation, or the time taken away from them earning money – an analysis carried out by the Sutton Trust in 2018 found that the minimum cost of carrying out an unpaid internship in London is £1,019, even if transport costs are provided.

How to Jump the Hurdles, or Better Yet, Have None: The solutions

We can address the problem of compounding privilege in the workplace by diversifying how we hire interns and through contextual recruitment – according to research, the following steps are how we should change it:

Making Job descriptions accessible: clearly defined requirements that could be understood by someone not in the organisation. This reduces the need for applicants to seek help from those within the organisation, thereby minimising the unfair advantages for those with connections.

The job advertisement: consider the platforms you advertise the role on, who uses it? Consider publishing it on specific membership groups for underrepresented young people.

Shortlisting bias: prevent any bias from taking place by assessing CVs without personal information, such as names and schools.

Inclusive interviews: including reasonable adjustments, as well as a diverse hiring panel – Intel made the decision to include at least two women/or members of underrepresented groups in the interviewing process, and in doing so increased the hires of the aforementioned groups from 31% to 45%.

The Finish Line – the conclusion 

Young people are forward-thinking, motivated and capable, and those from underprivileged backgrounds should not be priced out, nor excluded from having the opportunity to gain invaluable experience because they couldn’t afford a summer interning in the city, didn’t have access to career coaching, or even just because they didn’t know anyone who worked at their dream firm.

Privilege is powerful, both in its roots and its impact, but recruiters and decision-makers have power over and in the workplace. It follows that they must make the choice to drive towards making the applications, and experiences more accessible, and consequently diverse. With organisations such as the Sutton Trust and Social Mobility Foundation leading by example, privilege is losing its power.


About Gertie

Gertie is a 19 year old British activist and advocate for youth empowerment and quality

education. Gertie is interested in learning about the theories and methods of education,

communication, and management, and is aiming to pursue a career working on developing a

sustainable, relevant, and holistic education system that puts young people in the best

position to enter both the workplace and world.

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Is privilege the number one criterion for getting a job?

by #MakeEducationWork Reading time: 4 min