Is your recruitment process a help or hindrance to social mobility?

September 4, 2019

There’s no doubt that social mobility has become a big priority for nearly half of graduate employers*, and more and more employers are looking at the universities and schools they attend to improve access; some are providing bursaries and mentoring from an early stage; others are partnering with specific social mobility and outreach organisations; and increasingly there’s much more emphasis on contextual recruitment to widen access at the top of the funnel.

There’s no doubt that many organisations are doing a lot to encourage more applications from students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. But is your recruitment process helping or hindering your social mobility strategy?

Recently Ben Williams, Founder of Sten10 and Hannah Harrison, Director at GTI, discussed the issue at the ISE Conference.  Here are some key insights that may make you think again about key aspects of your recruitment process.

Imagine if your assessment criteria and process were actually proving a disadvantage to people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.  We looked at research by Antony Manstead**, Professor of Psychology in the Social Sciences at Cardiff University, and Ben distilled these into six key differences in our behaviour according to our social class and socio-economic status.  We’ve outlined the findings below, and they make for interesting reading.

Social mobility infographic extract

This started to make us think about how differently people from the two groups might perform at assessment.  Imagine if you’re testing for independent working, negotiation skills, looking for people who are more willing to challenge others, or to assess whether people are able to innovate and take risks.  You may be putting people from lower socio-economic backgrounds at a disadvantage.

Equally we can see from the 2019 Trendence survey of 71,000 students that those from higher socio-economic groups are on the whole more comfortable with all stages of the recruitment processes.  In particular, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to drop out after live video interviews.

In essence, we need to make sure we aren’t putting people in situations where they don’t feel comfortable or may be at a disadvantage, not because they don’t have specific abilities, but because they may not have had the experiences, privilege, access or opportunity.

Here are a few things to consider for social mobility success:


Avoid priming negative stereotypes – for example, asking monitoring questions up front can seed doubt in a candidate’s mind about their fit.

Ensure you can justify assessing traits where differences are found – are traits such as competitiveness, risk-taking and independence really that important to the job?

Ensure you can justify exercise types where differences are found – exercises such as negotiation may filter out people inadvertently, and consider whether group exercises are more appropriate than individual exercises.

Candidate Experience

Try and be as informal as possible – such as using text messages to communicate and also making sure the assessors and stakeholders aren’t dressed overly formal.  When it comes to the assessment centre, do the welcome without any assessors in the room, to make people feel comfortable; and avoid any formal networking sessions.

Enable candidates to ask questions whenever they need to – encourage candidates to ask questions throughout the process, such as before an interview or an assessment centre; and give them all the information they need throughout the process.  Using video is a great way to do this.

Be as flexible as you can in your approach – such as offering a telephone interview instead of a video interview if necessary, or simply offering recorded video interviews.  Of course, if you are using video interview, try and negate any anxiety by showing empathy - “we know that a lot of candidates find talking to a computer difficult, but what we’re really looking for is…”; and if you can, allow students to prepare and re-record their answers if necessary.

Finally, please, please, please if you can – pay their expenses and pay them quickly.  After all, it’s these little things that really matter.

To discover more about how you can make your assessment process and candidate experience more inclusive, please get in touch.

*ISE, 2018
**The psychology of social class: How socioeconomic status impacts thought, feelings, and behaviour, Antony S. R. Manstead, British Journal of Social Psychology (2018)

Ben Williams

Assessment knowledge guru and industry thought-leader.