By using the Russell Group as a byword for ‘intelligent’, employers show they don’t understand unis

Rather than simply picking from an elite group, employers would do well to recognise the different specialisations that every university has to offer

Going to a Russell Group uni is good for your career. But it does not follow that recruiting from these places is good for your business
Going to a Russell Group uni is good for your career. But it does not follow that recruiting from these places is good for your business

Feminist campaigners say that everyone should carry themselves with the confidence of a mediocre white man. It’s an amusing quip but, as anyone who has ever tried to recruit for a job vacancy in a popular industry can tell you, it also bears some truth.

Every job advertisement attracts a few hopeful chancers who fail to meet any of the criteria set out - and most of those (though, of course, not all) are men.

Why do they do it? Because sometimes it pays off - as I found out two decades ago when I was trying to break into journalism. I listened to the advice of older women, swallowed my pride and applied for a job for which I was, at that time, frankly inadequate.

I didn’t get an interview - and rightly so - but the magazine rang me anyway and asked if I’d like to meet the editor to discuss a more junior role that they hadn’t yet advertised. In the end, they didn’t advertise it at all; I got the job.

But against every lucky story like that, the flipside for employers is the countless wasted hours of time taken up by staff filtering through irrelevant CVs. This dog work, prevalent within big companies, shows that many businesses have yet to find a way to successfully filter out the most suitable entrants from the pack, particularly for graduates looking for their first job.

We might now have an answer why. New research published today suggests that the issue could very well be to do with the elitist and frankly unhelpful way employers view university degrees.

According to recruiter Milkround, graduates of the universities considered to be the “best 24” in the UK, are more likely to find work soon after graduating than those leaving other institutions. Four fifths of those graduating from Russell Group universities were in full-time employment within just weeks of leaving; only two thirds of those from the rest managed the same.

Going to one of these universities is, in short, good for your career. But it does not follow that recruiting from these places is good for your business.

Milkround urged employers to avoid filtering applicants by institution and warned about the dangerous impact on social mobility if they continue to do so.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that in 2017, Russell Group graduates earned an average of £33,500 after five years - about 40 per cent more than those who had studied at other universities. So this really matters, and these decisions about first jobs can have a lifelong effect on earning potential and opportunities. But what else are employers supposed to do? They need to make the cut somewhere and why not choose those who went to the most prestigious institutions?

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The problem for social mobility isn’t necessarily the practice of filtering applicants by university though, but that modern employers don’t really know very much about how universities operate today. According to the World Economic Forum, most degree qualifications only have a life cycle of five years. And in five years’ time, the job that you’re going into, and even the sector you’re working in, may not exist.

There are now entire companies, such as HowNow, whose business purpose is to help employees switch up their skills to fit their job as it changes. HowNow’s chief executive Nelson Sivalingam argues companies recruiting on institution name only are putting their own future at risk.

So using the Russell Group as a byword for “elite”, or even “most intelligent”, is lazy. It’s also outdated, because it ignores individual universities’ own strengths and weaknesses. Not every one of those 24 institutions is good at everything. Milkround is right to infer that it filters out promising candidates from those social and economic backgrounds less represented at the top universities, and who also may be far more suitable and ready for work.

These young people can be found by filtering by institution, however - but only if you know exactly what you’re looking for. If you want a graphic designer, you’re better off with someone from Kingston University; a racing car engineer would be best found graduating from Swansea University. Neither of these are in the Russell Group.

So if employers want to put an end to the pointless hours their HR teams spend trawling through irrelevant CVs, they should find out exactly which universities and which specific courses are creating the kind of graduates they need right now. Because it probably isn’t where they think it is.

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