A recent survey of 1,600 hiring managers across prominent industries in the UK has revealed that a significant portion of law firms and financial services companies continue to maintain elitist hiring practices. The study found that 41 percent of law firms and 25 percent of accountancy, banking, and insurance companies are unlikely to consider candidates without a degree.
What is even more concerning is that 52 percent of legal and 51 percent of financial services companies surveyed stated that they would only consider candidates from a select group of universities. These universities include Oxford, St Andrew’s, Cambridge, LSE, Imperial College London, Durham University, UCL, and the University of Bath. The engineering and marketing sectors were also identified as industries that frequently target graduates from these prestigious institutions.
The prevailing justifications provided by employers across all industries for these hiring practices include the belief that graduates already possess the necessary skills (39 percent) and the desire to recruit only the “best” employees (33 percent).
The survey also highlighted that three-quarters of professionals in the law industry consider the skills listed on a candidate’s CV to be more important than cultural fit. Paradoxically, 67 percent of legal firm hirers believe that skills can be acquired on the job without a relevant university education, and 73 percent have been positively surprised by the performance of individuals without degrees.
The research, conducted by Barrington Hibbert Associates, was commissioned to shed light on the issue. Michael Barrington-Hibbert, the founder and CEO of the company, expressed disappointment in the findings, stating, “It’s disheartening to see that these industries are missing out on hiring so many exceptional candidates from diverse backgrounds who possess alternative forms of education and life experiences that could greatly contribute to their organizations.”
He further emphasized that while having a degree from a prestigious academic institution can undoubtedly enhance employment prospects, thousands of individuals lack the financial means to pursue higher education, let alone attend one of the “top eight” universities. This situation unjustly disadvantages talented individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, making it significantly harder for them to secure employment in certain industries.
The study also revealed that hiring managers in the public services and administration sector are least likely to exhibit elitist tendencies, with 72 percent indicating a willingness to interview candidates without university degrees. Additionally, 70 percent of these managers believe that by exclusively hiring individuals with degrees, they risk missing out on exceptional talent.
However, age appears to be a significant factor for the engineering (28 percent), finance (21 percent), healthcare (21 percent), and marketing industries (21 percent) when making hiring decisions. Alarmingly, 16 percent of law firm recruiters consider family background as one of their top three requirements when selecting new talent.
The survey also indicated that 79 percent of legal professionals surveyed admitted that “who you know” plays a crucial role in securing employment opportunities and promotions within the workplace. These findings underscore the presence of systemic barriers that perpetuate inequality and limit opportunities for those without privileged connections.
Michael Barrington-Hibbert concluded, “While recruitment involves considering various factors, age and family background should not influence the decision-making process. The UK currently faces a severe labor shortage, and the government’s campaign to reintegrate individuals over 50 into the workforce is failing to yield results. The evident presence of ageism in hiring decisions within these industries only exacerbates the problem. I hope this research serves as a wake-up call, as failure to identify, hire, and develop diverse untapped talent will undoubtedly hinder the future sustainability of these sectors.”