The graduate job board, Milkround, have conducted research into the way graduates feel about recruitment processes and the most effective ways in which HR can attract the top talent. 

Last year research conducted by graduate job board Milkround, found that four in five graduates believe employers favour those who have attended prestigious universities. Milkround have since conducted further research, delving deeper to understand why graduates feel this way and what they want to see employers doing to make the recruitment process inclusive to everyone.

The research found that physical appearance (58 per cent) is the top identity trait students think has the greatest influence on companies’ recruitment, followed closely by race and/or ethnicity (52 per cent) and nationality (52 per cent). However, employers reported that the top markers of employability they use to filter applicants include: having strong professional references (23 per cent), mention of industry relevant skills in their CV (22 per cent), and prior work experience within the same industry (20 per cent).

The findings highlight a clear discrepancy between how employers filter candidates and students and graduates’ experiences when applying for graduate roles. In fact, following from the above, 81 per cent of students and graduates believe that nepotism, whereby employers favour relatives or friends in hiring processes, remains a major factor when it comes to who is offered a job, despite just 6 per cent of HR decision makers saying this is a factor.

With today’s students and graduates due to enter a more competitive graduate market impacted by Covid-19, it’s important that young workers, particularly those from disadvantaged or typically under-represented backgrounds, are supported in feeling confident about their future careers.

Identity matters to emerging talent

When asked about whether their background, identity or personal characteristics have negatively affected their application for a graduate job, respondents from varying ethnic demographics responded differently. Respondents from often underrepresented backgrounds were more likely to feel that their identity or personal characteristics have negatively affected their application for a graduate job, with 29 per cent of Black, African, Caribbean, and Black British respondents reporting so, compared to 13 per cent of White respondents.

“Eight in ten students and graduates do not think companies are doing enough to ensure they are recruiting a diverse workforce”

When looking more broadly into diversity, inclusion, and equity, almost three fifths (59 per cent) of employers believe their business is doing enough to ensure they are recruiting a diverse workplace and over half (53 per cent) believe that their business is already diverse. Despite this, 81 per cent of students and graduates do not think companies are doing enough to ensure they are recruiting a diverse workforce, and two thirds (66 per cent) of students and graduates do not think companies employ a truly diverse workforce. Further to this, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of HR decision makers said that their company does not currently have any diversity and inclusion recruitment strategies in place.

Drive for graduate recruitment improvements

Nonetheless, there’s clear motivation for businesses to improve, as over a third (34 per cent) of students and graduates consider how committed a company is to diversity and inclusion before applying for a job role. This rises amongst often underrepresented members, including women (39 per cent), those from multiple ethnic groups (46 per cent), and non-binary people (73 per cent).

In terms of the steps that employers can take, two thirds (62 per cent) of students and graduates would like to see companies introduce blind recruitment, whereby a candidate’s personal details are not requested or are removed from the recruitment process to limit the impact of unconscious bias. Currently just 14 per cent of employers practice blind recruitment, yet a third of those not practicing it (37 per cent) are planning to implement this strategy in the near future.

To encourage diverse recruitment, students and graduates are also calling for businesses to both offer living-wage salaries for graduate level workers (49 per cent) and use diverse interview panels (48 per cent) going forward. Additionally, eight in ten (81 per cent) students believe that universities should provide support, particularly to students from marginalised backgrounds and identities in finding their first job.

Milkround discussed the findings from the report with various UK businesses working on improving their diversity and inclusion strategies, as a result, here are some top first-hand tips direct from those companies into what graduate employers can be doing moving forward:

  1.  Instilling career confidence in those who may not feel confident applying for roles is important. This can be done by offering coaching workshops or sessions with students across the country.
  2. Work with a variety of universities across the UK that perhaps other employers traditionally do not work with and engage with them around key moments to encourage inclusion.
  3.  Take accountability in creating and implementing diversity ‘scorecards’ when hiring, to ensure gender, BLM, LGBT+, disability and social mobility initiatives are in place
  4. Remove minimum graduate requirements and start thinking about introducing elements of blind recruitment into the overall selection process.
  5. Offer support to graduate employees from marginalised backgrounds when they join the business, including onboarding, mentoring and connecting with employee networks and senior leaders from similar backgrounds.

Going forward, employers and HR teams should take accountability in ensuring their workforces are diverse and inclusive. Hiring a wide range of diverse individuals to simply ‘tick a box’ isn’t enough, companies need to ensure that the participation and recognition of all employees is equal. There is ongoing work to be done to identify problems and create strategies for success, however this is a vital part of workplace culture to ensure the well-being of employees and business success combined.

*The full report with the complete rundown of statistics can be accessed at Milkround’s site here. This research was obtained after surveying 250 HR leaders between 28th September and 2nd October and 1,000 students and graduates between 6th October and 20th October.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.