On Sunday an interesting report was published on the study into non-educational barriers to top jobs. The study showed that working class applicants struggle to get access to top jobs in the United Kingdom.
13 ‘elite’ accountancy, legal and financial services organisations were interviewed and the results identified that these companies were systematically excluding bright working class applicants.
Rt. Hon. Alan Milburn, the Chair of the Commission, said:
This research shows that young people with working-class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs. Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry. Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.”
The “poshness” test included recruiting graduates from only 19 universities; not speaking with a ‘working class’ accent because the manager didn’t like these accents; having completed unpaid internships at the firm first and being impressed with extensive travelling. One manager commented “How much mud do I have to sift through in that population to find that diamond“. Ouch!
Would you pass the poshness test? Try here.
It is a great shame that some very bright talent is being missed. Of course we could all get angry by the unfairness, but this report is highlighting barriers and actually giving indications of how bright working class applications could improve their chances of being employed. Individuals AND their schools could assist in making them more ‘attractive’ to these potential employers.
- Travel. To be honest, why should any employer be impressed with Tarquin or Pandora’s “Gap Yah” Travel doesn’t need to be global, and any GOOD employer should be able to understand a candidate that has made the most of his/her gap year by doing work locally. Support from a teacher or career advisor at university would be able word a CV to advantage.
- Internships. Umm. It is such an advantage doing an unpaid internship at one of these firms, and not everyone can finance this. However, university departments do have requests for interns and work experience locally. Some of these elite organisations DO have paid internships and will contact universities about these. Make sure you are chummy with your tutor to find out this information! They will also advise about expenses being covered. Again this will add additional experience to a well written CV.
- Attending one of the 19 universities. Schools SHOULD have this information available and encourage their brightest students to apply to these universities, to give them the greatest chance of a better career.
- Speaking with a working class accent. I’ve had a lively online discussion about this topic today, with a number of highly successful business people.
One said: “My former father in law stamped a lot of the Thames estuary from my accent. To this day my gran says I talk “posh”. I’ve employed a huge number of people over the years, and I prefer accentless people. Not because they sound posh, but because I understand them easier.”
Another said “I’ve been a trainer for 35 years, working all over the UK and EMEA and if I had kept my accent no b***** would be able to understand me. I have a work voice, and every day accent and a special-when-I-go-back-home voice. I’ve no idea why it’s such an issue but for some, using a less than absolute Geordie accent is akin to selling out to the Tories”.
- In other words, in order to impress employers at the interview stage, you need to have a ‘work’ voice to present yourself in a professional way. This does not mean speaking like a “Gap Yah” candidate, but with a clear, neutral accent. By neutral accent I mean speaking with ‘less’ of an accent; ironing out local dialect, vocabulary and correcting grammatical errors. Using vocabulary that is appropriate for work and communication skills that engage the interviewer.
Interestingly, a version of this blog was posted on a site and one comment was that by modifying yourself, you are no longer authentic. Whilst I agree with this argument, we do have to modify our behaviour – including how we present ourselves – for different situations; work environment being one of them. And I should add that if you do modify your behaviour and are still rejected by a company, ask the question “Is this organisation right for me?”. It might be that the company has its own issues of only recruiting candidates “Just like us” and they won’t evolve. But that’s another blog subject!
These skills are often dismissed as ‘Soft Skills’, yet the study has shown that they are ESSENTIAL skills and one that schools and universities should be providing – particularly to less privileged students. Presenting yourself well, with good communication skills and on paper are more likely to result in better jobs. This is how you pass the poshness test.