Why I stopped looking at which universities our applicants went to

ONE MINUTE BRIEFING: O2's HR head Ann Pickering believes it's a mistake to limit your graduate intake to Russell Group universities.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 14 Jan 2019

"Successful candidates will need a 2.1 from a top university." Many a graduate job spec carries this rather disheartening line, which is designed as a filter. After all, it’s hard enough to sift through the hundreds of job applications you get that satisfy this requirement, without opening the floodgates to the hundreds (or thousands) more that do not.

Yet there’s a growing realisation that this approach denies employers access to deep and diverse talent pools, as O2’s HR director Ann Pickering explains.


"Three years ago I went on a trip with other business leaders to a job centre, as part of Business in the Community. I spoke with a young man, and asked him to tell me his story.

"He lived in the East End and went to university close to home, because he was needed to help out in his father’s store. After getting a 2.1 in business studies, he set up his own business organising Asian weddings. It lasted three years and he employed three people, before a competitor pinched his idea and put him out of business. So he said he had failed.

"The first learning for me was that people don’t always know how to tell their stories. When I played what he said back to him – you’re an entrepreneur who employed three people, which is amazing – you should have seen the look on his face. He was snapped quickly by another employer.

"The second was that it didn’t matter where people went to university – he went locally for family reasons – so I legged it back to O2 and said stop looking only at the Russell Group universities, it’s irrelevant."

For more information

Here are four alternatives to traditional recruitment, and this is what employers can learn about finding the right people from online dating. Alternatively, here's an in-depth look at how top employers are finding talent outside of the graduate milkround.

Image credit: Pixabay/Pexels

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