Social exclusion is broadly defined as the exclusion of certain groups from the opportunities that come with leading a ‘normal’ life—such as developing a career. You might think that going to university would help to stop people from feeling socially excluded when starting working life, but this is not always the case.

Even though a record 728,780 students started undergraduate courses in 2020, it is suggested that top universities are still harder for people from ethnic minority backgrounds to access, for instance. What’s more, once at university, there are still widely-reported instances of class prejudice.

These exclusive patterns then extend into the graduate careers sector, where more diverse graduates are discounted from the recruitment process simply as a matter of not having attended the right kind of university.

As Wendy Piatt, director of the prestigious Russell Group universities, herself told, “Graduate recruiters rank 10 Russell Group universities in the top 30 universities worldwide, and Russell Group graduates typically receive a 10% salary ‘top-up’ over others.”

So what can you do, as a graduate, to help level the playing field of opportunity and overcome social exclusion?


Find an employer that does not discriminate based on social factors

Bring your whole self to your application

Work experience

Application checklist

Find an employer that does not discriminate based on social factors

Whilst the ukuni article paints a rather worrying picture of the employment landscape for people at risk of social exclusion, the truth is that there are many top-tier global companies who are actively delivering on a social equity agenda to address this.

Nestlé, for instance, has a robust Diversity & Inclusion agenda and is actively attempting to widen participation into its graduate programmes by looking beyond factors such as where a person went to university and more toward what they are able to bring to a graduate role as a result of their holistic life and education experience.

In order to overcome the threat of social exclusion, it is worth investing as much time as possible in seeking out such employers.

Bring your whole self to your application

Traditionally, the recruitment process is one within which applicants present a somewhat edited version of themselves—the “best bits,” you might say—with a focus on merit over identity. However, in light of progressive graduate employers attempting to redress the social balance, the process is being turned completely on its head.

Rather than hide away the aspects of yourself that—as reported in 2019 by —conventional society has perhaps taught you are less important than your ability to do the job, then, use the application process as a platform from which to celebrate who you are. Our identities enrich our experiences and help to give us unique perspectives on the world. As such, a diverse range of employees with equally diverse perspectives is hugely valuable to a savvy graduate employer.

Identify your unique pride points—your individual achievements and how you have sought to overcome challenges in life—and expound on them in your application and at interview. Perhaps you’re a lone parent who has simultaneously raised children, worked and studied. Maybe you care full-time for a family member and continued to study. Or maybe you’re the first person in your family to go to university. Talk about these things in your application and at interview—it will demonstrate to graduate recruiters that you are more than just a set of skills and qualifications.

A 2016 study commission by The Sutton Trust and carried out by Dr Steve Jones (University of Manchester) suggests that the privilege of a private school education more effectively prepares students to write personal statements. However, renewed focus on social equity among top employers means that you now have the chance to begin your graduate career at a cultural turning point—where the opposite may well be true.

That’s not to say you needn’t worry about competing with Russell Group graduates—any job application is a test of skill, determination and personality—but it does mean that you’ll be competing on a more level playing field. So, bring your whole self to your work—celebrate who you are in full—and make sure to focus as much on your drive and ability to progress as your background.

Work experience

Research has shown that 83% of non-Russell Group graduates would not have been accepted onto their graduate schemes without work experience. Compare that to the mere 14% of Russell Group graduates required to have it and it paints a clear picture—underprivileged people need to work much harder to get to where they want to be than privileged people.

Unfortunate and unfair as that may be, it does help to map out a route forward for anyone hoping to access a graduate scheme—try to get some work experience behind you. Easier said than done if your circumstances mean that your time is otherwise compromised but—again—this is something you would be well advised to raise in any graduate application you make if, indeed, you can’t get any experience behind you.

However, a placement or internship, for example, could help you to gain work experience and get paid for it. It’ll give your application real credibility and, if it goes well, it could set you up for a career with the company.

Application checklist

Some applicants will have this type of advice drummed into them over years of careers support at top institutions—others won’t. So let’s take some time to consider what you’ll need to do when applying for a graduate programme to help you overcome potential social exclusion.

Do your research

Get yourself up to date with company news and reference it in your application. Doing your homework on a company will give you an insight into their culture and you’ll be able to see where you fit in. You may even decide your efforts are best spent applying elsewhere.

Get your CV in order

Inclusive graduate employers are interested in your skills and experience first and foremost. Give them top billing above your education. Also, go easy when it comes to your personal statement. Four concise sentences about yourself is enough. Keep your responses relevant

It’s easy to imagine recruiters being impressed by applications that run into several extra sheets. Generally, they’re not. It makes their job harder and it shows a lack of critical thinking on your part. Make sure your response answers the questions and that you support them with relevant experience. It's better to have a short answer that sticks to the point than a couple of good points amid reams of waffle. Submit an application that is not only well filled-out but also references real life experiences that make you stand out, you’ll be winning on two fronts.

Looking for something else to read? Check out our blog on racial equity in graduate recruitment.

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