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Should Your Economic Background Matter to Employers?

Should Your Economic Background Matter to Employers? main image

Picture this: you’re sat in a job interview for an internship, palms sweating, trying your best to answer your interviewer’s questions as best you can, when suddenly they ask “So, did your parents go to university?”. A bit of a strange question, but okay. You answer no. “Oh, so were you the first in your family to go to university?” Again, you sort of wonder why they want to know, but hey, maybe we’re moving on to small talk now? You say yes. “And did you qualify for free meals when you were at school?”

You answer truthfully to each question, but leave the interview scratching your head, wondering how any of those questions were relevant, and if your answers were the right answers. Surely it would be illegal to reject you as a candidate just for being from a poorer background?

It sounds implausible, but , according to a report by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) almost half (45 percent) of employers really are asking students these questions during interviews for internships, which is a three-fold increase on 2012. Thankfully, this isn’t to discriminate against applicants from poorer backgrounds. In contrast, there are concerns that employers could end up penalizing well-educated students by selecting candidates from poorer backgrounds, in an attempt to ensure that these backgrounds are well-represented in their workforce.

Don’t get me wrong, I think diversity in the workplace is important, and the UK’s biggest employers are under increasing pressure to boost diversity. However, to me the best person for the job is always the most well-qualified applicant, the person who can most bring the right skills and knowledge for the job – regardless of their social background, or any other aspect of their personal details, such as religion or sexuality. Just like it doesn’t matter what religion they are, it shouldn’t matter if they went to a private school like Eton or a comprehensive school in a deprived area, it shouldn’t matter if they got free school meals or ate caviar for lunch every day, and it shouldn’t matter if they were the first in their family to go to university.

I think most of us would rather be hired based on our own merits, rather than to fill some sort of quota on having enough employees from certain backgrounds. It would be patronizing to hire someone for being from a poor background rather than for being the best candidate for the job, and it would be unfair to exclude someone who went to Oxbridge and had a privileged background, including well-educated parents, but was, in every aspect, the best candidate for the job. As Stephen Isherwood, CEO of ISE says, it is all about context: “It is not about rejecting an Eton-educated candidate to let someone else through. It is about letting both through [and recognizing that] someone from a lower socio-economic background may not have had the same advantages.”

What do you think? How would you react if employers asked you about your economic background in an interview? Let us know below.

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Sabrina Collier's profile image
Written by Sabrina Collier
The Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina edits and publishes articles which guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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