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Is the UK a meritocracy? Brits don’t think so

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The vast majority (80%) of British people think no matter how hard they work, people with better business contacts will always get ahead.

British workers are worried that others will sneak ahead of them in the jobs race, according to new research by telecoms company Virgin Media O2. 

Many candidates (68%) felt that others would use their contacts to gain a job, a promotion (58%) or space on a guest list (54%). 


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Sophie Forrest, founder of consultancy ForrestHR, told HR magazine that companies sometimes try to sidestep recruiting difficulties by ushering familiar faces through the door.

She said: “Unfortunately, getting recruitment wrong is so costly for businesses that many will take perceived shortcuts to try and eliminate as much risk as possible."

While companies may be tempted to hire a candidate they think might already be a good cultural and technical fit, she said, this can stifle diversity.

“It narrows the talent pool to those who are already in your networks, and means organisations might be missing out on fantastic candidates.”

These same candidates could bring fresh perspectives and energy to the organisation, she said.

“In an increasingly diverse world, the organisations that will find themselves best placed for future success are likely to be those that can attract and retain diverse talent.

“This may mean revising their recruitment process and putting more emphasis on soft skills, including effective ways to assess these.”

More than a quarter (28%) of UK workers said they found it difficult to express their potential on a CV, and one in five (20%) thought interviewers focused too much on their grades or experiences rather than their strengths.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at HR consultancy Peninsula, told HR magazine that ultimately candidates need the right skills for the job.

She said: “It is not in the best interests of either party to offer a role to somebody who does not have the capabilities to fulfil its requirements.”

Doing so, she said, would cause undue stress to both parties – and prove a costly process to the employer.

She added: “That being said, the importance of soft skills should not be overlooked. 

“Where an applicant has demonstrable skills in areas such as presenting, negotiating, and communication, and has a willingness to learn, qualifications and experience requirements should be afforded leniency."

The study surveyed 2,000 UK workers between 26-28 January 2022.