Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Focusing on what matters

Ernst and Young - a large firm of accountants, m'lud - have changed their staff recruitment practices. The BBC picked up the story, and undoubtedly it is of interest.

What's happening is that EY are no longer looking - during the early stages of recruitment - at an applicant's A levels or university degree. Applicants will still give these details, and they will be looked at by EY recruiters before appointments are made, but at the first stage EY will only go on the outcomes of their own tests.

EY use, it seems, online 'strengths assessments' which focus on Leadership, Commerciality, Networking and Influence, as well as numeric tests. And by excluding information about a candidate's background and prior education EY hope to remove a barrier to entry to the firm - moving away from practices which meant that such firms often recruit in staff members' own image: 'good' schools, 'good' universities, and similar (middle-class) backgrounds. Stop using a mirror!
Not the best interview panel

This isn't a leap in the dark - EY have looked at 18 months' results of their own assessments and are confident that they capture all the attributed that they want. Nor is it political correctness. It is part of what helps equality - a focus on what you're looking for, not just what you see at first glance. And it is good news that EY don't assume that a good degree measures all that you might want in a future colleague. Getting the right people is the hardest part of any venture.

So will this mean the end of students chasing good universities? I doubt it: positively, education in an intellectually challenging environment can never be a bad thing for a person. And negatively, I'm sure there'll be ways for candidates to make known where they studied. There's a loophole in every process: I'm sure many will have experience of age-blind recruitment processes where its possible to use dates of degree awards and career progress to estimate a candidate's age in advance of meeting them.

There's two lessons for universities in this. Firstly, the importance of developing students' skills beyond the curriculum. And secondly, are there things universities can learn about assessment? It'll be interesting to see whether other firms follow EY's lead.

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