Recruitment still a matter of who you know

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A new study has revealed that despite a plethora of suitable candidates, HR still comes up against it if the CEO has a mate in mind for the role.

US-based research undertaken by Northwestern University's school of management found that nepotism is entrenched in hiring decisions at elite firms and top tier organisations. What’s more, in the absence of a personal recommendation, or an individual in line for the job, elite firms will hire the people most like the other people who already work there. “Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences and self-presentation styles,” Professor Lauren Rivera found.

Published in the American Sociological Review, Rivera’s research involved 120 interviews with hiring decision makers at elite organisations – namely in the law, consulting and banking industries. The research was the first systematic and empirical investigation into whether shared culture between employers and job candidates is still crucial when hiring. Rivera concluded that similarity is the most common mechanism employers use to assess applicants at the job interview stage.

While cultural fit is a well-known and accepted candidate requirement, more than 50% of the people Rivera interviewed rated the candidate's ability to fit in culturally above analytical thinking and communication skills.

Because of the extended hours workers typical spend on the job, hiring a person who held the potential to be a mate or even close friend was continually rated as highly important.

The importance of out-of-hours hobbies and personal interests was crucial to hiring decision. “Whether someone rock climbs, plays the cello, or enjoys film noir may seem trivial to outsiders, but these leisure pursuits were crucial for assessing whether someone was a cultural fit,” Rivera wrote. And given the high number of applicants from an array of prestigious universities, firms needed distinctions to compile interview pools. Rivera also noted the comments from law firm manager, who said they would be unlikely to hire a graduate who listed lacrosse and squash on their resume, because they wouldn't fit in, whilst another said they could select candidates for interview on those same activities.

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