Talking Netpotism with Exeter University, PWC and the Institute of Student Employers (ISE)

Joanne Patterson

April 21, 2021

Handshake’s Clare Adams joined educators, employers and industry leaders today on a webinar hosted by the ISE, to talk about a pressing issue affecting the graduate recruitment market: online nepotism or ‘netpotism’.

Together with Paul Blackmore from the University of Exeter and Louise Farrar from PWC, Claire discussed Handshake’s recent research around the post-Covid jobs landscape, which revealed that 63% of employers are increasingly relying on existing digital networks or connections to find staff. Indeed, while many hoped that the Covid-fuelled shift to digital networking and recruitment would open up doors to a more diverse range of candidates, the research shows that  the opposite has been true.

The issue for everyone on the webinar was clear – an unintended consequence of Netpotism is closing off opportunity and decreasing opportunities for social mobility -  which is bad news for graduate recruiters and recruits themselves. And attendees agreed, asserting that the industry must work together to tackle this issue, and do so quickly.

For Clare, and Handshake, the pandemic provides a clear catalyst to boost equality of access, and proactively stem netpotism. ‘Online recruitment isn’t going anywhere soon.” she says. “Many employers feel that even when things return to ‘normal’ they will still harness tech to find talent, so it’s imperative we’re opening up networks and ensuring access to more diverse talent pools.”

Paul Blackmore, Divisional Head for Student Employability and Academic Success, at the University of Exeter, agreed. “The first step in tackling a problem is identifying it” he said, “and that’s why research like Handshake’s is important”. Part of Paul’s remit is supporting students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and the key to securing success, he says, is making the process of connecting with employers easier.

Louise Farrah, Director of Student Recruitment at PWC, praised the progress of digital recruitment and told us that a move online has made employing great candidates easier. But she confirmed that when PWC uses technology to boost hiring, they do so with inclusion firmly in mind. “Diversity is crucial to PWC.” she says. “If we weren’t able to access a diverse range of talent, we’d simply not be able to serve our diverse client base.”

The group also looked at the issue from the student point of view. Handshake’s research found that many students simply don’t have the right technology to connect with employers online, cutting out less affluent candidates from the jobs market completely. All attendees agreed that access to laptops and up to date tech is really important – particularly mobile devices (which 96% of 16-24 year olds have).

Both Paul and Louise talked about the importance of training and development for students, ensuring they’re ready for the world of work and confident in entering into the recruitment process.

Plenty more was discussed, and all three experts talked extensively about a whole ecosystem approach – facilitating more collaboration between academia and industry, to build a trust based, fruitful dialogue.

Watch a recording of the discussion here and to learn more about Netpotistm (and how it can be tackled) visit