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Achieving Socio-Economic Diversity in Graduate Programs

As employers prepare for their next graduate and intern intake, many are looking for ways to increase the socio-economic diversity of their hires.

When it comes to diversity, everyone understands the organisational benefits. New perspectives and different ways of thinking; creativity from a variety of approaches; employee performance and sense of inclusion; and organisation performance including higher profitability for commercial organisations.

At the graduate level,


Graduates from a lower socio-economic status often bring a real resilience learnt from dealing with ambiguity and overcoming obstacles and challenges on their own.


Yet achieving greater socio-economic diversity is a challenge for graduate employers. Here is what they say:

“It seems like all of our applicants have dual degrees and come from the top eight unis” 

“Our hiring managers like to hire candidates in their own image, with a similar background, even from the same high school”

“I’m concerned our recruitment process is leaving good candidates behind”


One of the reasons employers struggle is that lower socio-economic status students frequently don’t fit the selection criteria employers set.


  • First in family to attend university may not have an environment that encourages high academic performance or has awareness of what it takes to get into a graduate program.
  • Students may prioritise work, income or family commitments above academic performance, translating to lower grades or non-participation in typical campus activities.
  • Income needs can take precedent with students preferring paid non-career jobs over unpaid internships.
  • Physical location restrictions may lead to studying at a closer, lower tier university or campus.
  • The type of high school has a myriad of influences.
  • Lower socio-economic status individuals tend to underperform in cognitive abilities testing. Research* shows that socio-economic status is correlated with higher-level thinking processes such as reasoning and learning. Individuals from a lower socio-economic status background tend to perform worse on average on intelligence tests. While the role of heritable differences in cognitive skills cannot be ruled out, research confirms the individual’s environment is a contributor.


Rejecting candidates on cognitive ability without considering any other data, is unwittingly disadvantaging lower socio-economic candidates.


As employers have said “show me candidates with real resilience who didn’t go to a top high school or university but have had to work hard juggling multiple jobs and commitments just to get through. We want to bring candidates like that forward. If they make it through and are hired, that’s fantastic.”

So what are employers doing to improve socio-economic diversity?

  • Some, including Federal Government agencies have scrapped cognitive abilities testing altogether.
  • Applicants are no longer automatically rejected solely on minimum grades.
  • Initial assessment of candidates covers their full background, including academic results, work experiences and extra-curricular achievements.
  • Candidates from lower-rated universities are identified and the best of those students are added to their shortlist.

For employers who have implemented these measures, HR and their hiring managers have been delighted with the outcomes.


They report much greater diversity throughout the assessment process including graduate hires.


Adopting this approach one employer successfully filled their graduate openings first time round. That was a massive turnaround from the past where they had consistently fallen short, even when they returned to the market to try and top up numbers.

How did employers do it? Some reviewed applications manually. That's clearly time consuming but effective because each candidate is evaluated on their full background.

There are others who used GradSift.

How does GradSift help? Firstly, GradSift includes standard diversity filters around gender and background including indigenous, disability, cultural and LGBTI.


For socio-economic diversity, GradSift starts by assessing candidates objectively and without bias.


  • The focus is on candidate achievements and activities since high school.
  • There is a balanced assessment of the candidate through academic performance, work experiences and extra-curricular activities. An employer can easily see a candidate who wasn’t strong academically but excelled in other areas. 
  • Value is placed on work experiences that can be career related and non-career related. For example, a student who is a crew trainer at McDonalds or a team leader at a supermarket has already demonstrated behaviours including leadership, initiative and interpersonal skills. 
  • There is recognition of extra-curricular activities that include volunteering, sports and culture, as well as those that are career-related. 

GradSift then gives employers flexible search criteria to support socio-economic diversity.


  • Filter by universities. Select regional and/or lower rated universities and view the ranking of those candidates. Choose the best of those candidates to include in the next assessment stage. That's in addition to the main shortlist. 
  • Filter without minimum grade cut-off. Easily see candidates without great grades but with strong work experiences and extra-curricular achievements. 
  • Use the recorded video feature to assess communication skills and learn about their achievements or special circumstances.

Employers tell us that GradSift has definitely helped them achieve better diversity outcomes. 


To learn how GradSift can help achieve greater socio-economic diversity in your graduate or intern program, contact Peter Pychtin at or (61 2) 8188 2516.


* If you'd like to explore the relationship between lower socio-economic status and cognitive abilities here are several research publications.

Socioeconomic Status and the Growth of Intelligence from Infancy through Adolescence,the%20age%20of%202%20years

Education and Socio-Economic Status

How Poverty Affects People's Decision Making

Neuroscience of Socio-Economic Status: Correlates, Causes, Consequences