Article | Fabulous Women

Confidence is key for getting a place at university – or work

Posted on 07/08/2019

Educational achievements may not provide the route to the best careers if the class profile does not fit. This was the damning conclusion of the BBC programme ‘How to Break into the Elite’ by their media editor Amol Rajan in late July.

I have just caught up on iPlayer with this programme, which showed that getting the right job required more than simply good A levels and a university degree, preferably from Oxbridge. Accent and mannerisms were often paramount for recruiters for, say, City jobs. The preferred skills, based on socio-economic background, usually included knowing some ‘middle class social codes’ involving polish, posture and personal presentation.

Suzie Fagan, a specialist recruiter in the finance sector, explained that people needed to “fit in with the culture” of a company. “I may not send someone for an interview because they don’t talk in the right way. That is sad.”

Moreover, the programme revealed that students from a privileged home, with a private school education and a 2:2 degree at a Russell group university, were more like to find a good job than working class students who achieved a first. The same privately educated group of graduates from Oxbridge were likely to earn more than fellow working class alumni.

Contacts and confidence were equally important, especially confidence. And the word confidence, Amol Rajan revealed, is derived from the Latin ‘fidere’, meaning to trust.

Rajan graduated from Cambridge University, thanks, he says, to the support of his Indian parents. He also has the advantage of being an extrovert, as he discovered when he filled in a survey for Robert de Vries at the University of Kent. Analysis of BBC research data on half a million people proved to de Vries that it was vital to be extroverted.

And there was luck. Amol said he had been lucky with his sponsors at the BBC. For example Matthew Wright of ‘The Wright Stuff’, who was his first boss at the BBC and said he came from an “ordinary” lower middle class background. They both concluded that we needed to instill ordinary people with confidence to make the UK more meritocratic and to help them break into the elite.

Amol Rajan summed up: “Class is the last barrier and it is a deeply rooted superstition that if you sound posh you mush be clever.” He added that he didn’t want to be part of a country with that kind of ethos.

In the ‘I’ newspaper, on 5 August, he calls for action to answer the old problem of “instilling confidence in young anxious minds…” to prepare them for the doubts and fears of life at university and at work. He and Afolabi Oliver have co-founded Key Sessions, under the auspices of the Rumi Charity, to address their aims.



There is also hope from the Careers and Enterprise Company, established in 2015 “to help link schools and colleges to employers, in order to increase employer engagement for young people”. The CEC have some 2,000 business volunteers acting as Enterprise Advisers (EA) in schools up and down the UK. EAs work with and through Local Enterprise Partnerships, who provide skillful support, arranging and maintaining contacts with a school, and keeping everyboy up to date with educational issues.

The role of the EA is interact with a school at and their students at meetings with the careers’ team, at Careers’ Days’, ‘Dragons Den’ events, and mock interviews. Students who have experienced at least four meetings with business people are more likely to find permanent work.

Research for the CEC has confirmed that employers are looking for soft skills, such as communication and teamwork, which state schools do not have the time or capacity to teach, given their curriculum-driven timetable. For me, the role is not too demanding and can increase my business network (from fellow EAs) and my knowledge of education issues.



As well as the CEC’s programme, mentoring A level students who aspire for Oxbridge and other universities provides another way some schools have found to instill confidence. For example, at Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, Eastleigh, I and fellow graduate mentors offer tutorial-style discussions with students.

From the Spring term until December, when Oxbridge interviews take place, the mentor’s task is help students become accustomed to debating topics in and around their subjects and prospective university courses. Through questions and discussions they are encouraged to hone their analytical and logical skills so that they develop the confidence for an Oxbridge interview. The same confidence and communication skills are also invaluable for job interviews.

So, if you want to get the best for the future of students and for British society you are urged to contact the CEC and local schools and colleges. The work is rewarding and can boost your business network. EAs, mentors and confidence builders are always needed.



‘How to break in the Elite’, BBC iPlayer:


Careers and Enterprise Company: /


Back Author : Nick Keith

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  • Name: Nick Keith
    Comment: Here's a timely reminder of the importance of confidence, whether you are aiming for university, trying to get a job – or even getting on with your team, your staff or your clients at work. It was prompted by a recent BBC documentary by their Media Editor, Amol Rajan. And this applies largely to young people and solutions to jobs can be found through the Careers and Enterprise Company and their thousands of Enterprise Adviser. Acquiring confidence for a job or university interview can be achieved through practice with a mentor. As I'm both an EA and a mentor, please contact me if you want to get involved.


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