Olivia Moore, Careers & Wellbeing Manager at the Law Society of Scotland, explains contextualised recruitment for students, as these systems designed to enable fair access are becoming more common in graduate recruitment.

What is contextualised recruitment?

Contextualised recruitment is a tool that increasing numbers of employers are using to enable them to recruit the best candidates and ensure their application processes are as fair as possible.

It is useful as it allows employers to dig below the application form. A lot of candidates can look similar on paper if you have comparable school grades, have had a part time job and some work experience on your CV. However, the reality is that for some students, this has been harder to achieve than others and the barriers they have faced make their achievements even more significant. The crux of contextualised recruitment is the premise that candidates deserve for this to be recognised.

Contextualised recruitment allows employers to see barriers to success that will have had an impact on your life chances. It is a form of positive action, whereby employers are recognising your outperformance or understand what your performance may have been limited by. In a contextualised application form, you will answer questions relating to things like your academic performance, school, home postcode, working obligations during study and questions relating to access to free school meals, as well as whether you have spent time in care or are a refugee.

How do employers use this information?

Employers will usually use this information as an additional process for screening some applications. First, applications will go through whatever screening process employers usually use. Maybe looking at skills, values or how well you answer competency-based questions. It is therefore essential that you complete all parts of the application form fully and never rely on contextualised recruitment.

The contextualised part of the application form can be used as a ‘second sift’ for employers to identify any additional candidates they might want to take to the next stage. The data that shows up in a contextualised application might suggest that you have the potential to perform even better than you have so far. For example, the data might enable the employer to judge that your academic record might have been limited by your school’s quality, or because you have always worked a lot during term time. Or they might be able to identify that you performed in the top 5% of your school cohort, even though your grades might look around average compared to other applicants.

Employers may invite some additional candidates to the next round of their recruitment process based on this data. However, this information is personal, and the hiring team do not share this with anyone beyond the screening process.

Can I be disadvantaged if employers use contextualised recruitment?

No candidates are disadvantaged by a contextualised recruitment system. It is used by employers purely to make some students more visible as candidates and this is not at the expense of others. Essentially some extra candidates might be in the mix for roles, as more people reach the next round who deserve to.

We know that you might feel uncomfortable about sharing personal information with employers and you might even be worried that what you disclose might be held against you. However, the reason that employers are adopting a contextualised approach is that they specifically do not want to disadvantage people and it is there to potentially benefit your application. Employers are not using the software to de-select any candidates.

We also know, from speaking to other students, that you might otherwise be worried about being effectively disadvantaged because you might not hit any of the social mobility markers that a contextualised system identifies, if you are from an advantaged background. This is not the case either. No one is going to have an application disregarded because of your background. Remember that employers undertake their normal application screening processes first and a contextualised process is used in addition, so your chances of still getting to the next round if you put in a strong application remain the same.

You should therefore always be honest on a contextualised application form.

Do a lot of employers use contextualised recruitment?

Some bigger firms are starting to use contextualised recruitment systems like Rare’s as part of their usual internship and traineeship recruitment.

Through our current contextualised recruitment scheme with Rare, Dickson Minto and Morton Fraser are currently using contextualised recruitment.

Other firms using this system currently are listed on Rare’s website and include a number of UK based firms.

Using a contextualised recruitment is one of the most proactive ways we think employers can enable social mobility and support fair access, therefore we hope more will continue to sign up. Therefore, it’s something law students might start to see more of in application rounds.

Our work in social mobility

We lead several social mobility initiatives, inviting our legal employers and members to participate. Social mobility is essential to assuring fair access to the profession.