4: Scarcity and Similarity

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The previous chapter explored how the City encouraged internal and external audiences to believe hiring works as the right people are allocated to the right jobs using qualifications as a neutral form of ‘human capital’. Chapter 4 shows how as higher education expanded during the 1990s, there was a considerable over-supply of suitably qualified candidates for the City’s ‘top jobs’. Having defined talent in narrow terms, City firms struggled to appoint from this small group, contributing to impressions that skills were scarce. In response, firms moved recruitment cycles earlier in students’ academic careers, placing a renewed emphasis on aspirant workers’ ‘social capital’, as these opportunities were more visible and available where networks of friends and family could provide information and advice. Firms also sought to leverage status by appointing high numbers of new entrants from elite universities, whose credentials represent a form of ‘institutional capital’. These exclusionary practices represent a considerable deviation from the merit principle but interactions between firms in the City field meant they became institutionalized and ‘locked-in’.

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