A study of 2,000 Brits discovered 80 per cent believe that no matter how hard they work, those with better business contacts will always get ahead.
As well as getting a job (68 per cent), people think others typically use those they know to help get a promotion (58 per cent), a space on a guestlist (54 per cent) and work experience (50 per cent).
Despite this, 84 per cent prefer to know they’ve earnt something for who they are rather than who they know.
Of the fifth who have secured a job via someone they know, 26 per cent felt guilty about the other people who applied for the role, and 29 per cent believe they had to work harder to prove themselves.
The research was commissioned by Virgin Media O2 to mark National Apprenticeship Week, with the company creating more than 200 apprenticeship roles this year, which focus on people’s potential, skills and strengths, rather than who they know or if they have experience.
It also found seven in 10 adults believe they should be judged purely on who they are, rather than who or what they know.
While 71 per cent of 18- to-24-year-olds feel it’s unfair when people aren’t given a chance at a job because they don’t know someone in the company.
And 78 per cent think people should be judged on their potential rather than experience or qualification.
Fears of not being good enough, a lack of interview experience and not having high grades are among the things putting people off applying for a job, apprenticeship, or work experience.
Karen Handley, head of future careers at Virgin Media O2, said: “We know how difficult it can be for people – especially youngsters starting out – to get a foot on the career ladder.
“That’s why it’s a real shame the research shows that many people believe “it’s who you know” that counts when applying for a job.
“And it’s disappointing that people are missing out on applying for an apprenticeship because they’re worried they’re not good enough or don’t have the right experience.
“That’s why, for Virgin Media O2’s apprenticeships, we don’t care ‘who you know’, or ask for CVs or prior experience. Instead, we care about who you are and your potential.”
The study also found a fifth think interviewers focus too much on their grades or experiences rather than their potential or strengths.
And 71 per cent of those polled via OnePoll said it’s unfair when entry level jobs ask for experience.
More than a quarter wish employers didn’t judge them by their CV while 28 per cent believe it’s tricky to express their potential this way.
And a sixth admitted to having lied on their CV as they thought it would help them get the job they applied for or to make themselves sound more interesting.
To support those applying for their first ever job, Brits think potential employers can explain each stage of the application process (45 per cent), avoid asking for prior knowledge or experience (30 per cent) and not ask for CVs at all (17 per cent).
But four in 10 don’t think employers ask enough to find out about them as a person, with people keen to talk about their life experience (58 per cent), hobbies and interests (37 per cent) and personality (35 per cent during an interview.