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How to help graduates launch their digital career

February 2020

The demand for digital skills is only going to increase, so preparing students and graduates properly for this future job market is vital, explains Chris Davies

Digital skills are vital for the economy. By 2022, it is estimated that there will be a demand for over a million digitally skilled workers.1 The government has put in place various digital strategies to create a pipeline of digitally skilled workers, educated to degree-level.

In order to help students and graduates to launch their digital careers, it is important that we help them to understand the current graduate job market, what skills employers are looking for and how to successfully navigate the rigorous job application process.

The future of the graduate job market is digital

Last year, of the 420,000 graduates that got jobs, 250,000 of them were employed in tech, digital and IT roles.2

The number of graduates who will secure jobs requiring digital skills is set to rise. A recent survey of 250 companies conducted by CBI/TCS revealed that 60% of larger firms said their digital skills needs are set to skyrocket over the next three to five years.3

Despite the growing number of opportunities in the digital field, graduates face fierce competition for jobs. Up until 1990, the number of graduates equalled the number of graduate job vacancies. Now, however, there are 2.3 million graduates searching for a job at any given time.

As a result of there being an overabundance of academically qualified graduates, employers are placing greater emphasis on offering jobs to the most workplace-ready candidates who possess relevant skills and experiences.

There are a number of reasons why graduates find it hard to get graduate jobs in digital nowadays including:

  • The content and delivery of courses taught at university have remained largely unchanged over the past 100 years, despite increasing demand for digitally skilled graduates and the radical shift in the graduate job market.
  • 90% of graduates studied a non-vocational degree at university and therefore are unsure of what career to pursue or what role is right for them. For example, an economics graduate may not understand how their background would be useful in a digital role.
  • Academic success is not enough. While it is possible to get a job in digital regardless of what degree a candidate studied, many graduates struggle to demonstrate that they have acquired transferable skills and experiences to convince employers to hire them in this field.

Students should be encouraged to participate in a range of extracurricular activities, and take every opportunity they can to develop their digital skills.

How graduates can boost their job chances

Students can leverage their time at university by focusing on their employability as well as their degree. Graduate recruiters add students, including first-years, to their talent pipelines, so we must encourage students to engage with potential employers as much as possible as soon as they begin university. They can do this by:

  • attending open evenings and networking events
  • gaining as much work experience as possible from shadowing, internships and placement years.

Furthermore, students should also be encouraged to participate in a range of extracurricular activities, and take every opportunity they can to develop their digital skills in their own time. A varied combination of work experiences and extracurricular activities will help graduates to develop their skills and stand out to potential employers.

Taking advantage of government digital strategies

The government has invested £20million into a consortium of universities and employers called the Institute of Coding with the aim of improving graduate employability.4 The institute offers courses that have been designed to meet industry needs.

Many employers are now employing degree apprentices as part of their future digital pipeline. The Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship is one of the most popular programmes.

Preparing graduates to land digital roles

Graduates face a rigorous, multi-stage application process. Generally, they will be required to:

  • fill out an online application including submitting a CV and cover letter
  • take online tests
  • complete a telephone or video interview
  • attend a final stage interview or assessment centre.

Without several years of experience or a portfolio demonstrating competence, many graduates find that getting their first graduate-level job can be extremely difficult.

When I coach graduates wishing to pursue digital careers, I start by conducting a skills audit, where graduates are encouraged to assess and analyse the hard and soft skills that they have gained from academia, extracurricular activities and work experience. The skills audit then forms the foundation to write an achievement-based CV.

Once their CV has been polished, I provide comprehensive interview coaching, which graduates find invaluable as most people have never been taught how to present themselves and perform well in interviews.

Alongside teaching graduates how to successfully navigate the multi-stage application process, I have created a digital marketing course. It's designed to help graduates, regardless of their level of experience or educational background to become 'digitally literate' and understand the digital landscape.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of HECSU/Prospects


  1. Digital skills, Office for Students, 2020
  2. 380,000 new graduates heading for a lifetime of underemployment, Responsesource, 2020
  3. Delivering Skills for the New Economy, CBI, 2019
  4. Institute of Coding, 2020

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