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IT and technology

Why your computer science degree won't get you an IT job

Many students with IT degrees think that's enough to have recruiters falling at their feet. They're wrong. Even if you've studied computer science, there's more you need to do to make yourself employable.
IT employers care about your transferable skills just as much as your technical ones.

You’ve chosen a vocational degree. You know that technology is only going to play a greater and greater part in our lives. And you’ve read about skills shortages and the demand for technologists. So it’s easy to assume that getting a decent IT job only requires passing your degree and firing off a few applications.

Sadly that’s not the case. 1) Because many IT recruiters have requirements that go beyond what’s taught in lectures. 2) Because even if you’ve got the right skills, you still need to sell your understanding of and enthusiasm for a particular employer. 3) Because demand for technologists is greater at experienced-hire level than entry level. Oh, and 4) Because many major players now demand at least a 2.1 degree, and in some cases a minimum number of UCAS points.

Employability issues among technologists

Recruiters report that students applying for graduate jobs in technology roles are particular culprits for not taking applications and employability seriously enough. That’s compared with students applying for other graduate roles, eg business or finance, and with school leavers applying for technology roles. What’s more, computer science graduates actually have the highest unemployment rate of all degree disciplines.* It’s time to take action and turn yourself into your ideal recruiters’ ideal candidate.

Narrow down what type of IT job you want

There’s a massive range of IT roles so first narrow down what you want to do. See the business sector overviews, Ten typical jobs graduates can do in IT and What type of IT company and job is the best fit for me? for help deciding. The skills you need to improve depend on which job you’re aiming at.

Investigate employers’ requirements

Most employers are clear about their requirements. Check out the job adverts here on site and recruiters’ own websites for details.

Get in touch

If you’ve scrutinised a particular employer’s website but still aren’t sure how you could make yourself more appealing to them, get in touch well before you need to apply and ask. Many recruiters will be happy to make suggestions, as long as you’re polite and don’t ask for information you could have easily found for yourself. For example, they may suggest that you read up on a particular area or take certain options on your course.

Make sure you've got the right technical skills

If you’re after a very technical role, check what precise skills are needed. Do you have experience of the right types of programming languages? If not, investigate whether there are university modules you can take to gain the right knowledge, or if there is relevant open-source software you can download and experiment with, or free online tutorials to teach yourself the basics. See What programming languages and other technical skills do I need to get a graduate IT job?

Don't neglect your soft skills

IT employers care about your transferable skills (such as your ability to organise your workload and communicate professionally) just as much as your technical ones. For business-focused roles such as IT consulting, they are arguably more important. Technical graduates can find themselves up against arts or social science graduates for such roles and can sometimes miss out due to less well developed soft skills. If you need to build your confidence in giving presentations or teamwork, for example, consider taking an active role in a club or society where you can develop these. See Prove you've got the soft skills IT professionals need.

Top recruiters on how to make yourself employable

ThoughtWorks graduate recruiter: ‘I want graduates who take the initiative to teach themselves new skills. There are lots of free online courses available. It shows an employer that you have the drive and motivation we’re looking for. Also, we want you to be part of your local tech community, go to hackathons and contribute to GitHub and Stack Overflow. It shows an employer that you’re passionate about the industry.’

CGI graduate recruiter: ‘Even the most brilliant of minds needs to be able to communicate effectively if their ideas are to be realised. Many of our candidates are an ideal fit for CGI technically, but fall down through the selection process because they cannot articulate their experience, skills and why they are the perfect candidate for us. I would encourage all students to practise talking about themselves, learning how to articulate their selling points clearly and succinctly. Mock interviews are incredibly valuable, if nerve-racking. If these aren’t available, use your careers service, or even your friends.’

Imagination Technologies graduate recruiter: ‘The students who are most interesting to us are the ones who have done some kind of extracurricular project or activity, which shows they are interested in problem solving outside of their degree. I would strongly recommend that students join a programming society, an open source community, or even buy a kit car and build it from scratch – whatever interests them. The best interviewees have a personal drive and interest in their own projects and this shines through in the interview, and helps them through the tricky problems we put in front of them!’

*Source: Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey.

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