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Inside Careers works in partnership with the British Computer Society. Here, they have answered the most commonly asked questions from our graduate readers.

Do I need a degree in IT?

A degree is always useful and most entrants to the industry have one. It does not necessarily have to be IT-related. A degree in another discipline indicates a level of achievement and employers are often interested in the essential soft skills acquired through studying other subjects. A company may then be prepared to fund you to go on training courses to learn the necessary IT skills, or you could take a second IT-related degree or a Master’s.

However, it is also possible to enter the IT profession without a degree. For example, someone could start out on an IT helpdesk and move upwards.

This means that even if you’re not sure about an IT career at the outset of higher education the options are still open later.

What other skills or qualifications are required?

In addition to technical skills, which certainly need to be kept up to date, it is vital today that you have people skills. In the past IT professionals have been viewed as geeks, loners, or eccentric, but in the modern IT world not only is this a rather stereotypical view but also out of place, as the so-called soft skills are vital. Being able to work alone and in a team is a valuable asset and business awareness is also highly desirable.

How long does it take to qualify?

It can take four to six years to become fully qualified, but even after that you will need to continue training to keep your skills up to date with new technology – IT is a fast developing industry and the value of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) cannot be overstated.

BCS has a range of products to aid CPD. It is also very common for people to change specialisms in IT for which again, further training is needed.

What are my career prospects?

What do you want them to be? There are many areas to work in the IT arena that are fun and challenging – and many places to progress to. Some people who have previously specialised in a particular area find that they can move up to project or people management and eventually into a chief information officer or IT director role. Others, who like the day to day challenge of IT problems, simply move specialisms from time to time.

The sky and your imagination are the limits. Check out the BCS Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) for a matrix of job roles and skills needed for each one through SFIAplus.

How much can I expect to earn?

This varies hugely according to geographical area and job type. For example an IT job that has a salary of £70,000 in the City of London could pay only £33,000 in Cheshire. A software architect for security could earn as much as £100,000, while an analyst could take home £45,000. The siteJobStats is a good place to look for average job salaries, its information is based on job adverts in the press.

How can I get work experience?

If your BSc or MSc includes a work placement, you should be able to get advice about it from your industrial placement tutor and be able to approach your university careers service. Careers advisers are usually sent vacancy information from employers around September.

You can try approaching IT companies directly – many have online forms to fill in. If you don’t have a placement through your degree, you could consider taking a year out to gain work experience or do some during your holidays – you may have to offer to work for free but work experience is worthwhile as it proves both your aptitude and enthusiasm and gives you experience to put on your CV. You could also consider doing voluntary work through an organisation such as iT4Communities.

Visit our work experience area to find the latest placement opportunities.

What opportunities are there for mature students?

IT is often seen as a young persons’ environment, especially as most organisations recruit highly qualified graduates and fast-track them up the corporate structure – this applies particularly to technical and consultancy skills. However, this approach is slowly changing as employers see the need to employ mature individuals due to the change in demographics – the increasing number of older people in the workforce. That said, there are still frequent complaints that many IT employers are ageist.

How do I get a job abroad?

A great thing about IT skills is that they are almost all globally recognised, which means your qualifications will be just as relevant abroad. The easiest way to move to another country is to be sent there by your employer – look out therefore for companies with subsidiaries or branches in other countries and ask at interview if there are likely to be any future opportunities to work abroad. Otherwise, you can look for agencies that specialise in placing staff abroad or apply directly to companies based abroad. If you wish to apply directly, you will need to look into whether you qualify for visas and working permits for the country in which you are interested.

Should I consider going self-employed?

Many IT professionals are contractors, but before going down this route it is wise to have gained some experience and contacts in the industry by working for an employer.

Once you are in a position to think about going freelance, you will need to consider the pros and cons. On the plus side, as a contractor you do not get embroiled in office politics, your role is clearly defined, you can dictate your own direction and potentially have more flexibility on holidays. This is countered however by lack of an assured regular income, no sick and holiday pay, no opportunities to move up into management positions and often being hired to sort out hiccups.

How do I go about finding my first IT job?

Check out the job vacancies on this website to start with. Look in magazines such as Computing and Computer Weekly and on employers’ websites. As well as considering working for commercial organisations, think about going into the public sector, including education, government and the NHS. There are some specialist publications relating to these such as jobsgopublic, The Times Educational supplement and NHS Jobs.

How does the application and interview process work?

You can apply for jobs both via recruitment agencies and directly to companies. The process varies a lot depending on the vacancy and the employer. You may be asked to provide a CV and covering letter, or to fill in an application form (either online or in writing). Make sure you read the requirements carefully and remember to do a draft copy before submitting your final version.

If the employer likes your application, you may be invited to attend one or more interviews or go to an assessment centre. If you apply for a job with a large employer that runs a graduate recruitment scheme, its interview procedure is likely to be much more formal than for a smaller one. It could include various tests, possibly at an assessment centre, to see how you would fit into the team.

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