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Five transferable skills to look out for when hiring digital marketing graduates

By Elle Pollicott



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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October 9, 2019 | 7 min read

In 2017/18, there were 2.34 million students studying at universities across the country, yet 44% of these undergraduates were unsure of which career to pursue after graduation.

Hallam provide a guide so marketers can spot potential in recently-graduated students.

This is nothing new. For every student applying for university with a career in mind, there are several who are hoping they’ll work it out during university, but are still left feeling unsure after graduation.

Whilst some jobs - for example, doctors and dentists - require specific degrees and qualifications, many others do not. As research from our digital marketing graduate guide found, the latter is true for digital marketing.

Only 10.6% of senior digital marketing positions are held by people with marketing degrees

We analysed owners and managers at 150 digital marketing agencies across 15 UK cities, and found that 98% of them all had degrees.

However, when we compared the subjects they studied, we discovered that only 10.6% of them had marketing degrees. In Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Liverpool, London and Sheffield, that figure was 0%. The highest concentration of agency owners and managers with marketing degrees was in Glasgow, at 40%.

The most popular degree was business - held by 16% of the owners and managers we analysed. Interesting, considering that business is the most popular degree choice for UK students - with approximately 129,600 graduates each year.

What we did find, was that digital marketing specialists had graduated with degrees from just about every single subject possible. From journalism and creative writing, to zoology, politics, American and Canadian studies, and even electrical engineering - the range of subjects was practically endless.

What transferable skills should you be looking for in graduates?

So, what does this tell us? Whilst having a degree is undeniably important for a career in digital marketing, it doesn’t matter which subject graduates chose.

If you’re hiring graduates into your team - whether you work at a digital marketing agency, or an in-house marketing department - don’t limit your search to only those who hold marketing degrees.

Instead, look for graduates who have these five transferable skills. Whilst they can be learned from a range of degree subjects; graduates with these skills are likely to make a much more positive contribution to your team than those who don’t have them.


Marketing is nothing without communication. It’s crucial that you, therefore, hire someone who will be comfortable speaking with customers, clients, colleagues, and stakeholders.

Oral and written communication skills are equally important - especially if you’re looking to hire a graduate in a content, PR or social media role.

Grammar and spelling are key for written communication, and looking at a person’s LinkedIn profile or CV is a great way to assess their attention to detail. Another way to check their attention to detail? Seeing whether they spelt your name right when sending over their application.


Of course, the extent of creativity required varies from role to role, but everyone working within marketing needs to be creative to some extent - whether it’s coming up with new content ideas, logo designs, landing page topics, or social media campaigns.

Creativity can be honed and developed over time, but speaking with interviewees to see what ideas they have for your brand is a great starting point to see how creatively they think.


Like creativity, negotiation skills can be finessed over time, but when hiring a graduate, you need to know that they will stand their ground, and encourage others to see their point of view.

From negotiating with clients on timing and budgets, to working with other departments - whether it’s SEO on content length, or designers on web design - negotiation is a real asset that will serve graduates much better than a marketing degree could.

During the interview process, look for graduates who have good listening skills, remain calm in stressful situations, and are able to get their point across eloquently and concisely.


We all know how full-on a career in digital marketing is. At any one time, we’re all working on multiple tasks with various deadlines, and have to please a range of clients and stakeholders.

Organisation is a crucial skill to look out for when hiring graduates. During the interview, find out how they handled timekeeping, budgeting and university deadlines.

New employees can learn how to use software like Slack and Basecamp on the job, but ultimately, you need to know you’re hiring someone who you can rely on to turn up to work on time, and stick to deadlines - or make the relevant person aware if they’re going to go a day or two over.

Commercial awareness

Graduates who have an understanding of the industry they want to work in are much more desirable than those who don’t.

When interviewing graduates, ask them what digital marketing publications they read, and interesting industry-related news they’ve recently heard. Someone who can confidently answer these questions is likely to be much more passionate about working in digital marketing than someone who can’t give you a straight answer.

From Google algorithms to news trends, digital marketing is forever changing, so you want to hire a graduate who will keep on top of these changes - and use them to your brand’s - or your clients’ brands - advantages.

Relevant experience > degree subject

A CV only tells half the story - you can learn so much more about a person when you interview them face-to-face. But even then, you can’t be truly aware of their full potential until they start working alongside you.

That’s why it’s so important to think about the criteria you genuinely need, instead of just looking for someone with a marketing degree.

A graduate with relevant work experience will have way more knowledge of the digital world than someone who has graduated with a degree in it. I should know - my degree taught me the theory behind marketing, but it was the internships and part-time content jobs I took on that showed me what a career in digital marketing was like.

However, I’m not trying to say that a marketing degree is meaningless - after all, a full 10.6% of agency owners and managers have them. But when it comes to hiring graduates, you need to consider the whole package. Does the interviewee sat in front of you have the transferable skills needed to make it in digital marketing? That’s the most important question.

Elle Pollicott, Content specialist at Hallam.


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We’re a multi-award winning full-service digital agency based in the UK, and a trusted partner to some of the world’s biggest national and international brands.


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