At the recent PACE Community of Practice session, A. Prof. Kate Lloyd, Dr. Matalena Tofa, and Dr. Chris Bilsland shared some of the findings from a multi-institutional study on graduate social networks and careers. This study was funded by Graduate Careers Australia and conducted by a research team from three universities and sought to:

  • Document the ways in which social networks can be used for career development at graduate level and confirm their value to graduate employability;
  • Characterise effective social networking practice at graduate level; and
  • Benchmark current graduate social network capability levels and identify opportunities for development in degree programs.

Graduates from Business and Creative Industries undergraduate programs were recruited to participate in the survey and in-depth interviews. The survey sample comprised 620 graduates from three Australian universities who had graduated between 1 and 4 years ago. Then, 32 in-depth interviews were conducted in which graduates mapped their career trajectories in the form of a sociogram. Sociograms were a kind of visual representation of social networks and provided a ‘birds eye view’ of their career, which highlighted people, educational and employment experiences, and tools that have influenced the early stages of their careers.

Social Networks, Careers, and Sociograms

There are numerous findings of interest from this study. Some of the key ideas discussed at the PACE CoP session include:

  • Recent graduates feel that social networking is useful for career building, career identity development, professional learning, and collaboration, but how it all works varies across industry and discipline, and changes over time.
  • Overall, graduates had greatest confidence in family and friend network support, and less confidence in close collegial and wider professional networks.
  • International student graduates were less likely than domestic student graduates to agree that they had adequate social capital
  • Mature-aged graduates were less confident about networking for career development purposes and constructing a connected professional identity
  • In-depth interviews and sociograms revealed complexities and unique insights about career trajectories that are typically obscured in quantitative snapshots of graduate employment.
  • Interviewees discussed how networking was often seen as something scary or ‘cringey’, but that as their careers developed, they understood networking as being ‘a way of just sharing your story with others and hoping that you can connect on some level’ and genuinely connecting with other people. Interviewees highlighted that networking is best when it’s based on reciprocity, mutual support, and collaboration, and reflected on how their approaches to networking changed over time as their careers and professional identities developed.

Overall, this study shows not only the importance of developing social networking skills in undergraduate degrees, but also the importance of understanding the nuances and complexities of how graduates understand and engage in networking and how they navigate their early careers.


A series of fact sheets and case studies produced through this study is available here. Please do use these and share them with your colleagues and networks. If you’d like to discuss ideas for using these resources, or other ways this information can be shared with students, please get in touch.


Current publications from this project include:

Bridgstock, Ruth S., Jackson, Denise, Lloyd, Kate, & Tofa, Matalena (2019) Social connectedness and graduate employability: Exploring the professional networks of graduates from business and creative industries. In Bridgstock, Ruth S. & Tippett, Neil (Eds.) Higher Education and the Future of Graduate Employability: A Connectedness Learning Approach. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham.

Bridgstock, Ruth S. (2019) Employability and career development learning through social media: Exploring the potential of LinkedIn. In Higgs, Joy, Horsfall, Debbie, Cork, Stephen, & Jones, Asheley (Eds.) Challenging Future Practice Possibilities. Sense-Brill Publishers, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Bridgstock, Ruth, Grant-Iramu, Michelle, Bilsland, Chris, Tofa, Matalena, Lloyd, Kate, & Jackson, Denise (2019) Going beyond getting a job: Graduates’ narratives and lived experiences of their career development. In Higgs, Joy, Letts, William, & Crisp, Geoff (Eds.) Education for Employability II: Learning for Future Possibilities. Sense-Brill Publishers, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Jackson, Denise & Bridgstock, Ruth S. (2019) Evidencing student success and career outcomes among Business and Creative Industries graduates. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. (In Press).

Find out more

If you want to learn more about this study, get in touch with Matalena.

Join the PACE Community of Practice

If you’re interested in joining the PACE Community of Practice (CoP), or have ideas for future PACE CoP sessions, please get in touch.

Posted by PACE (Professional & Community Engagement)

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