Beginning teaching is challenging during normal circumstances. Yet, in the summer of 2020, the newly qualified teachers (NQTs) from initial teacher education (ITE) programmes in Hong Kong, as well as many other global contexts, entered schools that were severely disrupted by COVID-19. This qualitative study, through the use of a qualitative online survey, explored the sense of preparedness and first-semester experiences of one cohort of NQTs who graduated from an ITE programme in Hong Kong in the summer of 2020. Findings suggest that the disruptions to their programme and teaching role fundamentally affected their sense of preparedness and defined their first-year experience. Specifically, the NQTs did not feel practically or psychologically prepared to teach online using digital technologies. However, some NQTs reported positive school-based practices that aided their transition. Based on the study's findings, professional digital competence beginning teachers require for online teaching environments, as well as recommendations for ways ITE programmes can help develop this competence, are provided. Copyright ©2021 Routledge.