Young Engineers

Starting College? Start Your Job Search Now.

August 19, 2014

Featured in 2015 Guide to Getting an Engineering JobHere’s a sobering fact: six months after graduating, over 50% of college graduates will be unemployed or working in a job that doesn’t require a degree. If you want to avoid being one of those, then your job search needs to start as soon as you get to college.

Todd Rhoad, of Blitz Team Consulting, has seen this situation many times. “When you start your MBA program, you’ll be overwhelmed with emotion. The possibilities seem endless, but they aren’t.  In fact, the economy is still very difficult and the successful have learned to engage in a career plan early on in their program to ensure they are fruitful at graduation. Most professionals wait until they graduate to begin looking for their dream.  Unfortunately, many are unemployed, leaving them with the only option to take the first job available. It can also create a lot of problems for you in the long run, such as demotivation, defocus and even a loss of career mobility.”

To impress potential employers, you need to do much more than study. As Adecco Staffing showed in a recent survey, hiring managers are three times more likely to hire a mature worker than a recent graduate. You need to find a way beat those odds and persuade them to take a chance on you.

Here’s how to use your time at college to maximize your chances of landing the engineering  job you really want.

Set Your Job Search Parameters Early

“Target your dream employer from the moment you have a sense of what you want,” suggests Randy Iliff of bb7. “Think of it as just an extension of picking your major.  The major prepares you for a field, which is entrance to an industry, wherein you target one or more candidate employers and within those specific roles and responsibilities.”

  • Make a plan. “Define and refine your dream,” says Rhoad. “Where will you go?  What will you do?  Who will you work for? Just think about where you want to be and what you think it might take to get there.  You might also want to develop a little catchphrase that defines your dream in a few words.  Then, repeat it to yourself and others as often as possible.”
  • Use your careers advisor. Your school wants you to succeed as much as you do. Their career advisors will have great contacts and plenty of ideas for ways to help you realize your dreams. Talk to them frequently – they’ll be happy to help.
  • Research your dream employers. Iliff sets out an ideal scenario. “Let’s say you love cars, which is why you chose Mechanical Engineering.  You also like Electrical Engineering, and think that electric vehicles are the future of transportation.  You might then target design engineering at Tesla Motors as a dream job.”  Once you know who you want to work for, start researching what skills and roles they’re looking for. You can then start shaping yourself into the perfect candidate.
  • Know the barriers to entry. Some industries are much harder to get into than others. If you’re aiming for a highly specialized or crowded industry, be realistic about what you’ll need to do to land a job. If there are specific requirements you’ll need to meet, make sure you find out about them early.
  • Choose the right classes. Once you know what you’ll need to do, make sure your studies take you in the right direction. If you need to switch majors, the sooner you do it, the better.

Develop Extra Skills

“You need to define and build your value,” advises Rhoad. Employers are looking for more than just a degree certificate. They want candidates who can prove that they can go above and beyond what’s asked of them.

  • Improve your credentials. “College graduates are expected to have specific knowledge, skills and abilities in their chosen field of study,” says Rhoad. “Consider participating in professional organizations, publishing to magazines, books, or even peer-reviewed journals, or obtaining relevant certifications for your field.” Consider spending time working for an organization like Engineers Without Borders to show your practical experience.
  • Become a confident speaker. It can take a while to conquer the fear, but being comfortable addressing strangers will help enormously in interviews. Join debating groups, do presentations, or join a spoken word group. It doesn’t have to be college-related – giving a 20-minute talk on the history of Star Trek will do the trick.
  • Show initiative in non-academic roles. “Become heavily involved in student organizations,” suggests Rhoad. Showing you can take responsibility and have experience in a leadership role is immensely valuable. Outside school, run fan groups, newsletters, even blogs, and show that you’re the sort of a person who makes things happen. Once again, that Star Trek meetup group could be the key to your success!
  • Work on your resume. Nothing is less attractive to an employer than a lackluster resume with next to nothing on it. Throughout your time at college, you should be thinking of what you can do to make your resume more appealing to your target employers. If there are classes on resume writing, take them, then refine and hone your resume so that it’s well structured and visually impressive.

Early Career Positioning = Frictionless Job Search

In an ideal world, you want to avoid the job search scramble altogether. Making that happen takes strategic career positioning.

  • job fairFind a mentor. “After the first month of college, reach out to professionals to help you achieve your dream,” Rhoad emphasizes. “Find a mentor to help you with the many aspects of the job search (e.g. resumes, interviewing, etc). You might also choose a mentor for networking (e.g. introductions), specific learnings (e.g. knowledge, skills, or abilities you need or want), sounding board (e.g. emotional support and general advice), and career strategy (e.g. what you need to get that job you want).”
  • Network, network, network. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know – especially when it comes to engineering jobs. Get out of your comfort zone and start making contacts as early as possible. Go to career fairs or conferences, join industry groups, or go to meetups. Fraternities and college societies can sometimes introduce you to surprisingly useful and well-connected people. Don’t be shy. As Rhoad points out, “most people are receptive to helping young professionals get a good start on their career.”
  • Target your dream employers early. “If you want to work for someone like Tesla, then right away, find connections,” says Iliff. “Maybe you have friends or family working there.  Maybe a relationship to a supplier.  Maybe faculty members can make an introduction for you.  If nothing else, set up a Google news filter and watch for anyone with Tesla connected to their name speaking within driving distance of you.  Go to the event and strike up a conversation.  Write a paper for a journal or conference they are sponsoring. Once you have a connection, learn as much as you can, encourage them to introduce you to others, and ask about internship or job opportunities any chance you get.”
  • Intern or take vacation jobs. The best way to land the job you want is to get in there before it’s even advertised. Iliff stresses the value of getting as much real world work experience as you can. “If you can intern and don’t screw up, your odds of landing the eventual real job are very good!  Even if you don’t land that job, the research and connections will be invaluable when you do target potential employers, degree in hand.” When possible, select paid internships over unpaid; paid internships measurably boost job prospects.

College is a great opportunity to change your life. Make sure you’re making the most of it and setting yourself for the engineering job you’ve always wanted.

Featured Image Credit: stnorbert