Landing Your First Engineering Job
by Joel Erway
You’ve done it.
A few short years ago you chose to become an engineer and selected your specific engineering major in college.
You passed the tests, completed the lab reports, received your diploma, and are ready for the real world… right?
Obtaining that all-important piece of paper is only the first step. Unfortunately, many new engineers (and new graduates in general) have a tough time breaking into their first real-world job. Many times, when they do succeed in finding that first job, they may realize it’s not exactly what they were expecting.
So, how do you set yourself apart from the thousands of other engineers looking for jobs and find the job that is right for you?
Here are 3 steps that will give you a leg-up on your competition when looking for your first engineering job.
1. Become an Engineer-in-Training and Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (FE Exam)
If you haven’t thought about eventually becoming a licensed Professional Engineer take a look at some of the benefits mentioned in this article about turning pro.
Extra credentials in addition to your degree and GPA will certainly bolster your resume. Setting yourself up on a path to becoming a licensed Professional Engineer will open more opportunities throughout your career.
Depending on your degree and program accreditation, many states allow students who are in their final year of a bachelor’s program to sit for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. You can check the requirements for your state here, ncees.org/exams/fe-exam or find answers to frequently asked questions about the FE exam here.
2. It’s Not What You Know But Who You Know
Dr. Geraldine Garner, author of Great Jobs For Engineering Majors, suggests that, “only 15 to 20 percent of all jobs are formally advertised, which means that 80 to 85 percent of available jobs do not appear in published channels.” (p. 72, Great Jobs For Engineering Majors, 2nd Edition).
Accordingly, the sooner you begin networking within your sphere of influence, the better. Regardless of your comfort level with networking, there are plenty of ways to begin your networking outreach.
Here are a few outlets to consider:
What’s the key to not sounding annoying? First, let them know that you understand they are busy (it’s true… we all are). And secondly, learn how they prefer to communicate. Is it phone, e-mail, or social networking? Following up with someone shows initiative and persistence—two key qualities many employers look for. But, also be keen on when enough is enough and move on.
After you have made a request from a network connection, try a soft, non-intrusive follow-up question with your contact after an appropriate amount of time. Keep your message short, clear, and polite.
3. Do the Right Research Before Your Interview
Engineering is a very broad industry. In fact, even when you start to drill down within each specific field, you will find that those fields in-turn offer many different types of positions.
For example, mechanical engineering is a loosely defined field in a job hunt. Do you want to work as a designer, or have a more hands-on approach as a technician? Do you want to work in the aerospace industry, or is working with materials and metals better suited for you? Asking these types of questions will help define your niche.
It may be difficult to define your focus especially when you have little experience. To help narrow down your market research, consider your hobbies, interests, or classes that you enjoyed most. What stands out to you?
Did you participate in any extracurricular activities, like the ASCE Concrete Canoe competition or the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja competition?
All of this research will help as you begin interviewing for positions. You will need to know what you’re talking about and, better yet, know how to speak the employer’s language.
Every employer has their own standards and ways of doing things. If a potential employer asks you to come in for an interview, you can distinguish yourself by doing hard research on how they are successful in what they do and what they are looking for.
Start by doing general market research on that particular industry through trade magazines and Internet research. If the employer gives you details on specifics of what they are looking for, learn as much about the job description as possible. Be sure to fully investigate the employer’s website, and search for the latest press related to them. Setting up a Google Alert can be helpful in getting any breaking industry, competitor, and company news.
It’s also highly recommended that you talk to as many people in that industry as possible (networking and forums). Not only will you learn the lingo, but you will also get a better idea if this is something that you are really interested in pursuing.
Search job boards for other related jobs and see if there are correlating descriptions. This will give you a more defined description that can help you prepare.
Finally, once you land the interview, all of this research should inspire you to compile a list of questions to ask your potential future employer. Asking the right questions about the position should intrigue the potential employer and will let them know that you are serious about the role.
What to Expect During the Interview
Mastering the interview is a skill in itself. The key is being comfortable, honest, and inquisitive. Take the list of questions you have and narrow it down to no more than three to ask your potential employer.
Then, be ready to answer the questions they will ask you. The Penn State College of Engineering compiled a list of the ten most common interview questions. This is a great resource to start with. But remember, the key is to be honest and open. As engineers we may tend to overthink and overanalyze a situation. Before you come up with an answer, ask yourself “If I were an employer, what would my reaction be to this answer?”
Always go with an answer that feels most comfortable to you, and not necessarily what you think they want to hear.
Life Beyond the Textbooks—Expecting the Unexpected
Eventually, you are going to accept a job offer and begin a very exciting time in your life. You will quickly learn that it’s going to take much more than book smarts to succeed in the professional world. Here are some tips to think about during your first few weeks:
It can seem daunting, but if you:
Your career launch will be a success!
PPI has commissioned this article through Engineering.com contributor, Joel Erway, best-selling author, and engineer. All opinions expressed in this article are his.
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Landing Your First Engineering Job
Learn what steps you can take to distinguish yourself and set yourself up for career success.