Getting your first engineering job can be daunting. It seems every opening requires a level of experience you may not have. It’s the old conundrum; to have experience you need to get experience, but how do you acquire skills without a job? As a new graduate, it’s true you don’t have years of professional experience, but you probably have more tools than you realize to get that first engineering job.
You can find lots of advice on writing resumes. But specific advice on creating a successful engineering resume is harder to come by. And it matters. Engineering employers want to see certain key information and are looking for particular experience. Here are some tips to guide you.
An employer is not going to expect a new graduate to have a lot of experience, but they want to know what you’ve learned and what you’ve worked on. Pack in as much information as you can (it’s okay to go beyond two pages and/or put the details on your LinkedIn profile). Include on your resume any programs you’ve worked with, including in your coursework.
For example, one of our clients was looking to hire someone familiar with PLC, a software that communicates with automation systems in manufacturing plants.
We had a great candidate, but PLC wasn’t listed on their resume. Knowing the university they attended and their engineering coursework, we probed further and in fact, they used the technology platform during one of their internships – but it wasn’t on the resume. So, include all the different programs you’re familiar with. Even limited exposure can get your foot in the door.
It’s tempting to embellish when your resume is a little thin on experience. But don’t go too far. What we often see among candidates going for entry-level jobs are resumes that state they have “four years of experience” with PLC, SolidWorks, AutoCAD, or similar programs. But in reality, they just took related courses in school. That’s great experience, and it should be on your resume, but you can’t over-sell that as four years of experience with a program. That’s not an accurate representation of what you’ve been doing.
When employers ask what your experience with a particular platform is, they’re asking for professional work / internship experience. Despite what may be on you resume, the truth will come out in the interview, and it will not look good if you’ve misrepresented your background.
Be out there.
Resumes are not just for job applications. Recruiters and hiring companies also use job boards and networking sites (like LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Monster, and CareerBuilder) to find candidates. It’s critical for online resumes (and profiles) to contain keywords and language that are reflective of your skills. By being specific in your resume and posting it on multiple job sites, you can make it easier for the job to come to you.
As recruiters, we have keywords that we use to search for engineering candidates. Whatever resumes match those keywords will pop up first and that’s who we’ll reach out to. It’s another reason to put more detail in your resume (including your phone number). To follow the same example as above, if we’re looking for someone with PLC experience, and you’ve included it in your resume, even as coursework, it will appear in search results, and a recruiter or hiring manager may call you to find out more. Once that happens, you have a foot in the door and can start selling yourself.
It’s easy for grads to think being fresh out of school that you don’t have a professional network. But, you have more resources than you might realize.
Using LinkedIn to its fullest.
Your LinkedIn profile is your online resume and it’s where you can really add detail. So, take the time to write a good one. Get assistance from your school’s career office (even if you’ve already graduated). Then start building your LinkedIn network. Don’t wait until after graduation, either. Build your connections while still in school.
- Connect with professors, fellow students, or graduate students.
- Search for alumni of your school and connect with them, including a note with your invitation that introduces yourself and why you want to make them part of your network.
- Before leaving any internships, connect with your managers, colleagues, and company leaders.
- Look for companies that interest you and where you’d like to work. In addition to following the organization for company news and industry knowledge, reach out to individuals who work there. For example, maybe it’s someone who is in a job that you’d like to learn more about. Include a note that explains your interest. Most people like helping others and remember when someone helped them in their career.
- Join related LinkedIn groups. Many professional organizations have a group on LinkedIn. Follow the group and attend online events. Interact with people who have posted in the group, adding your thoughts and asking questions. See if they’d be willing to connect.
Remember, LinkedIn is a two-way street. You can search and establish new connections, just as others can find you, too. In fact, anyone who is connected to someone in your network, should be able to find you and see your full profile. So, when you do apply for a position, you want the hiring manager to be able to read all about you – and maybe even be impressed by the connections you have to others in the company and in the field.
Take the Interview
When you’re new to the field, you need all the exposure and experience you can get. This means taking every engineering interview even if you’re not certain about the position. If they offer you an interview, go for it. Why? To learn more about the company, the industry, and the job (it may turn out you do want it). Even if you’re not interested in the position, see if you can get an offer. This builds your interviewing skills which builds your interviewing confidence. When the right job does come along, you’ll be well prepared to ace the interview.
Even as a new graduate you have tools and strategies to help you get your first engineering job. Build a strong, detailed resume filled with keywords. Be honest and transparent. List your resume on multiple job sites. Go into interviews prepared and excited, with research, questions to ask, and the right attitude in place. Put yourself out there and be willing to take calls, even from numbers you don’t know!
Photo credit: Adobe Stock