Excelling in the classroom and placing in respected competitions likely won’t lead to your ideal job. It’s channeling your inner-marketer that will summon your best job prospects, engineering college career advisors and counselors say. Here’s advice from some of the nation’s top engineering schools on how to build your brand and approach employers.
Creating a Brand
Creating a brand is something students start building on day one, and they may not even know it, says Amy Thaci, director of engineering career services at The Ohio State University.
“Exploring the world of work and figuring out where they best fit is a process,” Thaci says. “Branding is essential to career advancement because it helps students define who they are, learn about what they can offer, what makes them unique, and what will attract employers.”
Joyce Donahue of Arizona State University’s Ira Fulton Engineering School Career Center, says the biggest challenge for students entering the workforce
is determining what they want to do. “They have so many options, even after they’ve chosen a major. There are different engineering functions and so many industries,” she says. “Students who narrow their choices and select related classes and activities are creating their brand.” This includes participating in engineering research, internships, and co-ops early on, so students will learn which engineering discipline is best for them.
Self-awareness also is key. Kristina Wright, assistant director of engineering career
services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says self-reflection is the first step in identifying a personal brand that conveys your interests and personality.
“Consider what do I enjoy doing? What are my goals? How do people benefit by working with me? What words do others use to describe me?” Wright says.
It’s also essential that students distinguish themselves from thousands of other students also looking for a job.
“Think about your internships, travel abroad experiences, the languages you speak and any special projects you’ve done. You can think about volunteer work or special skills you have and any awards you may have received as well,” Wright says. “When you figure out how you are unique and use it to your advantage, you will develop a useful personal brand that will help make you known in the world.”
Engineering students can also model a business student approach by conducting a personal gap analysis to evaluate skills, suggests Judy Brobst, career education manager at Colorado State University. The analysis should consider what an employer is seeking, what criteria the student has, and what criteria the student lacks. Brobst advises students to look outside their majors to become skilled in a particular program that a prospective employer uses.
Students should use social media
to show their knowledge in their field by contributing posts and content. For instance, if you are a bioengineering major with a strong passion for the health care industry, you can blog about current trends and technologies
, tweet about health care reform, and follow health care influencers and biomedical companies on LinkedIn.
“The more you share, the more your passion becomes known—and the more you’ll be associated with your passion,” Wright says. “This all helps when it comes time to finding a job that aligns with your passion because you can show recruiters how you’ve been advocating for your industry.”
Overwhelmingly, LinkedIn is considered the No. 1 resource for professional networking. Follow companies you want to work with to stay in tune with the job market and stay visible to that employer, and join groups to interact with professionals with similar interests or backgrounds. List in detail your education, work history, skills, professional affiliations and ask for endorsements or recommendations.
Colleges also recommend first using their school-specific job boards as typically those jobs are more directly targeted to the students at that institution. Once students identify employers that they wish to work for, they should use the organizations’ job boards. Other popular tech job boards include: Whitetruffle
, and iHireEngineering
Attend your school’s functions and network. Campus career fairs are still a good investment of time. Many recruiters are alums from the school. But go for more intimate events such as “coffee-and-conversations” and dinners. Attend career center events where you can speak with professionals who have earned the degrees you are beginning, receive tips for building resumes and preparing for interviews, and finding out what recruiters and hiring managers look for in applicants. Be mindful of the college recruiting season, which peaks in September/October and February/March.
Create a list of 30-40 employers of interest based on the work they are doing or geographic location. After doing your research, rank your top five employers, and look for connections and networking opportunities with these organizations, Brobst says. Ask faculty members whether they are working with these companies, and if so, for introductions to their contacts. Connect with alumni on LinkedIn.
How do you network without looking desperate or too aggressive? “Don’t hustle them,” Brobst says. “Don’t ask contacts for a job or ask them to help you find a job. Ask for information.” Say you really like their company, and that you want to talk for 15 to 20 minutes about their first year at the company and what the interview process was like. If that goes well, ask them for introductions to others. If that particular company is coming to campus, get face time with them.
“These people you meet can turn into advocates for you,” Brobst says. “It may lead to a job shadow and deeper connections.”
Heather Swink is an independent writer based in Barrington, IL.
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