The job market can be difficult for engineering graduates who don’t have any professional experience. Navigating the engineering world is an acquired skill and not necessarily one that is taught in even the best universities. Here are some of the best tips, tricks, and insider knowledge from the engineering world on how to get an engineering job without experience.
Pros and Cons of Engineering Internships
Yes, an internship is an experience that you can put on your resume. Yes, many jobs require some experience before starting and this would fill this requirement. That’s not the whole picture.
Many internships require you to be currently enrolled in college, making them difficult to get after you’ve graduated. Plenty of areas can’t have enough internships for all of the college students in the area. Some internships are given out by a lottery system, and not based on merit. All of these factors can contribute to graduates leaving university without ever having the option of an internship.
What not everyone takes into account is that the amount of internships available depends on your location, how the industry is currently doing, how the economy is currently affecting the industry, and the amount of competition in your area. Never mind that many internships are unpaid and often not an option for anyone who has to depend on earning a steady paycheck. More competition in your area for the same internships increases the likelihood that the same internships will be unpaid or pay poorly. Supply and demand isn’t your friend here. Fortunately, there are other strategies to get you where you want to be.
Can the ATS, an Engineer, and a Layperson Understand Your Resume?
Applying to a company means your resume will be read first by an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to see if you’re qualified for the bare basics of the position. This is why it’s essential to include buzzwords that are relevant to your industry where applicable.
(Here is a full breakdown of getting your resume past the ATS.)
Once the computer system approves, it’s sent to a hiring manager who may or may not have engineering experience. They often don’t. This is why it’s important to put projects into numbers that non-engineering types understand. Companies are in the business of making money, so speaking to that angle is usually successful. For instance: “Contributed to computer system design on a $10M plant expansion” gives a solid answer as to what benefit your skills would be to the company. It’s important to show that your skills are valuable in a tangible way that those without engineering experience can understand. Solid numbers like this are a fast and easy way to show why you should be hired. If this won’t work with your current ATS-approved resume, you can include it in your resume packet for in-person interviews.
Naturally, since you’re more likely to work with someone with engineering experience who will see your resume, you will also want it to make sense to someone in your field. Including your proficiency i
Build an Online Portfolio, Including Competitions, Group Projects, and Any Side Projects
Most people who go into engineering aren’t the type who can ‘sell’ themselves easily. A portfolio solves this problem for you and gives others a clear idea of what you have worked on.
Portfolios generally have:
- Bio page, summarizing your strengths, awards, and education
- Information about internships, coursework, volunteer work, hobbies, language proficiencies, and anything else that will make you stand out
- Quantified results on the project work listed – this can’t be stressed enough
- Recommendations or references from people you’ve worked with, such as past professors
- Evidence of your technical skills, such as pictures of your Capstone project, links to your Github projects, or examples of projects you’ve worked on
- Proof of non-technical skills, usually with an emphasis on how your skills helped or could help financially. Besides describing what you’ve done, don’t forget to include what skills and tools it took to finish.
Having your resume live online will make it easier for you to include it on your LinkedIn profile, resume, and application. Bringing a hard copy to an interview also makes sure it’s easy and convenient for the hiring manager to look at it. If you skip bringing a hard copy, you run the risk of them not connecting your face and name to your hard work. Make it easy for them to hire you and bring a hard copy of your portfolio.
Be Open to a New Location or Smaller Company
When you’re looking for an engineering job without experience, you may have to adjust what your first job is going to look like. The largest companies with the biggest budgets get their pick of the litter and the smaller companies choose from those who are left. While some people prefer larger companies, they are missing out on the great opportunities in a smaller company. The smaller the company, the more likely you are to meet more people with more experience, who can introduce you to other people, etc. You also have a better chance of being promoted from within at a smaller company instead of a behemoth.
Being open to relocating can change your career. While some states have plenty of engineering positions, they also have plenty of engineering graduates. Other states aren’t in that situation. If you expand your search to the entire country, you can see a whole wealth of possibilities. You don’t have to stay there forever! There are jobs out there, but they may not be geographically close to you.
Network! Using LinkedIn Wisely and Attending Career Fairs
Not using LinkedIn is not using all your resources. Do you know who is on LinkedIn? Your past classmates, their connections, and hiring managers. Update your LinkedIn and be sure to post regularly! If you’re looking for a new job, let people know! Don’t make it just about you, though. It’s essential that you also post about industry news and anything essential that would help some of your contacts. Helping them out will encourage them to help you out – and make you more popular in the meanwhile.
Career fairs are also helpful for getting a feel for what each company is like. Sure, a lot of them will tell you to apply online, but they’re not there to tell people to apply online. They’re trying to see if you would be a good culture fit, so stay a while and chat with people. See if they have business cards, so you can email them later (and maybe skip the ATS system). Gauging how many people you’d like to talk to will allow you to use your time wisely, make your way around the room, and then decide where you’d actually like to apply.
Apply to Engineering Jobs When You Have Most of the Qualifications, Not Necessarily 100%
If you have the majority of the skills to do the job, then applying to it makes sense. The kind of personality that goes into any engineering industry is an exacting type of person, so this tip isn’t always easy. The job description is a list of the hiring manager’s ideal person. Sometimes that person with all those skills and experience doesn’t actually exist. After a while, the hiring manager will hire someone with close enough qualifications. The company needs to find someone to do the job.
And no, they won’t change the job description on the off chance that the ideal person suddenly shows up. Also, some job boards will charge companies to edit job posts or charge them to take one down and put another one up, so financially it wouldn’t make sense.
You still need to have at least 80% of the required qualifications for the position, but only applying where you have 100% will keep you from applying to great jobs. 80% or more is pretty standard in all engineering roles unless it’s for an extremely niche position.
Consider Technician Jobs
Anyone trying to get an engineering job without experience should consider taking a technician position. If the position is related to the engineering job you’re looking to get, see if there’s any room for advancement eventually. It will be much easier to get an engineering position with even experience as a technician than without. Some companies don’t promote from within, but you can find that out from online reviews before you start. If you see a lot (not just one, but many) of online reviews of people not being promoted, that’s a giant red flag. On the other hand, if you see none or they actively show that they promote from within, that technician job could be your ticket in the door. One way to find out ahead of time is to ask in the interview “why is this position available?”.
Any hiring manager worth their salt will snap up an engineering grad with technician experience! An engineer with experience as a technician will not only know the engineering side but the technician’s issues, too! They will be able to understand the technician’s point of view significantly better than anyone who just walked from college graduation into an engineering role. The pay is usually still very good, it’s a solid experience, and taking a technician position always, always, ALWAYS looks better than waiting around for the “perfect” engineering job.
Consider a Temp Job From Technical Staffing Agency
Again, taking a position at a staffing agency is better than holding out for the “perfect” position. If there’s nothing perfect available, then you’ll have to make do with what is out there. Applying to jobs is great, but not every job is advertised. Staffing agencies in particular don’t always advertise what they’re hiring for. That can be due for a variety of factors, but often it’s because the position is with a high-paying client who doesn’t want to be deluged in resumes. The other benefit to applying for a staffing agency is that your resume can be up for multiple positions at the same time – after all, they don’t get paid unless YOU do. They’re trying to get you hired at the highest paying job they can find of all the positions their client hands over. Applying to a staffing agency has more benefits than at first glance.
Want to know more? Check out 9 Ways a Temp Agency Help Job Seekers
Don’t Be Discouraged by the Rejection
Rejection in the engineering industry, especially when you’re just starting out, is extremely common. There will be plenty of times when you don’t hear anything back. As time goes on, people are prone to growing apathetic and stop applying to anything at all. That can be countered by setting short-term goals with how many job applications to fill out each week – and then making sure you meet them! Applying for an engineering job without experience means that your current job is to do everything you can to secure an entry-level engineering job, even without traditional experience.