You decided on a career in materials science; you selected the right school. Now all you have to do is graduate and the job of your dreams will fall into your lap during commencement! Sound great? Sure, but in reality, job offers rarely fall out of the sky; they are the result of years of hard work and preparation by the person seeking the job, namely you.
Career placement counselors at universities in the United States agree that preparing for the engineering job market is no different than preparing for any other field. However, the hiring trends of traditional employers in the field have changed over the past few years and engineering students must become more diversified in order to be able to find alternative employment, said Melanie Parker of the career services office at the University of Connecticut. There has been recent growth in engineering opportunities, but students need to know what to do and where to look to find the perfect match between them and a job.
The keys to making a good match in the job market are research, an early start, and the career placement office on campus. Research different areas of your field through the career office or campus library in order to develop a list of different career venues you may want to pursue. Be flexible. Parker said students who were more flexible in their expectations of a job or prospective employer had the best chances of finding a job in the shortest amount of time. Develop an "A-list" of companies you would work for under any circumstances; develop alternative lists of companies you would consider if the first list did not result in employment.
While in school, concentrate on three important areas to get the early jump on your future job search: work experience, academic performance, and extracurricular activities. You can gain work experience through summer employment, cooperative education programs, or internships, but make sure you work--it is the most important qualification you can take into a job interview. "Many businesses are changing their requirements and want graduates who have work experience through coops or internships," said Marianne Mueller, director of the Engineering Career Services at Ohio State University. More than half of all candidates hired by employers have participated in the company's coop program while in school, she said. Students can begin working as early as their freshman year and it is not uncommon to find some seniors with six or seven semesters of experience to put on a resume.
Work experience is important even if it is not in your field of study. "Everything counts," Mueller said, indicating that simply getting up every morning to deliver papers on a daily newspaper route shows initiative and a desire to work. Service jobs (e.g., a restaurant server, a fast food attendant, or a cashier) are indications of social skills, communication skills, reliability, and general character for employers.
Grades are also important for your future job search. "A student must do well academically and develop analytical ability, teamwork and leadership skills, communication skills, and computer skills," said Don Peterson, director of career services at the University of Michigan. "They are absolutely essential."
Participation in student activities, especially professional organizations such as TMS, not only looks good on a resume, but can also develop contacts you can use when you begin your job search. "Professionals in associations are usually very supportive and often start job search leads," said Parker. Meeting professionals in the field is important to establishing a network of contacts, and professional organizations help you begin networking early in your career.
Keep records and learn how to present your information effectively on a resume by attending workshops offered through the career placement office. Make the resume as targeted as possible and include an objective statement, education background, experience, curriculum statements, activities, and honors and awards. A resume should never be more than one page in length and should never list references. Begin compiling data for your resume in your freshman year and have a draft completed by the end of your sophomore year. Update it frequently.
Having a good, clean resume is an important first step in getting a job, but the resume is only a ticket in--you get a job through an interview. Career directors stress the importance of gaining interview experience while still in school. Attend workshops, participate in mock interviews if possible in order to feel more at ease in the high-stress situation. Through practice, you will be less likely to make any of the common mistakes listed in the table.
The best place to learn about job openings is the career placement office. Attend career fairs held on campus (go every year beginning in your freshman year in order to build contacts) and participate in on-campus interviews. The placement office will be able to match your qualifications with recruiting companies' requirements. The office will also frequently post job listings from various fields, including private companies, government agencies, and research and development firms.
Although the career placement office is an important resource, do not expect them to do all of the work. More than half of all businesses are small firms that do not recruit on-campus or attend career fairs. Spend some time in an off-campus search. Take advantage of electronic bulletin boards, libraries, newspapers, and the yellow pages of the telephone directory. Contact an area's chamber of commerce.
Finally, be patient; finding the right job does not always happen overnight. You can reduce the amount of time it takes with a little planning and effort before you take the big leap. Plan ahead and let everyone know you are looking. The more people who know you are searching, the better your chances are of finding that perfect match.
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