Bernie Siben By Bernie Siben • March 15, 2013

Advice for Engineering Job Seekers From an Industry Expert

My brother sent me a resume from a recent college graduate who is the son of one of his colleagues, along with the request, "Would you look at the resume and comment? Also, because you deal with engineers all over the country, do you have any thoughts about who is hiring, or where engineers are being sought? He’s open to a move.”

Because my brother has been a very good brother to me, I took a close look at the resume. While it has some good qualities, I believe it reflects what most schools think is important and not what the business world thinks is important. So taking that into consideration, here was my response.  

Resume Advice for Engineers

  1. A company already knows what they can offer a job candidate. The candidate has to show what he or she can do for that company and tell things about himself or herself that will be important to the company.
  2. Profile – Nothing in this section is relevant to an entry-level civil engineering position. In fact, this is more of a “goals” section and the industry does not typically care about a person’s goals except as they help that company. If the candidate wants to discuss goals, this section has to address civil engineering (or another engineering specialty) and be specific to the recipient company. Otherwise, this section should be deleted.
  3. In the case of my brother's colleague's son, who had not yet found an engineering position, what is listed under “experience” is all non-engineering. This is great if a candidate wants a job in property leasing (Jones Lang LaSalle, one of the world’s largest commercial real estate consultants, might need engineers). Recent engineering graduates must have worked on an actual engineering project as a student, perhaps a class project, even if it was hypothetical. Perhaps a professor had students help on a real project as a learning experience. If the candidate participated in activities like “CAN-do” (where a team builds things out of cans), the concrete canoe race (an annual event at many engineering schools), or an “Engineer’s Week" program, these are more relevant than what was done as a leasing agent, and should come first. Extraneous job descriptions should be much shorter.
  4. Include “Honors & Awards” with “Education” as this is education-related.
  5. Include the “Credentials” right under “Education” as these are engineering-related skills  

Finding Engineering Job Leads

I don’t really have a feel for who is currently hiring engineers, but here are my suggestions to find job leads.

  • Make a list, in order of preference, of the top 10 cities where you would most like to live.
  • Visit The Business Journals and see if any of these cities have business journals.  Every week, these these business journals publish a listing of the “top 25” of something in that city, and every year includes a listing of the top 25 engineering firms.
  • These listings identify the top 25 firms by name, so you can visit the websites of the top 25 firms to learn more about them, check their career pages and see if they are hiring entry-level engineers.
  • Use the information on each website (about us, services and projects) to determine if any firm is a place where you would be comfortable. If so, send a cover letter and resume specific to that firm and information that explains what you bring to the table that the firm would value. If the firm prefers to have candidates apply online, there should be a place to upload a cover letter as well as a resume. 

And don't forget... 

Job candidates should also become a member (if they aren't already) of the local chapter of a professional organization (for example, civil engineers should join the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The local chapter will have meetings at least monthly, for a nominal sum. At these meetings, there will be educational programs that can be added to a resume, as well as networking opportunities that might turn up job leads that have not yet been published anywhere.

A resume is your academic and professional biography. Since neither your academic experience nor your professional experience is the same as anyone else’s, your story shouldn’t be the same as anyone else’s. Use your resume to discuss your experience rather than just listing names, dates and places. In your high school history class, you figured out that such a recitation was boring. It is no less boring for the HR or technical person reviewing your resume.

Write your cover letter as if you were writing your biography. After an introductory paragraph in which you identify yourself as a recent graduate and your interest in the position for which you are applying, talk about what made you embark on an engineering education. Talk about the specific engineering classes you really liked and why. Talk about the project you worked on during a summer internship, even if you hated it and it made you rethink your engineering specialty. Tell the reader things that will make him or her want to speak with you on the phone or, better still, in person.

It is unfortunate that many engineering schools don’t think it’s important for an engineer to know how to write. But it’s a fact that engineers write all the time. They write engineering reports to describe the components and challenges of a project, they write letters clients and jurisdictional agencies, they write text for permit applications, and they write hand-out materials for public meetings, hearings and other uses.

However, while a resume is in large part about the details of your academic and professional history, and details are where engineers generally excel, telling the story in an engaging and compelling manner is equally as important as the details you are relating.

Bernie Siben

Written by Bernie Siben

Bernie Siben is owner and principal consultant of The Siben Consult, LLC, in Austin, TX, which provides strategic marketing services to architectural, engineering, construction and environmental firms across the United States.

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