Thanks to the dot.com bust, tech graduates have faced a challenging job market in recent years, one that's required more patience and persistence than during the prosperous years of the dot.com boom. Students starting their job search six months or more before graduation has become the rule rather than the exception. But with the economy finally picking up and companies at long last adding new positions instead of laying employees off, job searches are now becoming slightly less grueling. Even so, a job search still means a lot of work; the task is almost always labor intensive, time consuming and, for some, even daunting.
Therefore it's helpful to prepare yourself with some valuable advice from tech professionals at the start of their careers. They were once just like you-bright young college students eager to find that perfect post-college job. Read on to find out exactly how they not only found jobs after college, but how they landed the jobs they really wanted.
Cheuk Nam "Calvin" Yam
Cheuk Nam "Calvin" Yam
Job: Associate Engineer
Company: Rockwell Automation
Graduate of: Marquette University
Graduated: May 2004
Got the Job: June 2004
Cheuk Nam "Calvin" Yam was born in Hong Kong, moved to Guam when he was 11, and came to the United States to attend college at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He studied electrical engineering but knew that he wanted a well-rounded experience from his first job, so he narrowed his search to companies that offered rotation programs to recent graduates.
Calvin started his career with Rockwell Automation, a company located in Milwaukee that provides automation solutions to manufacturers. When Calvin interned with Rockwell, he learned about their rotation program, which he "thought was pretty cool."
He explains, "My first love is technical stuff, but in this world you kind of need to know all of it." And Calvin is learning "all of it" at Rockwell. He participates in the rotation program there and spent his first rotation in operations and support. He says that working in operations incorporates the day-to-day inventory logistics problems, which is "totally outside (his) field" as an electrical engineer, but he's happy for the opportunity to see different aspects of the business. And he figures that soon he'll be able to apply more of his electrical background to projects in his next rotation.
"I Didn't Want to Miss a Chance"
Calvin started looking for a job in October of 2003, several months before graduation. At the time, tech jobs were tough to find. He searched Monster.com and Marquette's job posting site, plus interviewed with companies brought in by Marquette's job placement staff. Calvin went to a career fair at school and picked up brochures on different companies to familiarize himself with the field. He applied to two or three companies and had a couple of backups, but was careful not to overextend his search by mass mailing resumes.
"I didn't want to miss a chance because I had too many things going on," Calvin explains. "When I look for companies, I look for ones I want a career with. I want to know what this company can do for me before spending my time trying to get an interview."
Calvin says atmosphere was important to him in deciding on a future place of employment. "If I like them and think I can fit in, then I think I'll be a better candidate to work in the environment."
His first impression of Rockwell was that it had "kind, helpful people and that it felt friendly." He also felt that it was big enough for him to have a variety of experiences that would help him grow professionally. "I was pretty focused on opportunities that would allow me to explore," Calvin recalls.
Job: Substation Engineer
Company: Alliant Energy
Graduate of: University of Wisconsin, Platteville
Graduated: December 2001
Got the Job: January 2002
Jennifer Antony started her career at Alliant Energy in Madison, Wisc. while still a student at the University of Wisconsin in Platteville. She landed her full-time summer internship with the utility company in May 1998 after simply sending a resume to Alliant's human resources department. The internship not only introduced her to the inner-workings and employees of the company, but it also helped her land her current job there as a substation engineer.
"A substation is where high-voltage power from transmission lines is reduced to a lower voltage suitable for homes and businesses," Jennifer explains. "I design substations, which is rewarding because I know I am working on something that improves people's quality of living."
"The Relationships Were Invaluable"
Jennifer's job search began the way many college students' searches do, she utilized the flock of recruiters that show up on campus every year. "I went to a job fair and handed out resumes," she says. "It was kind of hard because a lot of companies would come to the job fair and say 'we're not hiring', which was frustrating."
By the end of her job search, however, Jennifer had interviewed at four companies. "I'm glad I explored other companies, but in the end I decided to stay with Alliant," she says. "The relationships I'd gained during my internship were invaluable to me, and Alliant had a better benefits package than the other companies I looked at. When they offered me the job, it was a no-brainer."
Benefits were very important to Jennifer as she considered her job possibilities. "I just kind of took it for granted that everyone got the same medical benefits-you just never realized it because you were on your parents' plan how expensive that is and how important it is," she says. "At a lot of [companies] you can't even get medical benefits or you have to be vested for six months, which is critical because you don't want to be without medical care for half a year."
Jennifer is so pleased with the way things have worked out that she is altering her future plans. "When I first graduated I wanted to go back to school for management," Jennifer recalls. "But now I have an extended network of colleagues and a good understanding of the working world; I'd rather move up within engineering than go back to school."
Job: Civil Engineer for Transmission and Substation Engineering Department
Company: Alliant Energy
Graduate of: University of Wisconsin, Platteville
Graduated: December 2003
Got the Job: January 2004
Paul Moureau, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Platteville, found himself facing a dilemma his senior year of college. "Internships were hard to come by when I was in school," Paul says. "I was worried that not having an internship was going to make it hard to find a job after graduation."
Refusing to give up, Paul took full advantage of all the other resources
available to him to market his skills. His efforts paid off and he found
a job he loves with Alliant Energy.
Paul works with electrical engineers to provide a safe and economical means of delivering power to homes and businesses. He supplies a functional site for construction of substations, and structural analysis to support the electrical systems the electrical engineers develop. "It's a jigsaw puzzle we have to put together," Paul explains. "We're all trained to address specific problems that arise."
"I Made the Right Choice"
Paul gleaned valuable advice from his professors, many of whom had consulted in the field or had just come from real-world engineering jobs before teaching at the university. Paul also used UW-Platteville's placement services Web site, which allows students to search for jobs that meet desired criteria. In addition, Paul attended American Society of Civil Engineers-sponsored events and a university-sponsored job fair.
His hard work paid off when he found himself with not one, but two good job offers. "I'd already gotten an offer from a company in Chicago when I had my interview with Alliant Energy," he says. "I had to let the job in Chicago go and keep my fingers crossed that Alliant would come through for me."
After a week of waiting, Paul could breathe a sigh of relief-he got the call that the job with Alliant was his. He has no regrets about going with his gut feeling and holding out for the job at Alliant. "When I looked at the job description, every line was related to my disciplines or things I wanted to expand on," Paul recalls. "I know I made the right choice, and I couldn't be happier.
Job: Engineer in Materials
and Processes Engineering Department
Company: Pratt & Whitney
Graduate of: University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Graduated: May 2003
Got the Job: May 2003
Cavell Jenkins is a big believer in networking. He started by taking advantage of his membership in the National Society of Black Engineers by going to its national convention and getting to know other members. "I visited the national convention twice," Cavell recalls. "The first in Florida led to my first internship with Pratt & Whitney." The company, an aerospace technology unit of United Technologies, hired Cavell for the summer.
"The following year I went to the national conference and had an informal interview with a Pratt & Whitney representative," he says. "I reminded him I was graduating." That kind of smart networking led to his eventual hiring.
Cavell started his internship career at U.S. Airways in a co-op program. He took two classes while he worked at the airline during the spring and following summer of his junior year. "The co-op introduced me to the structure of corporate America," Cavell states. "It really just opened my eyes to something outside of the coursework I had done."
Today Cavell works in failure analysis at Pratt & Whitney. Damaged hardware is sent to his department, where it is analyzed. "We learn to evaluate fracture surfaces using microscopes as well as other tools, and we are able to trace the root cause of the distressed hardware," explains Cavell. "Once we determine a cause, the work is documented and an investigation report is issued."
"I Networked Through Internships"
Cavell began his job search the November before his graduation. "I knew it would be a slow process, so I figured I might as well start early," explains Cavell, who said he relied heavily on his school's career services.
Cavell sent out at least 50 resumes, and most of his first interviews were conducted over the phone. During phone interviews, prospective employers asked him general questions about his background and interests.
Cavell says that keeping up with people he knew in the business ultimately helped him get a job. "I networked through internships," he explains. "I made it a point to keep up with people I worked with after my internships ended. People are happy to hear from you once you leave."
Cavell's careful research and use of available resources helped him land a job that engages and challenges him. "This job has matched my expectations," he says. "It's a whole lot to learn. It's almost an art, and it takes a long time to master." Cavell will move on to his third rotation this spring.
More Tips on How to Get the Job
Cavell, Jennifer, Calvin and Paul offer their best tips for making your job search easier and more fruitful:
Beat the Rush
Start early, advises Paul. Start at the beginning of your last semester or earlier. "I know there are people that are looking for a job a year before they graduate," he advises. And don't skip your school's career fairs. "You might not be sure how to present yourself, and it takes awhile to be comfortable," says Cavell. But career fairs are a great way to interact directly with recruiters from different companies and to start getting your name out there.
Practice Makes Perfect
Find an organization or school service that offers mock interviews. They're a great way to practice your interviewing skills and get immediate feedback-before the real thing.
Always be honest in your interviews and on your resume. And take every interview seriously, even if it's just one of many you have lined up. "You should approach the interview as if it's for the job you've always wanted, whether you have five other interviews or not," advises Cavell. "You have to take it seriously because it kind of forces you to project confidence to the interviewer."
Do Your Homework
Review the descriptions carefully. Look for mentions of travel or other duties that may be more than you bargained for. Be sure to ask about anything in the job description that you are unclear about during the interview process. "A big thing when you're interviewing is to know the company and know what you're interviewing for," advises Jennifer. "Even when going into a job fair I did some searching for information on the Internet, like reading their business statement. The more information you can find out the better because they're going to ask you questions that have to do with [their company]. You have to be able to give them a straight answer." And use your interviews to get a feel for the company. If you intern, make a note of the atmosphere. Are people friendly? Do they work well together? Do employees seem to like their bosses?
Take advantage of every opportunity and work hard at any job you have. "You can learn many things at school, but other things you can only learn at work, such as how to deal with other people in an office environment," says Calvin. Try your best to maintain a good grade point average as well. Get involved in organizations and take leadership positions.
"Involvement shows your ability to multitask, which prospective employers find impressive," says Calvin. If still possible, try to obtain an internship or enter a co-op program. That's a great way to be in tune with jobs that might not be advertised at career fairs. "More and more I think college students have to look internally now," says Jennifer. "Companies aren't coming to job fairs as much."