The engineering job market is extremely competitive. In fact, only about half of the people with an engineering degree manage to get hired within the field.1 For individuals coming through graduate programs in engineering, this can be an overwhelming thought. After all, you didn’t push yourself in graduate school in order not to land your dream job.
Even with a graduate degree to your credit, strong grades and perseverance aren’t enough to make your job application stand out. To present yourself as truly impressive, you need to know how to leverage both hard and soft skills while building a strong resume. Read on to learn how to build your professional brand and showcase your value to prospective employers.
Developing a Strong Professional Brand
To stand out as a candidate for employment, you need a clear understanding of what sets you apart from everyone else pursuing engineering careers. The phrase ‘professional brand’ refers to how you promote yourself, your skills and your strengths to prospective employers and to other people in your network.
Before you can do this, you need to spend some time on personal introspection. This starts with taking an honest, detailed look at what your strengths are. Brainstorm everything that sets you apart from other applicants.
Consider factors such as:
- Your educational background; a bachelor's degree in nearly any field and a master's degree from one of the best engineering schools will, of course, work in your favor
- Unique experiences, including your extracurricular activities, hands-on experience within and beyond the engineering world, travel, education in other countries, volunteer endeavors, military and/or community service and so on
- Particular skills you have that will be beneficial to your employer
- Projects or previous jobs that showcase your talents
- Your interests and proficiencies outside of engineering
- Your professional goals
- The motivations that drive your interest in an engineering career
Once you understand where your strengths lie, the next step is to articulate your values and ideals. Are you, for example, an engineer who’s motivated to create inclusive technology for people with disabilities? Or maybe you’re an engineer who prioritizes simplifying technology for cost efficiency.
Many post-graduate professionals have years of real-world experience to their credit. Build your professional brand around your experience. Even if you’re transitioning to an engineering career after years of following a different path, the various aspects of your background inform, and are informed by, your ideologies and values.
Remember that you can set yourself apart from other engineers through the high quality of your past work and through the many ways in which you are unique: your distinct interests and priorities, specific career goals and so on.
With a clear picture of your professional brand, you’re prepared to craft a compelling resume and cover letter. Update them both for each new job application: Emphasize those of your experiences that are most in line with the position for which you're applying, pointing to projects that show what you can offer a potential employer.
Develop a social media strategy that highlights your brand. Decide on which social media platforms you’ll present yourself, and then create a consistent posting schedule for each of them. When you think about posting content on social media, always ask yourself why you’re posting the content and how it supports the image you're hoping to project. Generic engineering news, for example, won’t help your professional brand stand out, but engineering news accompanied by a caption explaining how it affects your areas of interest and knowledge can serve to position you as an industry expert.
Internships, Co-Ops and Other Practical Experience
Hiring managers often look for candidates with on-the-job experience. They want applicants who don’t just know the theory behind engineering, but who know how to apply that knowledge in practice. This can be a stumbling block if you’ve gone straight from college to graduate school without any job experience in between or if you’re a new engineer with a professional background in another area.
Throughout your graduate studies, pursue internships, co-op programs and industry projects. A skilled academic advisor should be able to help you line up opportunities that will strengthen your skills, add credentials to your professional brand and give you the real-world experience you need.
If you’ve already graduated, contact your previous academic advisors and faculty mentors and explain that you need to gain practical experience to improve your resume. They may be able to help you find internships or co-op opportunities.
Continuing Education and Professional Development
The engineering field is constantly advancing, and top engineering candidates know how to stay up to date with industry trends.
One of the best ways to do this is to participate in engineering conferences, workshops and industry events. Consider pursuing certifications in related fields and branching out into another engineering discipline: With a background in mechanical engineering, for instance, you might find greater job security and higher salaries if you can also demonstrate proficiency in biomedical engineering. If you continue seeing job postings requiring high-demand skills that you lack, take some extra courses to develop your abilities and demonstrate your commitment to improving what you have to offer.
Networking and Building Professional Connections
Professional connections can get you far. Join engineering associations and societies, and attend networking events and conferences as much as possible. The more you show up and get to know people, the more likely an employer will be to recognize your name when you apply for a job. Networking can also help alert you to opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise known about. If you get to know some industry leaders, you might find them telling you about upcoming opportunities in the field or putting in a good word for you when you apply for jobs.
If you don’t know how to get started with networking, reach out to your alumni network. Graduates from your engineering school are likely to be eager to help new engineers get a strong professional footing. Your alumni network can be another essential source of information about upcoming conferences or mentorship opportunities in your area.
Showcasing Leadership and Initiative
Hiring managers want to know that applicants have the potential to be leaders. By taking on leadership roles at work or in organizations and highlighting that experience on your resume, you can assure your interviewers that you have the critical hard and soft skills that define successful leaders.
Employers also want to see drive and innovation. When planning your social media strategy and online portfolio, highlight projects that showcase your ability to innovate. Show off ideas you have and any personal engineering projects you’ve completed or have in process.
Demonstrate your proactive, self-motivated approach by following up on applications and staying on top of the hiring timelines. These actions show that you’re not passively applying to jobs, but actively motivated to find the right position.
Tailoring Job Applications and Interview Preparation
Your next step is to prepare interview materials for individual job listings. Each company will have a unique internal culture; each position will have its own set of requirements and expectations for new applicants. Read job listings thoroughly, and then research the companies. Learn what they value and promote, get acquainted with recent projects and stay informed about their ongoing events.
While staying true to the professional brand you’ve worked so hard to curate, tailor your application materials to match the information you’ve gathered. In your cover letter, include information that you've learned about the company and explain why you’re uniquely qualified to serve its goals and contribute to its professional community. Highlight technical skills listed as requirements, ensuring that those particular skills are quickly noticeable on your resume.
Get ready for your interview by practicing answers to common interview questions. A little online research will help you find practice interviews for engineering applicants. Outline your answers to any questions listed, making sure to showcase your relevant achievements.
In addition to preparing your interview answers, it's equally important to bring some questions of your own. Make them specific to the company and open position you'll be discussing. Ask about current projects, expectations for new hires and the hiring timeline. Generic questions stand out, making you look lazy and disinterested. Arriving with a set of thoughtful, pertinent questions shows hiring teams that you’re prepared for the interview and serious about applying for the job.
Prompt Politeness is Good Business
Within an hour or two after your interview, send a personalized note to each person you met, expressing your appreciation for their time and the information they shared with you. Let them know that you're interested in the position and enthused about the professional partnership that you and the company/team can build together. You can send this message via email or, if the company culture is that informal, via text message, but it's an absolutely essential step in the process. If you doubt its importance, ask yourself this: Would you rather stand out as a classy professional who took the time to say thanks, or as an immature amateur who couldn't be bothered?
Stand Out for the Very Best Reasons
Set yourself up for long-term professional success. The online Master of Engineering program at Case Western Reserve University instills skills that are in demand in diverse careers and industries. Enhance your fundamental knowledge through core courses such as Applied Engineering Statistics, Introduction to Business for Engineers, and Product and Process Design and Implementation. Develop specialized expertise by pursuing a concentration in biomedical engineering, systems and control engineering or mechanical engineering.