6 Things every Engineering Student should know – Part 1: Build Your Network

Last week, I spoke to over 100 Engineering Students with the Alabama Power Academic Excellence Program of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering at Auburn University.  As a graduate of this program, it was so fulfilling to return and speak to students who sit exactly where I once sat.

I covered 6 topics that every Engineering Student ought to know:  Three areas for undergraduate life and three areas for the workplace.  I kept it short since I know how tired and stressed out these folks are.  I got the important points across, but there was so much left that I didn’t have time to say.

Engineering students are uniquely poised for career success.

Engineering students are uniquely poised for career success.

To cover some of the finer points, I’ll be expanding on each of these topics in a 6 part series, starting today.  I will explore each topic in detail so that they are easily understood and mastered.

Engineering students use hundreds of formulas.  Here’s one more: Over the next few weeks, I intend to derive a formula for success.  Let’s get started.

Topic Number 1: Build your network.

Job Boards Don’t Work
Millennials ought to have zero expectations of a company nurturing our future.  Those days are gone.  We must do that ourselves.  This is why building a network is absolutely critical.

80% of jobs don’t come from job boards.  They come through networks.  So over the course of your career, out of the 12 or so jobs you’ll have, you can only expect to get 2 or 3 of them by posting a resume online.  The rest come through the people you know.

This has been true for me – I entertained multiple offers after I graduated, and every last one of them came through my network.  I also applied to dozens of jobs online and didn’t get a call back from any of them. Not one.  Networks matter.

Never Miss a Career Fair
Employers are always looking to hire Engineers, and they will visit your campus to do it.  These are golden opportunities.  Where else can you meet so many potential employers with so little effort? Start going to career fairs now.  Build your network before you need it.

Image Credit: Lafayette College

Career fairs are a great way to meet prospective employers

I really mean now.  If you started as a Freshman in August and there’s a career fair in September, go.  You will make contacts.  Some might be amused or surprised that you’re surveying the job market 4 years or more in advance, but they will all notice how seriously you’re taking this.  Some will commend you.  Some may discourage you.  All will remember you.

All you need to get started is a suit and a resume. No resume yet? No sweat. Have some business cards made while you get your resume together.  Put your name, major, graduation year, email address and cell number on it and you’re done.

Pro tip: Do you change your cell number from time to time? Get a free Google Voice number.  You can keep one number for your resume, forward the calls to whatever phone you want, and keep all the voicemails in one place: online.

You can get business cards printed on campus (find out if you have a printing center) or online for $20.  Use a nice template.  Remember, this card is an extension of you, so do not get free business cards online. They will look cheap. People will notice.  That is not the impression you want to leave.

Before you go, research the employers that will be at the fair.  Make a point to visit the ones you’re most interested in.  If you don’t get a chance to do your research, go anyway. 80% of life is showing up.

Once you arrive, there’s only one sentence you need to remember:

Hi, my name is [John Doe], I am a [class] in [major] and I’m interested in future career opportunities.

Armed with this simple script, you can now start a conversation with anyone.

Bonus: How to get chummy with Executives

You can meet executives at career fairs

Here’s a free tip – Employers send the same people to career fairs year after year.

Imagine the relationship you’ll have with a recruiter after they’ve gotten to know you for 2, 3 or 4 years.  Consider the upper hand that gives you. If there’s only one job opening, will it go to you or some other kid they just met last week?

When you meet someone, read their business card carefully.  They could be a recruiter, or they might be a Manager or Executive that has the authority to hire you on the spot.

I was recently chatting with the Executive Vice-President & General Counsel of a multinational insurance giant.  She laughed when recounting her experience at career fairs.  She couldn’t believe how unprepared some of the students were.

You never know whose hand you’re shaking.  Build relationships indiscriminately and there’s no telling where your network will take you.

Interns Get Hired
At career fairs, you may get the opportunity to land an internship or co-op.  Do it.  It’s worth it, even if it affects your graduation date. It’s better to graduate later and find a job than to graduate sooner and be jobless.

Image Credit: Suzanne Chapman (Flickr)

Don’t be just another resume in the stack

The greatest benefit is the network you build as an intern.  Work hard, do a good job, and people will remember you.  It doesn’t hurt that you make good money and graduate with industry experience, either.

Many people get hired because of their internships.  Don’t miss this chance to shine.

Keep in touch
Most people meet someone, swap business cards, and never communicate with them again.  What a pointless exercise!  Don’t be that person.

Following up is the glue that holds your network together.  Keep in touch with the people you meet over time.  That’s how you build relationships, develop trust, and keep the lines of communication open.

When you meet someone, keep their info on file and communicate with them in some fashion every 3 or 4 months.  Put it on your calendar (yes, it’s that important).  Alternate between phone calls, emails, and text messages if you like.  If you must use Social Media, go with LinkedIn.  Avoid Facebook messages if you want to appear professional.

In your first e-mail, mention when and how you met them.  Say something nice (Thanks for your time, it was a pleasure meeting you, etc.), and note that you want to keep in touch.

After that, just drop a message or call to say hey.  Brief small talk is the idea here.  It’s okay to talk about engineering topics, and it’s okay to talk about regular stuff, too.  It’s not so much about what you say; it’s that you’re having a conversation.

So that’s it.  Start today.  Most people aren’t good at building their networks, so it won’t be long before you stand out.  A broad, well-maintained network is a tremendous competitive advantage.

Fail to build one at your own peril.

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