6 Things every Engineering Student should know – Part 2: Get Involved

Last week, I kicked off a 6 part series as we discussed the importance of building a network.  This week, we’re talking about getting involved on campus.  This is a critical piece of your potential success, and it’s so easy to miss this opportunity.

Most Engineering students are rightfully instructed to work hard in class, get to know your professors, and keep the partying to a minimum if you expect to graduate.  This is all useful advice, but you’ll have sold yourself short if you don’t take the time to get involved in student organizations on campus.

There are a number of advantages here:

Build your resume
When recruiters look at your resume, they are looking for a reason to say no.  A great reason for them to do so is seeing nothing on your resume but a name, degree and graduation date — a lightweight resume such as this simply won’t stack up against another candidate with meat on the bones.

Image Credit: Lafayette College

Advertise the skills that you use in Student Organizations

The best way to build your resume is to have Co-Op and Internship experience.  Student organization involvement, however, can supplement this experience by emphasizing other aspects of you as a candidate in ways that Co-Op and Internship experience do not.

Being involved in a student organization shows that you take initiative and you’re not afraid to volunteer for something.  This is a plus, as your boss won’t want to have to always tell you what to do.  At some point, they’ll expect you to see what needs to be done and just go do it.  Joining a Student organization demonstrates that you have this trait.

Additionally, you get experience in a student organization that translates directly to the workplace: Managing projects, planning initiatives, working with budgets — all of that counts.  Take credit for it.

Develop Recommendations
So let’s say you’ve done everything right.  You worked hard in school, got to know some recruiters, and get a lucky break: They want you to submit an application for your dream job!  Imagine your shock when you fill out all of the information, upload your resume, and on the very last page of questions, they ask for 3 professional references and you have no idea who to put down.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Foundation

A recommendation from a person of stature carries more weight

Every job application won’t ask you for references, but when they do, you’d better be prepared.  Student organizations are a great way to build a group of recommenders.  Just maintain your network as you normally would, and take note of the people that are friendly, helpful, and have good things to say about you.

Before you start applying for jobs, ask a few of these people if you may list them as a reference.  Be considerate: Get enough recommenders so that you don’t end up listing the same person more than 3 times – you don’t want their phone to be ringing off the hook for your sake.

The idea is to have people of stature stand in the gap and recommend you.  As it happens, you meet people just like that — Professors, Administrators, and Student leaders, to name a few – through student organizations.

Make sure this piece isn’t missing from your puzzle.

Develop your Network
We covered building a network at length last week, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  The main thing is that getting involved on campus brings you in touch with people you never would have met otherwise.

Without getting involved in student organizations, the peers in your network would largely consist of people headed along the same career track as you.  Although this is a strength in your field, it will also cut you off from other opportunities that you may not have been aware of.

Image Credit:  Cognizant Technology Solutions

Once again, it comes down to building your Network. It really is WHO you know.

Pursue a blend of different types and interests of organizations (e.g., Honor Societies, Student Government, Intramural teams, Fraternities & Sororities), and your network will be even broader.  By getting involved, you’ll meet a diverse mix of students from other backgrounds and majors.

They will be taking completely different paths in life than you.  Use that to your advantage, and always be willing to do the same for them.

Leadership & Teamwork
Here’s another great way to set yourself apart from the pack.  Engineers are known for our technical skills, as well we should be.  As for our people skills, not so much — In fact, we are stereotypically known for a lack of people skills.

Here’s where being a part of a student organization can really help you out: You learn from experience how to work with people.  As simple as it sounds, this is a valuable skill that is rarer in the workplace than you might think.

At work, it is necessary to work in teams, supporting the group’s goal while building rapport with your co-workers.  You’ve got to pull your weight and help others pull theirs, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because one day you’ll need their help to pull your own weight, too.

At the same time, an employee who knows when and how to lead is extremely valuable.  Influencing the team to see things a different way, volunteering to lead a new project, or being willing to handle more responsibility are all everyday examples of leadership in the workplace.  Show employers that you’ve done this before, and you’re already ahead of the game.

So that’s it for this week, folks.  Being involved on campus is a great way to edge out the competition when it comes time to land a job and start your career.  Find an organization that looks beneficial, fun, or interesting and dive in.

Next week, we’ll talk about the one single thing every Engineering student should do that pays off for the rest of your life.  It’s pretty easy to do right now, but it becomes more and more difficult the longer you wait.  Stay tuned.

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