Thoughts for the Not Yet Employed or the Recently Unemployed Engineer

You worked long and hard and earned, or are about to earn, an engineering degree. You pursued employment during your last year in college, but so far are unsuccessful and may be planning to move back home. Now what? Or you were employed and are now unemployed. Now what?

Please consider the following thoughts. Some may help you obtain the entry-level professional position you are dreaming about while finishing your studies. Others will enable you to support yourself and continue to develop your knowledge and skills. Some of the ideas may enable you to become employed again. Regardless, think of yourself as traveling the road to career security, that is, always being employed (or in business for yourself) doing useful work you enjoy and being amply compensated. Forget about job security – being taken care of indefinitely by an employer – it is gone.

  • Devote at least 40 hours per week, if you are unemployed, in systematically and proactively seeking a position. Make seeking a job a job. If still a student, prioritize your time and devote what you can to your job search. During the job search process, speak, dress, and behave professionally. Are you a morning person or a night person, a lark or an owl? If you are a morning person, get up early at least five days a week and start working. An evening person? Create and follow a compatible schedule.
  • Stay in touch with selected faculty at your present university or your alma mater. Some professors are connected with private and public employers and will be among the first to know about employment opportunities. You know who those “profs” are.
  • Use your network—friends, relatives, neighbors, former teachers and professors, former employers, and individuals where you interned or co-oped. This is not the time to be embarrassed about your unemployment. Assuming you made a credible effort to find a position while in college, you are a victim of circumstance. And many competent, conscientious, and communicative employees suddenly find themselves unemployed for many reasons some of which were out of their control – they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Get a part-time job, if you are an unemployed graduate, even though it is not likely to be in an area and at a level commensurate with your earned college degree. That job will help you cover your subsistence costs. The part-time work will also demonstrate your initiative, persistence, and sense of responsibility to potential employers. Do this in addition to your search for a “real” job.
  • Assume you cannot obtain part-time employment, or don’t want or need to, then consider becoming a volunteer. If carefully selected, volunteer work can enable you to use some of the knowledge and skill acquired during your college education while being of service to others.
  • Perhaps now is the time to polish some of those nontechnical or “soft-side” knowledge and skills that were only introduced as part of your college education or you recognized the need for when you were employed. For example, confront your speaking fear, study team essentials, learn about risk analysis, review project management principles and practices, or refine your understanding of quality control and quality assurance. Or maybe stay in school, if at all feasible, and earn a masters or other graduate degree.
  • Regardless of the geographic breadth of your search for that first position, seek out local contacts. For example, you are likely to find a local engineering firm, manufacturer, or a government entity with an engineering office. Ask to visit with them and not necessarily because they have openings. You and they share the same profession, they have connections, and they may be willing to connect you and/or offer advice. You might even pick up part-time employment. Good things can happen but you have to mix the pot, be the catalyst. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take“  according to hockey great Wayne Gretzky.
  • You may be tempted, during very difficult times, to compromise your character, as in, for example, embellishing your resume or your academic record. Instead, vigorously protect your reputation. Don’t assume that an indiscretion will be hidden or overlooked later. Experience suggests that while good news about you will travel fast and wide, bad news travels faster and wider.

Be proactive, persistent, work smart, and have faith. As noted by President Lincoln, “Our attitude is the only difference between success and failure.” The cream does rise to the top. Best wishes!

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