How to Land Your First Engineering Job


November 22, 2021


180 Engineering

It’s an exciting time in your life. You’re nearing the completion of your engineering degree and you’re gearing up for your Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Maybe you’ve already been scanning job postings, eager to see what the future might hold for you. You have your resume ready and waiting to be polished up with your new credentials. Is there anything else you need to do, to prepare for applying for engineering jobs? Is the process different from applying for part-time jobs or internships?

The answer to both questions is: Yes.

Despite the low unemployment rate within the engineering sector, the field remains highly competitive, especially for recent graduates with limited job experience. In order to stand out to prospective employers and land a meaningful position that will advance your career goals, there are several things that you should do.

Seek Out Internship Opportunities

Hopefully you’ve sought out internships during your program of studies. Not only do they provide relevant on-the-job experience but they also give you a chance to develop your soft skills and to expand your network. Employers tend to value past internships highly, as Réjeanne Aimey, Professional Engineer and President at the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) in Canada explains in a blog piece:

I’ve noticed that students who were able to find coops/internships had more success on the post-graduate job market once they graduated. For most companies it seemed that this experience was more highly regarded than grades. I think that employers are more concerned with your performance and resourcefulness than your academic transcript. Conversely, if you have a great GPA but never had a coop/internship, it may be more difficult for you to find a job. The one exception is high-tech companies that do cutting-edge research. No experience can prepare you for that kind of work, so your grades may definitely be more highly regarded …

While most internships take place over the summer, there are some part-time ones that can be pursued while you study. If you’re in the final year of your program and you haven’t yet applied for an internship, you should grab onto that opportunity while there’s still time.

Take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam

In order to practice as a Professional Engineer (PE), you need to be licensed. Licensure requires the completion of four steps:

  • Graduating from an ABET-accredited engineering program;
  • Passing the FE exam;
  • Working in as an engineer for four years under the supervision of a PE (or PEs); and
  • Passing the PE exam.

Clearly, it’s impossible for new graduates to obtain licensure prior to applying for their first job. However, starting the process, by passing the FE exam, will demonstrate your knowledge and your commitment to the profession. It will also grant you certification as an Engineer in Training (EIT) or Engineering Intern (EI). (These designations vary by state but are equivalent.)

The FE exam can be taken at any time during your senior year or afterwards. However, in addition to enhancing your resume, taking the exam while you’re still in school increases your chances of success. The exam (which is a 6-hour multiple choice comprehensive test) covers subject matter that you learn during the course of your engineering program. NC State University warns that, “The FE exam may be the most difficult exam you have ever taken.” Taking the test long after completing your studies will require relearning the material.

Polish Your Resume

As you embark on your career in engineering, it’s time to level up your resume. Make sure that it’s focused on your engineering experience and job skills that are specific to the industry. Eliminate references to part-time jobs and activities that aren’t relevant to your new career. We have a blog post offering more tips, including:

  • Use templates that follow standard resume formats;
  • Be as concise as possible, even using bullet points;
  • Optimize your resume by tailoring it to the job you are applying for, using keywords from the job posting;
  • Use active, quantitative language; and
  • Include soft skills.

You might also consider approaching a recruitment agency for help in your job search. In addition to keeping your name in mind when they find out about new positions, they will be able to give you professional advice on your resume.

Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn can be an incredibly powerful tool for your job search. Stats show that 87% of recruiters use LinkedIn to find job candidates and, incredibly, three people are hired via LinkedIn every single minute.

There are several things that you can do to optimize your LinkedIn profile that will help you stand out to recruiters. Our blog post goes into detail, but in summary:

  • Use a professional profile photo;
  • Choose a cover image that showcases what’s important to you;
  • Optimize your headline to highlight your strengths;
  • Tell your story in a compelling and interesting way in the “About” summary section;
  • Tailor the “Experience” section to positions that are relevant to your engineering career;
  • Complete all the sections;
  • Adjust your profile settings to show that you’re open new opportunities;
  • Customize your LinkedIn URL with something that’s easy to remember, like your own name; and
  • Engage with others on the platform and grow your network.

Your LinkedIn profile is also the perfect place to house your career portfolio – more on that below.

Build An Exceptional Career Portfolio

If you don’t have related job experience, it can be hard for companies to gauge your skills as an engineer. Creating a career portfolio, where you showcase your projects and achievements, is a terrific way to demonstrate your potential and stand out to employers.

A career portfolio should be digital and can include text items, graphics, and video. In a piece at The Muse, Corlis C. Murray advises that a strong career portfolio should include:

  • A bio page that summarizes your strengths, education, certifications, and awards/recognitions;
  • A resume that focuses on your relevant engineering skills, knowledge, and experience;
  • Detailed information about engineering-related coursework, internships, and projects, as well as activities that are relevant to a job search, such as leadership roles in student organizations or hobbies like coding;
  • References or testimonials from professors, mentors, or former employers;
  • Evidence of technical skills, such as models or prototypes that you’ve built or links to your Github profile – be creative and include photos and videos; and
  • Evidence of your soft skills, such as successful team-work or examples of problem solving in completed projects.

While digital portfolios are easy to share and can include more details than a physical portfolio, physical copies can be taken to job interviews.

Grow Your Network

Networking is extremely important in today’s job market. Although you may still be in school, or just starting out in your career, you already have access to a strong foundation of contacts, including:

  • Your alumni association;
  • Your instructors and your classmates;
  • Your supervisors or mentors from your internships;
  • Professional associations that are targeted to your field;
  • Social media, especially groups that are specific to your field on Facebook and LinkedIn;
  • Contacts made at job fairs; and
  • Recruitment agencies.

All of these contacts have the potential to help you on your career path and with today’s many varied ways of connecting remotely, it’s easier than ever to reach out.

Apply For Meaningful Work

As you scan job postings to see which ones you qualify for, it’s instinctive to focus on what employers need from you. But it’s always important to consider what you need from an employer. And that’s especially true when you’re an EIT or EI.

First, as David Garnitz points out in a blog piece, the shift from theoretical to concrete applications will usually require on-the-job assistance from coworkers and mentors. Also, you’ll need to learn to work as part of a team, taking budgetary constraints and timelines into consideration. The knowledge and skills that you acquire at your first job will be an important foundation for your future career.

Second, in order to fulfill the requirements for licensure, you need a PE to sign off on your work experience. If you want to pursue your own professional license, make sure that there is someone at the company who is qualified to supervise your work.

For these reasons, Garnitz suggests that you take the time to learn about the companies that you apply to. Look for companies, for instance. that:

  • Have a collaborative culture that will foster your growth;
  • Will give you time to learn and adjust to your new role;
  • Have at least three senior engineers on staff; and
  • Can start you out working on smaller projects.

When you do find employers that you’re interested in working for, don’t be shy about applying. View job postings as the company’s wishlist of qualifications, rather than must-have requirements. As pointed out in a blog piece by Caleb Kaiser:

There’s a difference between not matching all the criteria in a job listing, and not being qualified for the job. … [W]e’re talking specifically about years of experience, not domain knowledge or particular skills. If a job listing requires you to be knowledgable [sic] in machine learning, while you’ve never studied the topic, that’s an example of a job you are unqualified for.

It might take some time and a number of applications before you land a meaningful job. Be persistent. It will be worth it.

Prepare For An Interview

In his blog piece, Kaiser says that, “the average U.S.-based software engineer with zero years of experience applies to 23 jobs on AngelList before getting hired.” You may need to apply for more jobs than you expected, but at some point you’re going to be called for an interview. It’s best to prepare in advance.

In today’s job market, many interviews are held virtually. But whether it’s virtual or in-person, there’s a good chance that it will be a behavioral interview. Behavioral interviews examine your past actions in the workplace (for recent graduates, they might ask about your contribution to projects or your internship). For instance, they might ask how you’ve dealt with conflict with team members in the past. The best way to prepare is to consider what types of questions might be asked. There are lots of online resources for you to check out, including our own blog about behavioral interviews.

And, just in case your interview will be held remotely, it’s a good idea to prepare for a virtual interview as well. There are special considerations to keep in mind when an interview is online, such as tech issues that might arise, your familiarity with the software platform the interviewer uses, and how professional your space will appear. For tips and tricks on how to put your best foot forward virtually, check out our blog on how to prep for your video interview.

In a lot of ways, applying for your first engineering job is like applying for any job. But, as an EIT or EI, it’s important to think about how you want to grow your career and to take steps that will support that growth. A good fit for your first job is essential because that first job is the launchpad of your professional career.