While I know it is only natural to be a little intimidated by the future, it is a good reminder that any of us who are graduating in the near future really need to get our act together. To be perfectly honest (sorry if this is a little too frank), many of my classmates who were not able to find employment after graduation may have had some particular flaws in their search process that significantly decreased their likelihood of finding employment. I'm not here to bash everyone's search, though. I'm here to tell you what to do to prevent an all-out employment scramble when you graduate.
Here it goes...
1 - Be Open...Don't Judge Too Quickly...Get Off Your High Horse
One thing that many students figured out in the last few years is that many companies are pretty quick to employ interns or co-ops if you put yourself out there. For many people in my class, finding an internship or co-op for the summer was a little like finding mold in dorm showers. Easy, right? Things have changed. Many qualified students are coming short of offers and being forced to find alternative paths for getting experience. This is not a bad thing, but it is a new challenge. One your biggest assets during competitive times like these is to be open to new and different things. While students could get away with pigeon-holing themselves and still finding good jobs a few years ago, that is NOT the case any more. Unless you have some serious connections, there's a solid chance you are going to have to shop around. These are no longer times to sit on a high horse and wonder why nobody wants to hire you. Hop off your horse and make it hard for companies not to want to hire you. It's going to take effort, but the results should be positive.
2 - Make it Hard for Companies NOT to Hire You
Think that putting out a general resume and lame cover letters (or no cover letter) is going to get you the job of your dreams? Wrong! Quit dreaming and start acting. Make it hard for companies NOT to hire you by perfecting your resume and cover letter to state your intentions, interest, and qualifications. Use these two documents as tools to show off your strengths you've honed from experiences at school and in industry, and also verbalize your interest in a company by showing that you've done your homework well enough to point out specific things that make you want to work for that company. Students entering the current job market need to understand that with less jobs on the table, they need to start putting forward their best foot to stay in the job race. There's no excuse for sending out weak resumes or wimpy cover letters. If you really want that job, go get it!
3 - Get Down with Your Chatty Self
Especially when it comes to engineers, communication can be a fatal flaw in our ability to convey ourselves. Some of the most brilliant students I know who can kick my butt in any and all of our classes are still unable to sell themselves well enough to also kick butt in the job market. To be completely honest, you can be the best at what you do, but if you cannot communicate your goals and ideas to other people, you are going to seriously struggle in industry. Don't let this get you down if this is something you need to work on because it is something that you can work on.
Here's an example. Let's say you have this amazing idea to starting building an entire line of wheelchair parts out of a new carbon fiber derived material instead of the usual aluminum parts. Using a certain class of materials and a rockin' new design you've come up with, you can literally make a wheelchair in half as much time, with half as much money, and with twice the benefit to the customer because they get the same support with a lighter design. Awesome, right? The only problem is that you cannot for the life of you communicate your new idea to your manager or marketing in order to get the funding to make the chair and save the company tons of money. At this point, no one will ever know about this great opportunity as long as you're unable to communicate it.
At this point, it is time to figure out how you are going to effectively communicate your idea to the appropriate people to get the project rolling. If you struggle with presenting in front of other people, try practicing your presentation in front of the mirror or with a peer to gain confidence with your presenting skills. Maybe you can't seem to find the right way to explain your new idea to an non-technical audience. In this case, it would be a good idea to get together with someone you know who has a technical background, but a working role in the business side of things. Use this person as a sounding board for toning down the technical nature of our presentation and enhancing the all-important business-wide benefits of your new idea.
While I know that transitioning into the "real world" can be difficult and most likely will be difficult, it is important to focus on the things you can do to make this transition as beneficial as possible. Sitting back and thinking that everything will turn out alright doesn't work if you haven't put the time in to ensure that there's a small chance of it going wrong. We all know life can change and our paths can vary, but putting yourself in a position to succeed is going to be very important during the time leading up to graduation.
Phew. Take a deep breath everyone. While this whole process of becoming a full-fledged adult can be intimidating, it is also a part of life that can be a stepping stone to great opportunities and challenges. If you keep a positive attitude and roll with the bumps along the way, there's a solid chance you'll be able to get through this time of your life in one piece.
Good Luck Job Seekers!