This question is particularly relevant now in many countries where engineering activity is at a lower level than normal and may engineers are looking for work. This happens at times of low economic growth or recession: it could even be the “new normal” for a while.
It can be a very depressing experience to be looking for engineering work in these circumstances, particularly if you don’t understand how the job market works. However, as an engineer, even a novice engineer with little experience, you are one of the most employable people around. It is easier for you to find a job than for nearly everyone else.
Chapter 14 in the book provides a detailed set of instructions on how to find engineering work. While there are many books that tell you how to prepare a good CV or résumé, most don’t tell you much about how to go about finding an engineering job during tough economic times.
Many novices think that the only way to find an engineering job is to apply online, responding to engineering job advertisements. At the same time, many will send a copy of their CV to recruitment agencies, and sometimes to engineering companies.
As an engineer, I often receive CVs sent to me by email. Usually I ignore them because the sender has not really thought about my needs or even taken the trouble to find out. However sending a CV can work if the covering letter or email mentions someone that I know, and shows that the writer has done enough research to understand the kind of person I might be looking for.
It is important to understand what happens when you apply for an engineering job online. Your application can end up in an electronic queue of perhaps 300 – 500 applications. Think of the person who has to go through them. Few companies will go through them all. They’ll think of some way to exclude the majority, and most likely assign a junior administrative assistant to do that. Since you can’t see what they’re doing, most of the time, you have no idea how they’re going to do this.
My students tell me it takes up to 2 days to apply for an engineering job online, depending on the company. With the probability of gaining a job around 1% at best, it will take 1 – 2 years of full-time work to get a job that way.
Therefore, unless you can find a way to get your application into the top 10 – 20, you would do better by trying other more effective ways to find work. Don’t stop trying online, however. Just be highly selective in choosing an opportunity where yours will stand out as being one of very few appropriately qualified applications.
In chapter 14, I mention two other difficulties that I have often observed that become barriers to employment.
The first is not being able to recognise engineering work when you see it. Many young engineers I have met have very narrow “selection criteria” for jobs. The book explains why most of what you do as an engineer is common to all engineering disciplines so you can set your sights wider and not just look for jobs in your own engineering discipline. You’re capable of more than that. In fact there are many jobs outside engineering where you can draw on the skills that you develop in engineering practice, skills that are described in the book. Your engineering background also gives you the ability to analyse a situation from a mathematics and science point of view and the ability to devise practical solutions: that can be valuable in many non-engineering jobs.
The second barrier is to miss the opportunity to start your own business.
However, in times of deep economic recession or depression in the engineering employment market, there is another other attractive possibility that I have not mentioned in the book.
Working in a voluntary organisation brings a major benefit: you know your work is providing support for others less fortunate than you. There are other benefits as well. In a voluntary organisation, most of the time, you can’t tell people what to do. You can only coordinate people by helping them gain enthusiasm and motivation for the task at hand. In other words, you need to gain their willing and conscientious collaboration. Developing the skills required for this is extraordinarily valuable when you return to engineering practice which is dominated by technical coordination – the same challenge in a technical setting. This is explained in chapter 9 of the book. In other words, by working in a voluntary organisation, you can build many of the skills that will help you become an expert engineer sooner.
It is important to choose a voluntary organisation that will enable you to expand your social network and also give you the time to complete the preparatory work prescribed in chapter 14. Part of that is research on engineering companies and suppliers in your region, research that demands that you visit these companies in person. It is through these visits that you are most likely to find engineering work.
By walking to these companies, you will also build up your physical fitness. That’s important too. As you walk, you will see companies and organisations that you never even heard of, companies you won’t find in the Yellow Pages. You never know, your opportunity might lie there and you will only see it if you’re walking on foot. If you walk past a library, browse through recent issues of a good financial newspaper and look for reports about investments in new projects that may soon be looking for engineers.
The most important thing is never to lose hope. That’s why it’s important to keep busy, build your physical fitness, and know what to do to build up your skills and employability while you are taking time out to choose an appropriate opportunity. Look at it that way: it is important that you make a good choice for an engineering career in future rather than simply grabbing the first job that you can find.
So far, the methods I prescribe in chapter 14 have never failed. I’m sure that if you follow them, you will also find a new career opportunity that you never thought about.