Making the leap from college to career

Typically, we come to Mines primarily to become engineers. We spend thousands of hours learning everything from calculus to fluid mechanics expecting our merit to be judged by our ability to solve technical problems. Unfortunately for many, this illusion is shattered before we even graduate. No amount of calculus can prepare us to make that critical leap into a job where we can use our technical abilities. Fully communicating your abilities and qualifications are simply not possible using calculus. This is why Mines has the Career Center.

As part of its ongoing efforts to prepare students for taking the leap into employment, the Career Center has been hosting workshops ranging from résumé workshops to the hiring process. Last Thursday, CSM hosted Julie Doyle of CDM for a workshop entitled “Strong résumés and Great Interviews.”

After deciding that you are interested in a company, the first item in the hiring process is typically your résumé. Your résumé is used to give a potential employer an overview of your strengths and abilities. As such, it serves as a gateway to and a background for the second round, the interview. Employers use résumés to filter the list of applicants down to a manageable sized list of the best candidates for interviews.

Carly Paige / Oredigger

According to Boyle, the purpose of a résumé is to communicate your relevant knowledge, experience, skills, and activities to a prospective employer. However, not all jobs are the same and, as numerous recruiters have told this reporter, different companies are looking for different abilities. For example, while sharing some of the basic engineering skills, a field engineer working for an oilfield services company is not going to need the same set of skills as a consultant. As such, customizing a résumé to highlight different aspects for different companies is important. Boyle suggests that you keep what she calls a ‘grandparent résumé’ that contains all of your possibly relevant information and trim it down to suit the particular company for which you are applying. This focused résumé is called your working résumé. Information for the grandparent résumé would include academics, organizations, extracurricular activities, political and government involvement, and any special awards .

When writing a résumé, it is important to understand how it will be read. Boyle notes that recruiters will often scan through résumés quickly in order to find ones that match certain criteria, such as GPA. The top of the résumé will get the most attention, so critical sections should be closer to the top. Within the sections of your résumé, items should be in approximate chronological order with the most recent items at the top. Education generally should be placed at the top. A good GPA, generally a 3.0 or above at Mines, should be placed prominently where it will catch the eye. A less impressive GPA, usually below 3.0 at Mines, should be placed in a less prominent position in the education section. Key information such as job titles, should be bold or otherwise distinguished in order to attract the eye of the person reviewing the résumé. For example, if a recruiter is looking for a specific type of information, bold headings will help them find the relevant category, increasing the odds that they notice the information you were trying to communicate.

So what should be in your working résumé? The point of your working résumé is to communicate your relevant strengths to potential employers. Therefore, to maximize the impact of a résumé, you need to know as much about the position you are applying for as possible. Take the time to read the job description closely and include the strengths that best reflect how you are well suited for the job. According to Boyle, your working résumé should include your relevant experience and skills in addition to your education information. Personal information such as athletics is fine, though it should only be included if it helps tell why you are good for the job. Your résumé is not a Facebook profile to be adorned with information that is important to you. The objective is to communicate your strengths that are relevant to the job for which you are applying.

There are a few other things to keep in mind. According to Boyle, students oftentimes neglect to list computer skills they have. For example, students may think Microsoft Office programs are obvious and not list them, but employers sometimes sort through résumés with keyword searches for items like Microsoft Word, meaning a well qualified applicant could get passed over because they did not mention what was considered to be obvious. Furthermore, Boyle reminds students to keep in mind the difference between required and preferred. Do not be discouraged from applying because a job lists a skill you do not have as preferred.  
The importance of proofreading your résumé can not be overstated. It reflects poorly on your professionalism  if there are grammatical errors in your résumé or if it is sloppily formatted. Boyle strongly recommends having a counselor look over your résumé. Another person, especially a member of the Career Center staff will generally spot a few mistakes that you missed.

References should not be included on your résumé. Instead, they should be provided on request. This way, you have a chance to notify your reference that they may be contacted ahead of time. Boyle recounted numerous cases of employers contacting professors about a student and the professors not remembering the student. Do not let this happen. Make sure your professor knows you well and is prepared for questions (giving your reference a copy of your résumé and a rundown on the job you are applying for would also be prudent). This is a prime example of why getting to know professors is a good idea.
Now that you have the perfect résumé, you have probably noticed that there is much of your story that a résumé alone cannot tell. This is where a cover letter comes in. Before writing a cover letter, you should make sure you are allowed to submit one with your résumé. According to Boyle, a cover letter should be two to three paragraphs and never over one page. Cover letters that rant about the unfair behavior of professors or the school do not tell a good story about the applicant. Boyle also pointed out that there can be benefits to listing your home address as well as your current address on your résumé. This is because the listing your home address, if it is near where your applying, can be an indication to a company that you are serious about the area and less likely to move away.
Once you have given your résumé out to companies, it is likely that at least some of them will be researching and/or contacting you. This means that you should keep all of your communications and online appearances professional. Answering machine recordings should be professional and tell the same story as your résumé. That is, the professional image of an applicant could easily be undermined by monkey noises on the answering machine. Naturally, Facebook profiles should be made private and profile pictures appropriate so that any drunken pictures or questionable wall posts do not detract from your professional appearance. Also, you should start networking as early as possible. Boyle strongly recommends that everyone use LinkedIn, a networking site for professionals. Also, there are numerous networking opportunities at professional conferences and societies.

Once you have been selected for an interview, you are presented with another chance to make an impression. According to Boyle, the keys to a good interview are flexibility, confidence, professionalism, and always being on your feet. When scheduling an interview, candidates should remain flexible enough to accommodate the schedule of their interviewer. It is okay to say no to a time that conflicts with something important, such as a particularly hard class, but you should try to be as accommodating as possible.

Dressing professionally is critical to your interview. Unless it is otherwise noted, dress is usually business casual. That means slacks and a nice shirt and tie for men. Women should wear a nice blouse and slacks or a nice skirt. The importance of dressing professionally is the message that it sends. Preparing for the interview in this manner indicates that you are serious about the interview and that you are not wasting the interviewer’s time. Furthermore, Boyle notes that some companies are particularly concerned about the image of their employees. For example, a consulting company needs to have it engineers presenting a professional image to its clients.

It is important to be confident and prepared for your interview. Boyle strongly recommends doing your homework on a company before the interview. Coming with questions prepared for the company has benefits beyond giving you a better idea of where you might be working. Furthermore, questions represent a serious enough interest to spend some time doing research as well as initiative. Also, be on your toes. Some interviewers are known for curve ball questions that will test an interviewee’s ability to respond to the unexpected. It is best if you can find some time to think about your answers to likely questions before an interview. Be prepared to talk about everything on your résumé – bringing a hard copy might even be a good idea. The Career Center also schedules mock interviews to help students with their preparations.

Your interviewer is your initial point of contact in a company. On the conclusion of your interview, you should ask for business cards from your interviewer(s) so you can contact them again later. It is also a good idea to send a follow up thank you email or letter after the interview. Once you have had your interview, it will likely take a while for a company to get back to you. A few weeks is normal and a delay should not be interpreted as a rejection. If you have waited a few weeks and have still not received a response, you can politely ask your contact(s) if things are progressing. One way to do this would be if you happened to be planning a trip through the area of the company, you could inquire about the possibility of visiting their facilities.

If you get a job offer, it is reasonable to ask for a few days or even a week to think about your decision. Be sure to take into account the location of the job, the salary, company culture, benefits, and the job itself. Take some time to think about it and make sure it is the right choice for you. If you do not get a job offer, it is probably a good idea to ask what was missing from your application.

CDM is a major consulting company that hires many of the degrees Mines has to offer. Out of the hundreds of schools that offer engineering degrees, Mines is one of 23 schools that CDM visits for recruiting. If you are interested in either a full time job or an internship, inquire with the Career Center about applying to CDM.

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