Three Ways Undergraduates Can Prepare for Job Hunting

I have a job-search horror story for you. I was recently talking with one of my friends in engineering, a 4.0 undergraduate student in his junior year. After a series of career fairs at our college, he came to me complaining of what so many recruiters said to him: “No relevant experience.” He, along with many others, protested, “How am I to get ‘relevant experience’ if I can’t get an internship or job?” Well today you’re in luck. I’m here to set the record straight about what an engineering student can accomplish in undergraduate years to avoid this conundrum.

Get involved in clubs

First, you need to get involved in clubs. Club involvement does several things for you: it not only shows that you’re willing to go a little further in your education but also that you are self-driven. It’s even better if your club participates in competitions or other extracurricular events that demonstrate you actually care about and are involved in the field you claim to be qualified for.

But don’t stop there. Clubs are a great way to find out what you do care about. There are so many fields within chemical engineering, and if you join clubs representing a variety of fields, you get the opportunity to do some exploring before you’re thrown into the demands of an internship or job.

Demonstrate leadership ability

The second endeavor is acquiring leadership experience. Recruiters love seeing outstanding leadership experience because every engineer needs to learn how to problem-solve, generate ideas, be self-motivated, and prevent a team from stagnating. Be sure to seek quality leadership experiences that will show that you developed these skills. It will be hard to describe what you learned in a leadership experience to a recruiter if you don’t actually accomplish anything. You can gain leadership experience in a variety of ways, such as through clubs and other organizations. So when you join a club, don't just become a member, get involved in running it, improving it, or expanding it.

A great way to gain leadership experience is to recognize an opportunity that is not at your school because going outside your school shows initiative in and of itself. And if you can't find something to get involved with to build leadership skills, nothing says leadership like taking the initiative to start something on your own, such as your own club, event, or project.

Undertake a research project

Finally, I’ll let you in on the best way to amplify your resume before entering the job market. Ready? Research. I cannot overstate this: get involved in research, and do it now. If available to you, research allows you to work in a mentor setting where you get firsthand experience with the inner workings and real-life applications of what you are learning in class. You get to try out the field and learn early on if it's what you really want to pursue.

Moreover, taking part in research can help you develop networking relationships with graduate students and/or professors as you work with them on the projects that are building their careers. Pick their brains. They’ll give great advice and direct you towards the kind of opportunities that will make you irresistible to those once-so-mighty recruiters. Usually you can find research experience by talking to your professors if you are attending a research university, but be prepared to sell yourself. Researchers (and employers in general) are really looking for people with a purpose. Even if you are in part using the experience to figure out if you like the field or not, that’s okay. If you are diligent in your purpose, you’ll be an attractive candidate.

So there you have it: three sure-fire ways to acquire the kind of experience that will have recruiters watering at the mouth. So no more horror stories. No more late nights fretting over how to gain experience if no one will hire you without experience. I have seen through my own college experience that these things really help one to stand out in the job market. Plus, in the end, it’s a win-win. By joining clubs, seeking leadership opportunities, and getting involved in research, you not only end up with an impressive resume, you gain confidence in your work, discover and refine your interests, and enrich your undergraduate experience overall.