How I Got My First ChemE Job

Posted by Thomas Leusner on

By Ogochukwu Yvonne Enekwizu, Graduate Research Assistant, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Besides my love for research, one of my unspoken reasons for pursuing a master’s degree was to delay the worry and stress of getting a job right out of college. Thus, it is somewhat fitting that my first job as a process engineer occurred through a series of fortunate events. Don’t get me wrong, I had sent out countless resumes, attended tons of career fairs and conferences, perfected my 40 second (or less depending on attention span) elevator pitch, and firm handshake routine. Being an introvert, however, I envied the ease with which other soon-to-be grads conversed with employers at the job fairs. In such situations, I felt that I came across as rehearsed rather than sincere in my desire to work for companies that matched my interests. With my second graduation date looming and no prior internships on my resume, the odds did not seem to stack up in my favor.

Career fairs are a necessary evil

Opinions vary on the usefulness of job fairs, career fairs, recruitment events, or whatever name they go by. Towards the end of my master’s program, I had accumulated an arsenal of pens and stress balls from these events, but no job offers or prospects. Thus, the notification from the university center about another career fair held no appeal for me. I went about my normal routine of running experiments and compiling data for my thesis defense and forgot all about the fair. However, several colleagues who attended the fair finally convinced me to make an appearance, so I hastily printed a few resume copies, borrowed a jacket and made my rounds at engineering design companies.

Since the wait lines were much shorter, I ditched my rapid-fire elevator pitch and gave pertinent reasons to each recruiter as to why I’d make a great process engineer at their company. This approach seemed to impress one of the recruiters at Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR Inc), a company which provides engineering, procurement and construction services for a variety of projects and clients. I was urged to apply for the position of an Associate Technical Professional-Process on their website.

Feeling rather dejected at the default recruiter response, I noticed as I walked away that he made a note on my resume and placed it in a separate pile from the stack on his table. I picked up a few more pens for my job fair souvenir collection and went back to my experiments, but not before I had filled out an online application for the job.  

Unexpected call backs

A few days after the career fair, I got a call for an on-campus face-to-face interview. This came as a bit of a shock because I didn’t expect a call back and my previous interviews with other companies were all conducted over the phone. This time, I didn’t need any urging from my colleagues to accept the invitation and properly researched the company to confirm that their work practices aligned with my goals.

The interview went quite smoothly with a lot of focus on my interpersonal and problem-solving skills. At the end of the exchange, I was informed that my application had been recommended by the recruiter I met at the career fair and I was to move on to the next round of interviews at the company headquarters. My second interview at HQ consisted of three sessions focused on my strengths, teamwork abilities, and creativity. I was then told the interview session was a mere formality as the decision to potentially hire me had been made during my first meeting at the career fair. Within a few weeks, I received a formal job offer letter four months before my graduation – to the relief of family and friends.

People hire people

Online applications are a lot easier than establishing a human connection, especially at overcrowded career fairs. Even though I wasn’t dressed formally and didn’t have the best formatted resume at the career fair, I was the only process engineering hire for KBR. Introverted or not, I realized that the only way to make an impression on any recruiter was to be genuinely confident in my abilities and what I had to offer, rather than rattling off a list of qualifications with no conviction. During the three years I worked at KBR, I have learned that those with whom you share your aspirations are more willing to help you achieve them. Keep that in mind at the next recruitment fair you attend – and don’t forget to grab a stress ball!

Ogochukwu Enekwizu is a chemical engineering doctoral candidate at the New Jersey Institute of Technology studying the chemical transformations of atmospheric aerosols such as black carbon. She recently won the NJWEA graduate student award in Environmental Science. You can reach her at