How to apply for an engineering job without work experience

Published 2019-05-04

There is a few practical factors than can make or break your job application w.r.t you CV (resume), especially when you don't have experience

I was in the position once to interview over 40 young engineers with no work experience. We had to fill 10 positions in a very short amount of time and it was grueling. The worst part was updating a shortlist after every day. We did all of this in only 3 weeks. After a day seeing up to 6 candidates in a row (and still doing some real work in between), your brain starts to melt down and faces and conversations start to blur into one another. The worst part was trying to remember each interview and who to keep on the short list and how to compare them to the next short list the following day and later. It's then when one critical factor start to work for or against you, in your absence: your CV.

When you are not around, especially after your interview, your CV is all that your interviewer has to remember you by.

When I called a few of the engineers for a second round of interviews, in one case, the wrong person showed up! What happened? I mixed up two of the names and remembered the wrong interview! Fortunately my call was for a second interview and not for a Yes or No answer and I could fix my mistake. It could have been very bad for the wrong person and the company. So this got me thinking about everything I would have done wrong too, when writing a CV, before this experience.

Here is my short list of Do's and Don'ts regarding your CV:

  1. Include a photo
    No, we really do not care about your selfie skills (please don't use a selfie!) and even less about your adventures or 'best side'. It's for a simple practical reason: after a long day, you want to make sure the interviewer remembers which person in the sea of faces you were and places a tick mark against the right name. So shake those shades or silhouette photo, this is not a photo contest.
  2. Who will read your CV (resume)?
    98% of the time, the person making a decision about your appointment, will be an engineer. Engineers aren't interviewing people for a living, but they will have to work with you, should you get employed. Think about that.
  3. Why is that important?
    Firstly, engineers want to get on with their work and want to know that you will be willing and able to pull your weight. Secondly, they don't have time to read lengthy documents and most certainly don't care about the nice cover that took you all weekend to put together. Keep it short and concise. Tear up that 100 page document that took you a month to prepare and get rid of that cover with the flower blossoms or architectural marvels. It may be suitable if you apply for an artistic job, but an engineer might just get irritated trying to find what is useful in between what is not.
  4. What should be in there?
    Name, contact details, yes all that normal stuff the HR department will need to get in touch with you, but what the engineer who appoints you wants to know is: Are you the best candidate for the job? Does that include that your were team captain in school? How is that relevant? That you won a painting award in Japan? Not really, no. What you need to show is that you want to be an engineer and not just receive a pay check. How do you do that?
  5. What if you have no job experience?
    It's the ultimate conundrum for any young graduate. How do you get experience, without experience? No, it's the same conundrum for the interviewing engineer. How does he ensures he gets the best candidate if no one he sees has any work experience? Exam marks? No, that doesn't give you the full picture. Your school experience? No, that seldom helps either.
    What an engineer will do to solve this conundrum, is to focus on what is relevant and ignore what is not. Did you do vacation work? Did you work in a video store (no, he won't care) or help restore your grandpa's 1940 Chevy (yes, he will want to know!). Did you complete a 3rd and/or 4th year project? Tell us all about it - no, not the parts you didn't contribute to. Focus on what you did. What did you learn from it? Nothing? You won't be hired. Did it all come tumbling down? Tell us more! We want to see if you are an engineer at heart. Can you learn? Can you take responsibility? Don't say it, show it.
  6. But how detailed must this be?
    Short! Very short. Give the reader enough to show off your natural engineering skills and insight, but short enough to make them want to ask you more about it in the interview (or to refer to their notes after). Don't worry, you can't fake it. We'll know. It takes an engineer to know one. You can fool the HR department with a list of accomplishments, but an engineer knows what to zoom into and find out if your really show any insight or talent.
  7. Don't take it personally
    Yes it's horrible to get a No, or no answer at all, but never give up and don't sweat it. To make the perfect match between employer and employee is sometimes more about the right timing than anything else. No company is hiring all the time and it's sometimes pure luck to get notified when someone is hiring out of the blue. And if you "lose" against someone else, it might be a pure personality thing (of the interviewer). If he/she doesn't like you, you wouldn't want to work for or with him/her in any case. Use the experience and focus on being calmer next time. Natural confidence is much more attractive than someone desperate for a job.
  8. Be honest
    Anyone can spot a fake nice person or pick up on a fake CV. Never try to be anyone but yourself. If you get employed for the wrong reasons, everyone will lose, you included (if not more). Rather show how eager you are to learn, than list a skill you don't have. Be bold by showing your true personality, no matter how hard that may be. Engineers are keen teachers and tolerant to different personalities, but can't stand liars or "actors".

Want a nice CV template? Search Google and download one you like, but try to keep it short and practically structured and delete all the example content. It will show something about your individuality which is important. Is it neat and ordered? Is the information clear and relevant? Or bloated with irrelevant achievements and awards?

And remember: Young engineers aren't hired for what they know, they are hired for how well they can learn.

All the best in your job hunt!


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