How to get a job in engineering
What are engineering recruiters looking for from applicants?
A CV shouldn’t run any longer than two pages, so you need to tailor it in a manner that prioritises the skills, attributes and qualifications relevant to the position you're applying for. For more help with this, see our article on page 4 on researching employers. Make sure your CV is readable by using a clear font and sensible text size. Your personal, academic and career qualifications should be listed in reverse chronological order, and employers will take note of any unexplained gaps in your timeline. When listing your academic achievements, ensure all the details are correct and verifiable. While they may not be relevant at this stage, listing impressive Leaving Cert results will help demonstrate your academic record. More CV writing tips can be found at gradireland.com/careersadvice. If you include a personal statement, make sure it’s of relevance to the position in question. Avoid vague statements like “Ambitious, highly qualified student seeks challenging role.” Instead, be more specific about your qualifications and preferred role, for example, “Civil engineering student in final year, with a particular interest in hydraulic engineering, seeks a graduate position in the construction industry.” Today, most applications for roles in the engineering industry still take the form of CV and cover letters, but employers are increasingly adopting online application forms.
The application process
Large companies usually approach institutions directly, visiting campuses as part of the graduate recruitment process and liaising with a specific engineering department or faculty and with the college careers service. They may also attend recruitment fairs on campus. Smaller companies usually have a less structured approach to recruitment, often recruiting on an ‘as needed’ basis.
Most large organisations have application forms and can hold up to three interviews. Following the first interview, successful applicants will then need to attend a technical and an HR interview. Smaller organisations will usually accept a CV and will then hold a first interview and sometimes a second interview.
The trend is for employer deadlines to be earlier – partly due to the competition for graduates and partly so that the recruitment process is completed in time for students to concentrate on exams. Many large firms have early deadlines before Christmas. It's a good tip to start thinking about applications in early September, gathering essential information on employers you are interested in and noting their application deadline. Remember that referees will be asked for, so approach them well in advance.
All engineering interviews have a technical aspect. This may be a separate interview or integrated as part of a first or second interview. Don’t be daunted by this: you are an ‘almost’ engineering graduate and you can handle the questions.
Knowledge, communication, problem solving
Technical questions are not always about having the correct answer and knowledge, but more about an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of basic technical concepts and engineering principles and confidence in applying them. Interviewers will also want to assess your ability to communicate technical ideas and information.
If caught out by a difficult question, it is important to be able to admit that you don’t know enough to answer, but are interested and willing to learn more. This is not an exam: interviewers are more interested in how you approach problem solving. It is quite acceptable to ask more questions to help you think through the answer, or to ask for a piece of paper if a sketch will help you clarify something.
Reflect on your studies
Many technical interviews will use your degree studies as a starting point. It will help to go over all of your key degree modules and list your personal learning outcomes. Think about your final-year project: what did I do? How did I do it? What was the outcome? What have I learned? Practise communicating your answers to a friend.
Up your employer knowledge
It is also worth researching the employer’s activities and current trends within their sector. They will want you to relate your knowledge to what they actually do.
Skills employers are looking for
Your application will be judged primarily on your technical qualifications, so make sure to explain the skills you possess and how they can be applied to the position. If you completed an internship or have any relevant work placement experience, be sure to highlight this. If you have experience in a different sector, highlight any transferable skills (communication, report writing, technical documentation etc) you may have acquired. The most in demand skill for engineering applicants is a knowledge of and proficiency in IT. You will be expected to have a competency with standard office applications. Due to the specialised nature of engineering, knowledge of different systems and packages is often required, especially computer aided design (CAD) packages. Other common applications are digital verification packages, project management software and text editing systems. Be sure to list any second languages you may be fluent in, as employers find this attractive. Mentioning that you possess a driver’s licence can also make you stand out.
Soft skills and transferable skills
The engineering industry relies heavily on collaboration and teamwork, so employers are seeking applicants who possess a mix of technical and soft skills. Emotional intelligence, good interpersonal behaviour and the ability to form professional relationships are sought after attributes.
The soft skills demanded by recruiters include:
- Adaptability and resourcefulness
- Initiative and perseverance
- Communication skills: writing, speaking and listening
- The ability to identify and solve problems
- The ability to motivate yourself and others
- Project management and time management skills
You will likely have developed most of these skills while at university, and the others can be obtained. Joining a college society, volunteering with a charity, travelling and joining a sports team are all ways of honing your soft skills.
Practical, on the job experience is valued by engineering employers. While your experience doesn’t have to be directly related to the role you are applying for, any knowledge of the sector you can demonstrate will be appreciated. Your university course may offer industry experience; if not, seek out a work placement with a suitable firm. Your college’s careers advisory service should be able to help you with this, and you can visit gradireland.com/work-experience for more information. At gradireland.com/get-started you can see what day to day work in the engineering sector and its related areas involves.
Interviews and assessment centres
Just as with other areas like finance and IT, engineering recruiters use assessment centres in their process of selecting applicants for graduate schemes. These centres are designed to test the core competencies of candidates, both technical skills and soft skills. The process usually includes interviews and group activities, and applicants may be required to make a presentation. Visit gradireland.com/careers-advice/ interviews-and-tests for advice on negotiating assessment centres, and read the relevant section of the gradireland Directory. Prior to the formal interview process, engineering firms are increasingly screening candidates through phone and video interviews. Depending on the size of the firm, you may be required to complete up to three interviews. The recruiter will use these interviews to assess the level of your technical and soft skills. You will be questioned on what you studied for your degree, so be sure to revise the subjects and areas you studied. When it comes to technical questions, there aren’t always ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, and the interviewer will often just wish to see if you possess an understanding of basic engineering concepts and technical principles and how confident you are in applying them. Remember that due to the collaborative nature of engineering, an interviewer will also be assessing your soft skills, particularly your ability to relate to people and communicate effectively
Opportunities for professional development
Further study can also give you an edge in your job hunt. A commitment to continuing professional development and education is very important, particularly in the electronics and ICT fields.
Graduate engineers from all core disciplines should aim to achieve accredited chartered engineer status. Students in the Republic graduating in 2013 onwards will need to do a Masters course or equivalent to be eligible for the title ‘Chartered Engineer’. Chartered engineers are seen as professionals who possess a recognised and guaranteed level of skills, competences and standards. The first step for graduates is to get a position with an employer that runs a graduate programme accredited with Engineers Ireland or the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Use your careers service!
It is vital to stay in touch with your careers service in your final year. Early in your final year, check your CV and application form style with a careers adviser and get some help with practising interviews. Attend the autumn recruitment fair if one is held on your campus, and make a note of crucial milkround visits from organisations that interest you.
Regularly check your college’s careers website as well as gradireland.com. Use graduate employer directories such as gradireland to research the profiles of all potential employers who run graduate programmes. Check professional body websites, as they usually have a vacancies section. Most large organisations have application forms and can hold up to three interviews.
How to help yourself
It is vital to stay in touch with your Careers Service in your final year. Early in your final year, check your CV and application form style with a careers adviser and get some help with practising interviews. Attend the autumn recruitment fair if one is held on your campus, and make a note of crucial graduate recruiter visits from organisations that interest you. Regularly check your college careers website as well as other third-level careers websites like gradireland.com. Also use gradireland.com to research the profiles of all potential employers who run graduate programmes. Check professional body websites, as they usually have a vacancies section.
Note: If you want to be a chartered engineer (CEng), make sure that the company you are applying to runs a graduate programme accredited with Engineers Ireland or The Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Steps to Engineering
Engineers Ireland’s careers website for school students.
Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)
Grant-making body supporting research in science, mathematics and engineering.
Discover Science & Engineering (DSE)
Promoting science, technology, innovation and engineering among students, teachers and the public.
My Science Career
DSE’s careers website