How to get a job in engineering
Equipped with strong vocational skills, engineers are in a position to take up employment immediately after graduation.
Large companies, such as the big construction firms, multinational manufacturing industries and engineering firms, often approach institutions directly. They may visit campuses as part of the milkround and give presentations on their career opportunities, as well as attending recruitment fairs. They may recruit students directly through a specific engineering department or faculty, or liaise with the college careers services. They may also advertise on national third-level careers websites, on national jobs websites, and in national newspapers. Most graduates will strive to get on to graduate programmes accredited by Engineers Ireland or the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Smaller companies usually have a less structured approach to recruitment. They often recruit on an ‘as needed’ basis. Local authority and government department jobs are advertised in national newspapers and on the Civil Service jobs websites. Recruitment agencies tend to look for a minimum of two years’ experience in addition to an accredited degree.
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.
Qualifications and skills needed to work in engineering
Employers look for graduate engineers with a strong technical background, good problem-solving skills, the ability to work well as part of a team, and excellent communication skills. To progress your career it’s also important to have commercial awareness and business acumen, initiative and leadership and management potential.
Career progression patterns are varied, given the enormous range and scope of roles, activities and work environments for engineers. Many graduates with strong initiative, interpersonal and team project management skills move into managerial roles within ten years of qualifying.
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.
A placement or work experience is not a requirement to get a graduate job in engineering, but it can help. Recruiters see it as proof of your motivation and initiative and welcome the fact that you have already experienced the discipline of working life.
You can benefit from it too: the opportunity to gain insight into the working environment of a particular engineering sector is a great way of deciding whether it’s for you or not. You will have a chance to see theory applied in real life practical situations: this is the essence of high quality experiential learning and consolidates your appreciation and grasp of the theoretical side of things.
Another advantage is that work experience prepares you to perform better at interviews. Most interviews are competence-based, so you need to select real life examples of situations where you developed and used key skills and qualities. Working in an engineering sector enables you to develop and demonstrate these.
You may be able to arrange a placement via your university. There are also opportunities for work experience abroad with organisations such as AIESEC and overseas development agencies, where you will often get involved in projects at a deeper level than at home.
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