Marathon — not a last-minute sprint — is surest step to career-launching opportunities
Imagine an aspiring astronaut looking for a chance to join a space mission who shows up unannounced at a NASA facility on the day of the launch to ask if there’s a seat available on the flight.
That’s a bit like a college student late in his or her senior year attending a campus career fair for the first time as the only effort to land a job before graduation.
Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering strives to keep students from facing such an unpromising scenario.
The Fulton Schools Career Center’s guiding message to students is that their primary educational goal must be two dimensional: learning what they need to know to become a skilled professional and at the same time learning — and applying —the skills necessary to find a job that ideally will be the start of a fulfilling career.
“That message starts with Career Exploration Night in students’ first year,” says Vicki Fox, associate director of the Career Center.
“To freshmen, the need to start looking for an internship or a job can seem like something that’s far off in the future,” says Joyce Donahue, a nationally certified career counselor with the center. “But finding that internship or job can be a marathon, and you won’t win a marathon if you don’t train for it early and often.”
Take advantage of job-search training events and services
There’s a full menu of employment-search training options for Fulton Schools students that will prepare them to put their best foot forward at campus career fairs — including those for all ASU students, those for all Fulton Schools students, and smaller events targeting students in certain majors or particular schools.
There are résumé review sessions, information sessions, career coaching services, workshops on how to prepare for career fairs and job interviews, panel discussions with industry representatives and upper-class students.
Alyssa Rosenfeld went to a career fair in her first semester at ASU and then to six more during her undergraduate years. In addition, she connected with job recruiters by volunteering to help coordinate activities at some of the fairs, which led to her first internship, with the D.R. Horton company, the country’s largest home builder — followed by another internship that gave her experience in a different type of construction.
“Getting the first internship was the most difficult, but the hard work pays off,” she says.
Rosenfeld also joined the Fulton Ambassadors, a student organization that helps promote the Fulton Schools, and became the group’s outreach and recruitment director.
From those experiences, she not only picked up communication and leadership skills, but met and got advice from university faculty and staff members — including deans and school directors — company recruiters and industry leaders.
What she learned from all that networking “made my job search experience a lot easier,” she says, and even more importantly, “gave me direction in understanding what I needed to do to grow and develop as a professional.”
Rosenfeld graduated in December 2016 with a degree in construction engineering and is now a project engineer with the McCarthy Building Companies, one of the country’s largest building contractors.
Work at making connections
Mechanical engineering student Troy Buhr made valuable connections through joining the ASU student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers. He led one of the organization’s teams in international student automotive design and performance competitions.
At one of those events he met a Ford Motor Company recruiter, leading to a successful, internship with the company last summer. He will graduate this spring and in July begin a full-time job with Ford in Michigan.
As much as academic achievement, employers are also drawn to students who have gained experience in team projects and competitions related to their fields of study.
“They look for students who have gotten involved in things that required them to take on challenges and solve problems,” Buhr says.
He had begun his pursuit of job experience in his freshman year, sending out résumés to any company he thought might let him work part-time while in school. He found a position not far from home with Abbott Laboratories, where he helped to rebuild manufacturing machinery.
That work led to a summer internship at Abbott’s operations in the Chicago area. There he got experience with power plant systems, as well as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.
“It was a great experience. Even though the work wasn’t my passion, it gave me a perspective that helped me know what I really want to do,” he says.
Buhr tells students “not to limit yourself only to a dream job or internship, because there are a lot of other jobs that will still teach you valuable skills and prepare you to work in different kinds of company environments.”
Pursue broad range of experience
Chemical engineering student Emily Close let few opportunities escape her in preparing for job searches and getting experience that would add highlights to her résumé.
As a freshman she joined the Fulton Schools Engineering Projects in Community Service (or EPICS) program, which enables student teams to apply their engineering know-how to help nonprofit groups and civic organizations with community enhancement projects.
During summers she served as a student counselor for E2, the Fulton Schools freshman engineering experience. She got involved in undergraduate research endeavors, including the competitive Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative program.
Close made a point of attending many of the Career Center’s information sessions and panel sessions with industry representatives — a more productive way, she notes, to try to network with potential employers than at crowded career fairs.
She also sought out ASU chemical engineering graduates to query them about how they landed their jobs.
On top of all that, Close became a Career Center student worker. Among a variety of tasks, she assisted employers and recruiters in preparing to participate in career fairs and interview students.
“They became friendly faces who could provide me a ton of advice on the job-search process” she says. “And I always had the support of the staff when it came to prepping for interviews, presenting myself to employers, and deciding which internship to take.”
Last summer Close interned at IM Flash in Utah, an Intel-Micron joint venture that manufactures flash-memory technology. A few weeks after receiving her degree this spring, she will begin full-time work for the company as a process engineer.
Build résumé with extracurricular accomplishments
Peter Harper got a jump-start on the internship and job search process by going to a Fulton Schools career fair almost a year before he began studies at ASU.
The company recruiters he talked to “were not only interested in grades, they also wanted technical and internship experience and leadership experience, and they were also interested in extracurricular activities,” Harper says.
While still at Mesa Community College, he joined the school’s engineering club and after transferring to ASU joined the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He soon took leadership roles and participated in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative.
His résumé also eventually included some solo accomplishments: disassembling and then rebuilding his car’s engine, and designing, 3D-printing and launching a small rocket.
“Both of these projects helped me gain experience and taught me things I would not have learned otherwise,” Harper says.
Students often neglect to highlight work they undertook outside of required coursework or extracurricular activities, Career Center counselor Donahue says, “but independent projects that are not part of a class assignment are highly valued by recruiters and hiring managers.”
Networking and ‘soft skills’ are critical
Getting a position as a student worker with the Fulton Schools Career Center also connected Harper with employers, ASU staff and others who advised him on writing effective résumés and interview skills.
“The networking really paid off because it led to a co-op position, and the experience and skills I gained from that helped me land two internships with other companies,” he says.
Harper earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2015 and a year later — through the Fulton Schools 4+1 accelerated degree program — received a master’s degree in the field. He’s now a systems engineer with Orbital ATK, a major aerospace and defense technologies company.
Another recent Fulton Schools graduate echoes Harper’s advice about networking and learning to market yourself to employers.
Varenda Silva says no matter how good the grades or how impressive a student’s technical know-how may be, it’s critical to develop the “soft skills” — communication skills in particular.
Students need to be able to present themselves to prospective employers in ways that express their self-motivation and passion, says Silva, whose résumé includes his work with 33 Buckets, an EPICS project that has become an international nonprofit that helps communities in underdeveloped countries get access to clean water.
Silva, who graduated in 2013 with a biomedical engineering degree, landed an internship while at ASU that led to his job as a quality engineer for W.L. Gore and Associates, a leading medical device company.
“Start the job hunt early,” he advises. “Get your résumé ready, and start getting the experience that will be valuable to employers, and work on those soft skills.”
Practical steps: How to get started
Career Center staffers Donahue and Fox strongly recommend some important first steps, such as creating a profile and uploading a résumé to Sun Devil CareerLink, putting a profile directly on company websites, setting up alerts to notifications about internship opportunities and jobs.
They also advise students to learn as much as they can about the employers that do offer them internships or jobs.
“Make sure those companies can provide the particular experiences that will advance your interests in terms of the kind of career you’re seeking,” Donahue says.
Fox emphasizes looking first into what the Fulton Schools Career Center can do to help launch you on that career quest — sooner rather than later.
One way to get started: Check of the calendar of Career Week events leading up to the Fulton Schools Career Fairs on February 27 and 28, and March 1.