Just Starting Out – Part 1

I can still remember the summer of 1978. I was just finishing high school and thought I was on the top of the world. I was planning my future career and getting ready for my enrollment at Louisiana Tech University. It was a time of eager anticipation of what would lie ahead. I was certain I wanted to be an engineer. In fact, I knew what I wanted to do from the 9th grade on. As exciting as high school graduation was, it paled in comparison to college graduation and the start of my career. Both high school and college prepared me with the mechanics I would need to perform in my eventual career, but neither prepared me to land that first job. I venture to say, most of you had the same experience.

At KTM Solutions, we work with college and high school students. It’s one of the things my engineering team really enjoys. We help them learn the practicum of engineering. They learn how to apply the knowledge they have gained academically to real-world problems. Most of the students that have completed our program are well prepared for a career. But, similar to my experience, most struggle when they need to find a job. In fact, I have found that few students are prepared when they graduate to find employment. Hopefully, this article will help new graduates as they prepare for their future.

Steps that will help you find a job:

Understand the type of work you seek—To find the right position, you need to understand the basic tasking and skills for the position. For example, if you want to be a structural designer, you need a basic understanding of the requirements for a structural-design position. The following are a few ideas to help you determine the right position and job description:

  • Find an experienced person inside your field of study for advice. Using the example of a structural designer, have a dialogue with someone who currently works in that field. Ask good questions about the work. If appropriate, ask if you can do a job shadow.
  • Prior to graduation, find an internship in your area of study. Even if the internship is not the perfect fit for your long-term career goals, you can learn a great deal from conversations with professionals and craftsmen in your area of study. This can help you refine the job title you seek and develop a basic job description and list of qualifications.
  • Talk to your college career center (if available). Their resources can help you understand the job qualifications and job descriptions for the work you want.

Once you understand the qualifications and basic job titles, complete an internet search for open job opportunities that match the job title and description for the position you seek. This is a necessary first step in order to set you up for the best chance at success as you continue the process.

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Prepare your resume and cover letter—Employers know that this is a first job and that you will have very little practical work experience in the field of study. Students who have completed single or multi-year internships will have an edge as they have a modicum of experience, but the fact remains that fresh college graduates are beginning at the entry level. Use your resume to focus on the key attributes you learned through all of your practical experiences. Focus on skills developed. Use your resume to demonstrate your ability to learn as this is a key attribute that most employers want to see in a new hire—a teachable spirit and someone who wants and knows how to learn. Make sure that you understand the keywords in any position where you intend to apply. The keywords can be derived from a typical job description (remember step one). Make sure the keywords are used in your resume.

A common mistake that new graduates make is discounting experiences that were not compensated. When describing your skills and attributes, consider your full body of work. Volunteer work, accomplishments through service organizations, and even coursework where you made a significant contribution are valuable experience on a resume.

Sending a cover letter with your resume is always a good idea. The cover letter should demonstrate to the hiring company that you are genuinely interested in the potential employer’s business. The letter doesn’t need to be more than one page. In fact, less is more when it comes to the cover letter. Your letter should convey an understanding of the company and the position you seek, as well as a summary of why you should be considered for the position.

Most important point: NEVER LIE. Make sure everything you present in the letter and resume is factual and truthful.

Lagniappe (a little something extra)—Perhaps you are a job seeker that is changing careers and your work history isn’t a direct match for the new career you seek. I work with many people in your position. Perhaps you received a business degree 10 years ago and decided to pursue a career in mechanical design. As such, you went back to school and received a degree in a mechanical field of study. Your experience in business may still be very relevant to the work you seek, depending on the position you want. The following are some tips to help you market yourself in the best light.

  • Consider using a functional resume format (rather than chronological). A functional resume provides focus on the skills and function you have learned and demonstrated throughout your career and underemphasizes the positions and companies in your work history. You can do an internet search for “functional resume” to find examples.
  • Where appropriate, include demonstrated results in your experience. For example, if you developed a business process that saved 30% on overhead costs, be sure to include this in your resume. Even if the business process is only remotely related to the work you seek, this statement demonstrates ability and may pique the interest of the reader.
  • Follow the same steps listed above. Research the position you seek and be sure to prepare a resume that uses the correct keywords.

Remember, your cover letter and resume serve only one purpose: to get an interview.

The next article will focus on interviewing, following up with the prospective employer, and next steps after the interview. We will also look at common things that can derail a prospective match.

Paul V. Kumler, P.E., is president and founder of KTM Solutions, an engineering company that services the aerospace and large-scale manufacturing industries. KTM Solutions designs and builds custom machines and “tooling” (jigs, fixtures, lifting systems) supporting a broad clientele and various industries. (www.ktmmechanical.com) The company is headquartered in Greer, South Carolina, with a remote office in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Kumler serves in several volunteer roles including the SC Aerospace Advisory Board. Mr. Kumler, a professional engineer, is licensed in Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. He is married to Ginger A. Kumler. Together, they have two grown children and three grandchildren.

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