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Career Boot Camp Gives Engineering Grad Students Big Head Start on Resume Writing and Job Hunting

Christina Mata

Christina Mata

logo for the handshake job search software now used by Engineering Career Development and Experiential Learning

Just before this semester began, our Career Development and Experiential Learning Center hosted its second-annual Career Boot Camp, a two-part, hands-on, career workshop conducted for about 40 masters and doctoral students in the College of Engineering. According to Graduate Career Coordinator Christina Mata, who ran the program, “The purpose of the Career Boot Camp is to give grad students an overview of the career development process here at the College of Engineering and provide them with the tools to start that process.”

Mata added that “It’s really wonderful to be able to work with the graduate student population; they are such a diverse, dedicated, incredibly interesting, and, of course, exceptionally smart group of engineering students!”

Part of the goal of the boot camp is to let our grad students know the resources we have to offer. They can come into the COE career center throughout the year to receive one-on-one and small-group help with resume writing, networking, job hunting, interviewing, cover-letter writing, salary negotiating, and more.

“Grad students are not as available as undergrads, so we need to create community early on and orient them to what’s available in the COE career center,” says Mata. “We’re interested in building connections with the grad students and addressing their particular needs. That’s one of our top priorities with the boot camp.”

As Mata observes, graduate students live in a “different world” than undergrads. Whether they’re doing research in a laboratory, or working as teaching assistants, their needs are a little different. Moreover, they come from many different countries. In addition, many grad students have families, or they’re also working, so their time and access are limited.  The graduate Career Boot Camp is a chance to build community for the graduate students within the COE Career Center.

As Mata explains, “So we’ve had to figure out how to work within all those limitations and make it easy and effective for them to get the support they might need in their career development.”

The boot camp lays the groundwork for student engagement with the career center, and it also gives students some tips on what they can work on right away, encouraging them to start the career-development path early on.

“It’s not just about job searching,” says Mata. “As an engineer, in a sense you are ‘at work’ in engineering from the start. You’re designing, building, testing, presenting, innovating, problem solving, and creating within the academic curriculum; we want to help our students translate what they do daily in class into skill sets on a resume.”

And so building your strength as a potential job candidate really does start right away. 

“On day one we start with the resume, the elevator pitch, and networking tips,” says Mata. “By elevator pitch, in this case, we mean that students learn to craft a short introduction that summarizes their background, their education, their experience, and their skills for potential employers. So we practice that elevator pitch on the first day by having the students turn to their next-door neighbors and say a little about themselves. It’s hard when you only have about 60 seconds to introduce yourself and your background during a brief interaction or meeting!  It takes practice.”

Mata comments that “At the end of the presentation, we actually look at everyone’s resume. We have two wonderful graduate staff assistants who helped with the presentation and reviewed attendees’ resumes.” Mata also teaches them what a recruiter is looking for: “It is very helpful for the students to know how recruiters are reading and interpreting their resumes; what recruiters are looking for and how to best match what they’re looking for in one’s resume based on the job description.”

Day two of the boot camp is about the job search itself, including tips for writing a strong cover letter, which is often daunting for a lot of students, and getting familiar with the interview process. “We talk about the importance of practice,” says Mata, “as we know that practice really boosts confidence in all of their career development and job searching activities.

Other areas covered on the second day are using search tools, preparing a collection of stories that demonstrate a student’s talent or skill, and the importance of matching skills and strengths with the job description. Tips on professional dress, thank-you notes, and bringing one’s personality into the interview are equally important aspects of preparing for the job search. Of course, good eye contact and a good handshake are also addressed. “We let them know about all the resources we have to offer, including opportunities to do mock interviews, and attend workshops, tabling events, career fairs, and individual one-on-one appointments ,” says Mata.

One of the newest resources at the career center is a new software program called Handshake launched this summer. “Students can look for jobs,  make appointments with a career advisor, see a schedule of all the career development events we’re hosting, find out which companies are coming for Information Sessions, Tech Talks, and workshops,” says Mata. “It’s a fantastic, one-stop-shopping-for-all their career development needs. We also have a Graduate Career Handbook, specifically designed for graduate students, that spans the full cycle of career development – from resume, C.V., and cover letter writing, to job searching and interviewing both for academic and industrial jobs. “

Another new resource is the Professional Skills “drop-in” workshop covering resume development, interviewing, networking, graduate research presentation skills, and more. It takes place every Wednesday afternoon in Marston 114. “No appointment required,” as Mata says. “From 3:30 to 5:00 I’m here.”

Mata concludes that “The biggest take-away from the boot camp is that it builds a sense of community early on; many of the students who participated in the boot camp made follow-up appointments soon after the event, so we know it is a great way of getting our students engaged from day one.” (October 2017)