Engineering Tip #1: Don’t forget to interview the employer

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I find it incredulous how companies are allowed to get away with not telling their new recruits what function of the business they will be working with and what it entails until they turn up on their first day. The problem is, students can be so transfixed on securing a job, extremely aware of the competition, and keen to not say anything to put off an employer, it is all too easy for large household name companies to lure in students based on the strength of their company’s brand alone.

Six months ago, I had the privilege of representing my company at a recruitment fair at the University of Loughborough. Any 2nd year engineer studying at Loughborough is incredibly lucky for their faculty to put on a fair where employers are purely focused on recruiting for internships rather than graduate schemes. It was great for me too: it was an opportunity to talk with tens of interns who like me, were less than 4 months into their placements.

It did not take long to notice a trend in their experiences. Nearly all agreed industry was different to how they imagined. Many felt that there job lacked opportunities to apply the technical knowledge they had learned in industry, and some were even placed in non-engineering functions of their business.

I could easily relate to their concerns. Though I was overall enjoying my job and had plenty of positive things to say about it, there was the issue that my background in control had (at the time) been of limited use in my line of work. There were also two key things I didn’t know before my first day:

1. That my job role would fall into the category of ‘Asset Management’

2. That the mathematical and programming skills that I had painstakingly developed over three years of university would have limited use in the Asset Management world

It was then I started questioning how realistic my expectations of the engineering real-world were. It didn’t take long to realise how vague my expectations were.

I saw myself working on control systems for chemical processes, so I applied for oil & gas, food and chemical companies. This brings me onto another three things I didn’t know:

3. Large manufacturing companies have a tendency to contract out specialist work to external firms

4. There is more to control engineering than the design and development of control systems

5. Different teams of engineers have very distinct roles and responsibilities, even if they studied the same discipline of engineering at university.

 

It should have been obvious, but I was so focused answering the questions aimed at me at the interview that I forgot that the interview was a two way process. I didn’t even ask what I would be doing on the job.

In the end, I was lucky: asset management turned out to not be as dull as it sounded and I was given an opportunity to join the project engineers on a large high-profile project. I have friends who didn’t share my luck, but only being on a temporary contract, they have the opportunity to pick a graduate employer with a bit more care.

Not every engineering job in a company will be high-profile or make good use of all of the technical skills used at university; there are plenty of interesting jobs that lack the glamour to be used in engineering outreach campaigns. Whatever your ambitions, make sure you and any potential employer are on the same page. When you are committing up to four years of your life when signing a contract for a graduate scheme, the element of surprise won’t always be welcome.

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