In a new regular feature for The Student Engineer, our career experts offer their advice to a young engineer who’s not sure which industry would be most likely to give him a break.
I completed my bachelor’s degree in chemical and process engineering in July 2012. Since then, I have been struggling to find work with no luck. When I first applied for jobs, I was told that I had very little experience and I did not have a master’s degree. When I did not secure any interviews I worked voluntarily for a small company as a research and development engineer for a year and in the end they agreed to sponsor my postgraduate study.
I now have a year’s worth of experience in the energy and process industry and am studying for a master’s in chemical engineering. My sponsor liked my work, however, they have limited resources and so I have been applying for jobs elsewhere – but I am still being turned down. Either I get a reply stating that I do not have enough experience or my experience does not match any of their requirements even though I only apply when I see do meet the requirements.
“Which industry would give me a chance?”
I am confused. Are these companies not considering that I have transferable skills which I gained during my current master’s, my BEng and my experience? I am looking for entry level jobs as a trainee or junior engineer in the chemical and process industries within a 60-mile radius of London or in the West Midlands. I am happy to go to into water treatment, energy, renewable energy, oil & gas or even the food industry. I would be happy just to contribute to any industry and learn from it. Which industry would give me a chance?
Mark Bradford, STEM Graduates recruitment agency
Though your intelligence and passion certainly comes across in your letter, when you talk about your graduate job preferences you are not specific enough when you list the industries you’re interested in
You need to write your CV with a specific industry/company in mind, one that most meets your interests and experience. Although you have interests in other areas of engineering, pick your strongest area of expertise and reinforce your knowledge of it during an application process.
Research the industry you’re most interested in and demonstrate this in your applications, exhibit a passion for the job you are specifically applying for. Otherwise you run the risk of seeming unfocused to employers. It’s great that you are interested in a number of different areas within engineering but you need to convey to employers how you’re focused on launching a career within one specific area.
It’s worthwhile researching relevant companies and introducing yourself speculatively as a graduate looking for entry-level opportunities or even some work experience (as the route of looking into smaller firms may be more effective in terms of his academic background).
”Convey to employers how you’re focused on launching a career in one area”
Social media is also increasingly important during the process of job hunting. LinkedIn is a particularly useful tool: interact with relevant groups, follow companies that you’re are interested in and interact with them. It’s crucial to have a consistent appearance throughout different social media channels, so choose a professional profile picture and make sure there’s nothing visible to employers that you wouldn’t want them to view. (Trust me, they will look.)
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a graduate job in Chemical Engineering you need to remain persistent. Apply for entry-level jobs, continue to research an area of expertise whilst job hunting and take any relevant placement or work experience opportunities that are offered. This will bolster your appeal to prospective employers and demonstrate a determination to get into your chosen industry.
Annette Baxter and Tim Fletcher, Sheffield University career office
Thank you for expressing so clearly the frustrations of so many graduates who get caught in the trap of being told they don’t have enough experience, but on the other hand, can’t get a job in order to gain that experience.
We would suggest that you tailor your CV so you have different versions to reflect the needs of each type of industry sector or company. CVs, as well as covering letters, need to be adapted according to each role. This may mean you have several different versions of your CV, each highlighting and prioritising the information relevant to that sector.
To do this, for example, you could shorten your personal statement and present a very brief, focused career objective appropriate to the chosen industry sector, highlighting the main qualification, experience and type of role you seek that summarises in a sentence or two what you have to offer.
For example, for a job in the oil and gas industry you could summarise your statement with: ’I am a chemical engineering postgraduate with four years’ experience of providing consultancy advice relating to the installation and design of chemical plants. I have knowledge of HAZOP and ISO standards and am keen to develop my career in the oil and gas industry.’
“Tailor your CV to reflect the needs of each type of industry sector or company”
You could also change the order of information on the CV and, instead of listing your jobs in reverse chronological order, put the most relevant experience into a prominent position, moving ‘Other industrial experience’ further down. Companies will recognise that you have transferable skills gained from the variety of work and education experience, but you need to make this obvious to them explaining its relevance to their role and not leaving them to assume how it is relevant.
When it comes to your cover letter, it is also important that this is presented professionally, free of spelling or grammatical errors and written in appropriate business English. This high level of attention to detail is particularly important for engineering roles. If this is not your strong point, it is always worth having someone you trust read it through for you. Most university careers services continue to see their graduates for several years after graduation and may offer phone, Skype or email appointments, so contact your university to see if what kind of ongoing help and support is available to you.
If you’re at the start of your engineering career and have a problem you’d like our experts to advise on then email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org with as much detail as you can provide and a CV if possible. Don’t worry, you’ll remain completely anonymous.