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How to find your first engineering job

09 November 2020 by National Bank
First engineering job

Finding your first job is a major step for all new graduates. For those looking to forge a career in a competitive profession like engineering, this can be a challenging experience. Are you ready to start your career as an engineer? Read our seven tips and tricks to guide you in your job search – and make it easier, too!

“To practise engineering, you first have to earn a licence,” notes Réjeanne Aimey, Professional Engineer and President at the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE). “That means a new engineering graduate cannot be called an engineer just yet. Each province in Canada has a professional regulatory association that determines how a licence is obtained. To become an engineer, an engineering graduate must accumulate four years of experience, some of which must be obtained in Canada, and approved by a professional engineer. Successfully passing an exam, approved by the provincial regulatory body, is also a requirement.” Here are some tips and tricks that may help you obtain your professional engineering licence and may position you well during a job search.

1. Decide ahead of time where you want to practise

“You can decide for yourself but usually, engineers practise in their province of graduation, as this is where most of their coop/internship experience occurs and is also often the location of their first job,” Aimey explains. “It’s important to remember that your licence is only valid in the province where it was issued. This means that if you want to practise in another province, you will have to go to the relevant regulatory association and submit an application for licensing equivalency. Contrary to some other professions, getting an equivalency isn’t that restrictive and the process is relatively quick. However, you do need a licence to practise and to be called an engineer, which new graduates don’t have. There’s nothing stopping you from doing engineering work elsewhere in Canada if you find a job under a licensed professional engineer in that province who will be responsible for your work.”

2. Be proactive

“The main quality to have as a new engineering graduate is to be proactive. As an engineer-in-training, make sure to follow up on documenting the work you’ve done in order to obtain your licence,” the President advises. “Many people may be surprised to learn that the professional engineer who’s supervising you may not be responsible for maintaining your experience record. So it’s in your best interest to take care of this and ensure you get the appropriate sign-offs on your experience as your Professional Engineer supervisor may change before you accumulate all the experience you need to obtain your licence. In this case if you wait, it can be very difficult to track people down and when you do, they may not recall all the relevant details. When I was a new graduate, I made sure to understand the regulatory body’s experience requirements and write down all the work I did in an excel spreadsheet. At the end of each year, I sat down with my professional engineer supervisor to see if he approved the tasks I wrote down. It saved me a lot of time, and as soon as my four years were up, I was able to get my professional engineering licence pretty fast.”

We also recommend keeping your CV up to date and writing a cover letter that you can quickly change or improve as requested.

3. Research the future of the marketplace

“Think long and hard about the area in which you’d like to practise. This is an extremely important decision that you should think about from your very first semester at university. There are many different fields of engineering. I know how challenging this task can be, but try to envision your future.” 

“One thing I’ve noticed is that the job market is cyclical. When I got my degree, there appeared to be fewer opportunities in civil engineering, and most graduates at my university that year pursued other fields. Now, when you look at the jobs out there, it seems the opposite is true.”

Choose your sector of activity

“Right now, the market outlook appears to be trending toward innovative strategies to mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, developing infrastructure, and bringing back manufacturing. Of course, major Canadian cities like Toronto are swarming with construction sites but most engineering disciplines should be able to find work in these areas. There continues to be high demand in civil and infrastructure engineering. More than ever, software and computer engineering is very popular, but please note that though software and computer engineering graduates exist there may be fewer software engineers out there to support you on your path to licensure. This just means that to become a licensed professional software or computer engineer not only is the company you work for important but also the presence of a licensed professional engineer. This is an important distinction because if you don’t have someone appropriate to sign off on your work, you will not be able to get a licence based on the work you have done.”

Build your network

“It’s important to do your own research. Can you determine which fields will have the most opportunities when you graduate? It’s best to network with other professionals in the field and joining your provincial advocacy association, like OSPE in Ontario, to get a clearer idea. OSPE’s Exchange Hubs located at some universities in Ontario allow the community to get together, particularly so they can discuss topics of interest related to engineering, careers, and professional development. These hubs and other OSPE events are attended by engineering students, graduates and professional engineers alike. They can provide a better perspective on what a future in the profession holds. Some of your university professors with industry experience can also be great sources of advice and information, so feel free to reach out to them.” 

4. Don’t change your specialization

“While in undergrad, if you’ve started to specialize in a particular field of engineering such as electrical, make sure its the foundation you want to have long-term. Once you’ve obtained your degree, switching to a different engineering specialization is not seamless as, in most cases, the engineering program is not designed to be additive. Your specialized university program of study is meticulously planned to ensure you meet the academic requirements for that particular specialization. Few course credits can be transferred from one specialization to another. If you change your mind at some point while at school, this may delay your graduation date, and it’ll cost you in terms of time and school fees. Make a clear decision about the sector you’d like to pursue and stay the course,” recommends Aimey. 

5. Build your network

“If there aren’t any engineers in your personal network of contacts, start reaching out to engineering firms and ask them if they’re hiring. Don’t worry – employers are used to being contacted by students and engineering graduates who are seeking employment. Research their fields of expertise and prepare for the job interview. Because engineering is fairly competitive, you have to show initiative. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good network. That’s my best advice for finding a job in any engineering sector,” Aimey suggests. 

6. Put experience at the forefront

“The more experience you have on your CV, the easier it will be for you to find an engineering job. No surprise there. It’s best not to wait until the last minute, like the end of your winter semester, to start looking for a summer job at an engineering firm. Things have changed a bit since I graduated in that the schools seem to take a more active role in ensuring coop/internship opportunities are available for students to apply at the appropriate times. I’ve noticed that students who were able to find coops/internships had more success on the post-graduate job market once they graduated. For most companies it seemed that this experience was more highly regarded than grades. I think that employers are more concerned with your performance and resourcefulness than your academic transcript. Conversely, if you have a great GPA but never had a coop/internship, it may be more difficult for you to find a job. The one exception is high-tech companies that do cutting-edge research. No experience can prepare you for that kind of work, so your grades may definitely be more highly regarded,” explains Aimey. 

7. Know what to expect from your first job

“Don’t worry – generally you’ll be eased into your engineering jobs. Likely, for the first few days, you’ll meet your direct supervisor and your colleagues. You’ll probably be paired with a senior employee who can show you the ropes. In the first few months, you won’t necessarily have any major engineering responsibilities; you’ll likely be given simple tasks. Once you’ve developed the right instincts and get used to the work, your employer will entrust you with more complex tasks. Make sure to focus on building a trusting relationship with your supervisor. And don’t forget to document the work you’ve done so you can have it approved.” 

“If you graduated a few months ago and are having trouble finding a job because of the economic situation, don’t give up. Think about building your presence on social media platforms and showcasing your interests. Be creative and follow the news to find out which firms are creating job opportunities. Contact the decision-makers directly, rather than human resources, to submit an unsolicited application. Finally, ensure you attend job fairs, and register with both your provincial advocacy association and your provincial regulatory body because they can also find you opportunities. Engineering can be a demanding but gratifying profession, and with persistence, you’ll likely find a job in which you’ll thrive.”

National Bank offers privileges to engineers and engineering graduates.

 

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