By regular guest blogger: Rafael Gomes de Oliveira
Two months ago, I had a conversation with some peers about why I decided to study structural engineering and how I went about finding a job. Structural engineering was a natural response to my interest in man-made world wonders, such as the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China, and especially in high-rise structures like the Empire State Building.
When it was time to find a job, I targeted companies that design tall buildings around the world. That didn’t make the job-hunting process any easier, but instead of wasting my time blindly sending resumes to as many companies as I could, I chose to spend it thoroughly researching and applying for jobs at the few companies that matched my interests. The results were very positive. The cover letter I wrote to each company was unique and used the language of that company’s corporate culture – or so I hoped, based on my observations during the research process. At each interview I was able to discuss several of the company’s projects and ask relevant questions.
My targeted approach wouldn’t have been possible without very clear career goals. It surprised me that several of my classmates, when asked just before graduation about their plans after college, would respond, “to get a job.” “Which kind of job?” I would ask. “Oh, just any job.” The time to pick “just any job” is when looking for an internship or part time job two years before you graduate. There are consequences to being undecided after graduation.
This is not an unsolvable problem. Many resources related to the different branches of civil engineering can be easily accessed online. Your professors and advisors would be more than happy to help you decide which career direction to chose. Even more importantly, nothing is stopping you from contacting a company and asking them if you could stop by for a visit in order to get to know a little bit more about what they do. It would be very flattering, especially for smaller companies, to have potential employees show interest in them. You need to take the initiative to find out more about what you might be doing for the rest of your life.
If you do find a job, will you know it is the right one for you? At a Texas Rangers’ game last year (congrats, pennant winners!) two engineers told me that their initial career plans completely changed after their first job, which they didn’t much enjoy. They rationalized that this was a very common experience. Do you want to end up settling for “just any job?” Once in that comfort zone once, you’ll have more overall responsibilities, and it may be difficult to move on. The two Rangers fans appeared content with their eventual career path, but deep down I could sense that a little part of them wondered “what if I had chosen the path I wanted in the first place?” If you do not want to have to live with that doubt, you should take time to decide exactly what it is that you want. Never settle for less.
Many people keep their options open because they think that’s their best shot at finding work. They might actually limit their opportunities. Hunt for jobs with a sniper’s rifle rather than a shotgun. Having a clear career goal is rarer than you think. In a time when it’s very difficult to find work, you want to use every advantage you can to get yourself over the hump.