It’s a tough economy out there. Graduate engineers are in a better position than most people when looking for a job, but getting that first job is a hard task for anyone right now. But, even with all of the problems facing young engineers right now, they still have some options if they can’t find their ideal position.
There are a few employers of graduate engineers that are always hiring, including:
- Work for a related industry or employer
- Graduate School
- Military Service
- Development and charitable organizations
- Go live at home and help the family
The first option makes an explicit assumption that not everyone will get their #1 choice for a job. This is not really a problem, though. There are still plenty of jobs available in the market, but some graduates will have to expand their concept of engineering.
Many firms that do not receive national press, have poor presence on the internet, and do not recruit at schools actually do very important engineering work. They are more difficult to find, but they can provide a new graduate with their important first job.
Another strategy is to apply for jobs in a related industry or employer. There are many companies that make products, components, or sell services directly to engineering firms. These companies prefer hiring engineers because they understand clients better. Just remember, becoming an engineer is a long process and engineering experience can come in many different forms in the first few years of employment.
Personally, I graduated during a recessionary period after the Dot.Com market fiasco. This was also a time when fewer entry positions were open. I was totally unprepared for this event and didn’t even know what part of the country I wanted to live in after graduation, and I certainly didn’t know where to apply for jobs.
Eventually I decided that graduate school was a good option for me. This decision must me made early in the final year of school, or else it is unlikely that all of the paperwork and testing can be completed on time. Graduate fellowship positions are extremely competitive when the job market is at a low, but sometimes it is worth the additional debt to continue classes anyways. The tuition costs can be paid off later with a stronger resume and a better job.
Military service is also an option. I know several friends and classmates who chose to join the military after graduation instead of looking for a job. It’s a hard decision for anyone to make because of the risks and consequences, but engineers can be a valuable asset in the military.
Experience in the military is a great way for graduate engineers to differentiate themselves when applying for a job. Here in the US, most employers are cognizant that honorably discharged soldiers make some of the best employees and get great training from Uncle Sam. On the other hand, military service is incredibly hard even during times of peace, so the decision should not be made lightly.
Another option beyond military service is finding a position with peacemaking and development organizations. The Peace Corp, Americorp, Teach America, and similar programs can provide a great way to give back to the global community with engineering skills. These programs also carry risk and consequences, so they must be carefully considered before any decision is made.
Moving Back Home
One final option for many graduates is to return home and live with their family. This is a very common action in times of economic hardship. Single family homes typically have an elastic capacity to absorb grown children, pets, married couples and their children. All of the empty apartments, rental houses, and foreclosed homes are good evidence of this happening. The last time this happened on such a large scale was the Great Depression, which forced many families back together.
Moving back home was also part of my strategy for graduate school. I was fortunate enough to grow up down the road from a state engineering school that accepted me for grad school. Not everyone will fit into that circumstance, but many people have families, relatives, or close family friends near engineering colleges.
Most people are often more than willing to have a long-term guest in their house to help out friends and family. The lower costs can make a big difference, as my stipend would have put me well below the poverty line but my free rent gave me the opportunity to eat things other than Ramen.
The Big Picture
Whatever choices graduate engineers make, there are a few key points to remember. The first is that most graduates should find jobs that will support their application to become a Professional Engineer (PE). This means that the job should be managed by an already licensed PE or should be academic in nature. The NCEES licensure page has additional information. Graduate engineers should *never* assume that their job is applicable unless specifically noted.
Also, the first few years after graduation are a time of continuing education. Indeed, this is true for the entire career of most engineers. Engineers must make every attempt to continue learning, studying, and asking questions. As noted in the beginning, not every engineer will find their #1 job waiting for them upon graduation. This is not the time to despair and abandon one’s goals. Instead, work hard to develop into the type of engineer that will qualify for one’s ideal job.
Whatever the future may bring, graduate engineers must take the initiative to learn from coworkers, stay active in the community, join professional groups, read books, play softball and sports whenever possible, and maybe even tackle some collaborative design challenges with other engineers and architects.