Design Your Path for Success from Campus to Career
Welcome to the Women in Engineering Blog (WiE Blog), a space dedicated to the education and success of students pursuing engineering and computing degrees and careers.
What Hiring Managers Want: A Solid Resume and Your Personal Story
Earlier this year I met Jeff Dunn, a Campus Relations Manager at Intel. In his experience of interviewing college grads, most are prepared to answer technical questions, but they stumble when asked to share something from their personal history.
Jeff’s experiences are similar to what I’ve heard from many tech company hiring managers. A resume is important, but it’s the ability to communicate relevant strengths and character traits through your personal story that makes a lasting impression.
In a recent Women in Engineering (WiE) Connect session, Lily Lim-Tsao described her summer internship with the City of San Jose. During her junior year at SJSU, she and another intern conducted a field survey of water flow on surface streets in San Jose’s Willow Glen district. They spent hot summer days walking the district with clipboards and stormwater drainage maps. They eye-balled and guessed the direction of water flow, street by street, and made notes on their maps. Lily thought there must be a better way of doing the survey. Should they use survey instruments? Would it make more sense to conduct the survey when rain or water trucks generated water on the streets? She is someone keen on solving problems, and this really came through when she shared her story during an interview with the City of San Jose. Today, she is a manager of San Jose’s Department of Transportation.
If you’re wondering how best to identify your strengths and develop your own stories, one way is to reflect on life experiences.
Marisela Garcia, an assistant engineer for the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD), also shared a personal story during the WiE Connect session. She grew up in a poor family living in Stockton, attended community college, and transferred to San Jose State University. Marisela had bills to pay and needed to find work. While studying for her Civil Engineering degree, she interned with the Santa Clara Water District (SCVWD). It was hard to juggle work and school, but she persevered. Employers value qualities such as perseverance in their people. Marisela’s internship led to a job at the water district. After hearing her story, one student said she was inspired “not to give up even though the path may be challenging.”
Worrying too much about shortcomings will cause you to limit yourself. Instead, consider strengths you already have that will help you stretch and propel you forward in your career.
Consider taking an assessment test, such as Focus2 offered by the Career Center. The results will indicate your traits and interests, and provide you with a vocabulary to describe them. For example, are you conventional, investigative, enterprising, social, artistic, and/or realistic? If you are investigative, you seek to understand cause and effect and to solve problems—an important trait for engineering jobs. Why? Because employers not only need your technical knowledge, but also your ability to apply that knowledge effectively in real-world work situations.
Through this self-discovery process, you can identify your unique strengths and character traits, and reveal them to potential employers through your personal story. This will serve you well throughout your career.
Straight Talk: Gaining Financial Independence and Building Professional Networks
by Prof. Belle Wei
At this month’s WiE Connect Career Talk, student attendees gave a big thumbs up to guest speakers Erica Lockheimer of LinkedIn, Patti Robb of Intel, and Aida Rivas of VMware. Like many of the attendees, all three panelists are the first generation in their families to go to college. Students agreed that when it comes to finances and relationship-building, the speakers’ comments really hit home.
Lockheimer shared that, “My first job after college provided me a good income so that I could own my own car and condo. I was happy.” Robb and Rivas relayed similar experiences. Their common thread was preparing for rewarding professional jobs while in college in order to gain financial independence soon after graduation.
Each woman described how, throughout her career and the ups and downs of life, earning a good income in a thriving industry has been a consistent goal, and achieving economic self-sufficiency has not only given her confidence but also a sense of control over her destiny.
As the author Virginia Woolf wrote in her seminal essay, “A Room of One’s Own” (1929), a woman must have stable income and a space of her own in order to be her best and most creative self in her career.
Guest speakers also urged students to begin early to build a professional network and a strong reputation. It’s easy to submit a résumé to a dream job posted online. The reality is that thousands of students are doing the same thing every day. What makes a résumé stand out is the applicant’s personal connections with hiring managers and other employees at the company of interest. Panelists encouraged students to be intentional, not random or haphazard, in creating their networks.
Making connections is the first step, but the ability to maintain a professional network rests on one’s professional reputation.
For Lockheimer, Robb and Rivas, taking care to build a positive reputation opened doors to career opportunities, because the best companies want employees known for the quality of their work, their ability to collaborate, and their track record of taking initiative to solve problems.
After the panel, students lingered to talk one-on-one with women who are making a difference at LinkedIn, Intel, and VMware, three of the most respected companies in the tech industry today. They weren’t going to pass up such a golden opportunity.
Landing Your Dream Job: There’s a Formula for That
by Prof. Belle Wei
In a few months, “Jane” will walk across the stage, shake hands with the Dean, and receive her diploma as a graduate of the SJSU College of Engineering. She’s looking forward to the payoff after four years of college studies.
Jane told me she had been looking at job openings for software engineers, so I asked, “What is your dream job?”
“There’s a particular software company I’d like to work for,” she explained. “I could apply my education and skills there. It has a strong reputation for philanthropy and community work. I think it would be a meaningful job.”
Hearing Jane’s dream brought me to my second question: “How competitive would you say you are in getting a job with that company?”
She mentioned having completed a two-year internship with a networking company, but confessed, “I wish I had interned with a software company instead. Then maybe I would be in a more competitive position.”
Before we parted company, I encouraged Jane to ask herself two questions. “What is it about that particular job that makes it my dream job?” and “How might the job evolve over the years?” Addressing these questions will help Jane find the answers she needs to conduct a successful job search. She agreed to give it some thought.
Many a student has shared a similar story with me. They envision the dream jobs they’ll have after college, but they don’t consider the steps they need to take to realize their dreams when they begin college. As college seniors, they face the future without the necessary skills and experience to pursue those dream jobs.
I recently read “Principles,” by Ray Dalio, a successful hedge fund manager. In his book Dalio shares a formula he attributes to his success: Dream + Reality + Determination = Success in Life.
It’s a formula any student can apply to achieving success, although I would replace “determination” with “perseverance,” the character trait that allows you to reach your goal in spite of life’s inevitable obstacles. To land your dream job you must start with a clear strategy and realistic goals, and persevere in implementing your strategy.
Dream + Reality + Perseverance = Success.
I look forward to using this space to share nuggets of experience with you as you embark on your journey from campus to career.
Dr. Belle Wei is Carolyn Guidry Chair in Engineering Education and Innovative Learning at San José State University (SJSU), and Board Chair of the Center for Advancing Women in Technology (CAWIT).
For comments and questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.