Tips for College Engineering Grads: Skills Employers Are Seeking

As a new graduate with a degree in engineering, the world is your oyster. And as we mentioned in this article during National Engineers Week, engineers have one of the most promising career trajectories today. According to SHRM, 67 percent of employers plan to hire engineering graduates this year while USA Today reports that engineering majors stand to earn more than graduates with other majors over the course of their lifetimes. 

How can you make the most of your valuable degree? We’ve assembled some tips from members of Aerotek’s recruiting panel about what employers are seeking and how best to showcase your engineering skills and talents. 

Strong technical skills are critical

Jake Plegge, a recruiter at Aerotek, makes no bones about what he looks for in the engineers he places. “There is no substitute for verifiable technical skills,” asserts Plegge, “Engineers should be proficient in software such as CAD, Inventor, MS Word and ProE.” How can you provide proof you’ve got the skills? Senior Professional Recruiter Sam Yeomans recommends a portfolio approach, advising candidates to provide prospective employers with work samples such as CAD drawings, portfolios or photos of their work. 

References are vital, too. “References from internship supervisors and college professors or advisors who can speak in some detail about the candidate’s projects and the quality of his or her work are extremely helpful,” adds Yeomans.

Candidates who take initiative stand out

The recruiter panelists were nearly unanimous in agreeing that employers value candidates who take initiative. And our recruiters aren’t the only ones: the NACE Job Outlook 2016 survey of employers found that 65.8 percent of employers are looking for evidence of initiative on candidate’s resumes. 

“New engineers typically have a lot to learn when they first join a company,” says Senior Professional Account Recruiting Manager Dana Sheehan. “If they show they are eager to get involved and driven to work hard, they will distinguish themselves from their colleagues. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas, even though you’re new. You might be able to bring a fresh perspective that hasn’t been considered before.” 

Verbal communication skills are essential

While it may be surprising to some, our recruiter panelists say engineers need to be good communicators.

“New graduates should be well spoken and able to communicate effectively with colleagues at all levels,” says Executive Professional Recruiter Melanie Wilson. “Regardless of whether engineers will be in front of customers or clients, they need to be comfortable speaking with other engineers and employees working on the floor.” 

Soft skills matter 

Aerotek recruiters agree that having strong soft skills is just as important as hard skills. For new engineering graduates, one of the most important soft skills is the ability to communicate their enthusiasm for their job and their chosen career. 

“Often my candidates have their initial interviews, and make the first impression over the phone,” says Claire Krieger, embedded software engineer recruiter. “I always tell them to ‘smile through the phone.’ As silly as that may sound, you can hear the excitement in someone’s voice. Most employers want to hire entry-level candidates who are eager to learn and enthusiastic about the position being hired.”

Keep an open mind

“We all come out of college with hopes of landing our dream job, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” notes Wilson. “Aspire to that perfect position, but in the meantime, be willing to start out [for example] on the in a more hands-on capacity. It’s important to gain real life work experience and credibility in the field.”

While Wilson’s advice is borne out of her extensive experience recruiting engineers, her instincts are spot-on. After surveying hundreds of employers, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that that almost 61 percent of employers place a high value on flexibility and adaptability.

Aerotek Recruiter Panelists, Claire Krieger, Jake Plegge, Josh Rainey, Jackie Ross, Dana Sheehan, Melanie Wilson, Matthew Wiehe and Sam Yeomans contributed to this article. 

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