Can't find an engineering job or internship? Get graduate engineers' advice

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:38

If your applications for engineering graduate jobs or internships have been unsuccessful, read this advice from engineers who’ve already started their careers.

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Need advice on getting a graduate engineering job or internship from those already in work? The targetjobs Engineering Recent Graduate Survey asked 130 recent graduates working for a variety of engineering companies what advice they would give to undergraduates struggling to find employment or work experience. Here’s what they said.

The job hunt basics

  • Get a good degree grade, and apply early.
  • Apply as soon as possible. Get help from a careers advisor.

Consider jobs or internships at small engineering companies

  • Don’t just look at big companies. By working for a smaller company you will often have more opportunities and responsibility than at a larger one.
  • There are so many small to medium size firms that can offer you just as much if not more than a large firm with a defined graduate scheme. You'll be amazed at the diverse range of smaller engineering consultancies that are able to offer graduates positions.

Non-engineering experience can boost your CV

  • If you can't find work experience in engineering, try to find a role that enables you to develop and demonstrate key skills (leading teams, problem solving, negotiating, etc) which can then be transferred to engineering.
  • Don't just do your course at university; make the most of it with societies and friends. It often feels like you don't have time, but it’s worth it, and will help your application process.
  • While at university, get involved with as much as you possibly can while still maintaining a 2.1 level of degree. Join sports teams, committees and clubs, be a leader, volunteer for a good cause, do something outside your comfort zone, learn a language. If you can demonstrate core skills that your degree probably doesn't give you, you will be more employable.
  • Go travelling.
  • Ensure you have two non-engineering areas to discuss in an interview – hobbies and other work will allow you to demonstrate a breadth of experience.
  • If you really can't find a placement in engineering, do something unpaid, like charity work, to build up softer skills in the meanwhile.
  • Doing anything, eg working at Tesco or travelling, is much better on your CV than just waiting to find an engineering job.

Be positive and passionate

  • Apply when you are in a positive state of mind: the way you apply is affected by your mood.
  • Work on showing interest and passion. Create your own projects, follow your own processes, contribute to open source projects, etc.
  • Target jobs you have a passion for, and ignore how much they pay. Your passion will show in your application/interview and you will be more likely to be successful.

Prepare properly for applications and interviews

  • When interviewing, ensure that you demonstrate you appreciate the wider world of engineering, not just the science, such as cost-performance trade off and other commercial pressures.
  • Make sure you know your basics well. They will be able to tell if you are bluffing your way through a technical interview.
  • Fill in your application form carefully. Understand your job role (ie position you are applying for) and configure the application to that.
  • Understanding your own competencies is crucial. Pre-arrange examples of how you have portrayed these qualities, preferably in a work-related environment. Be honest with your skills and your deficiencies. Do at least a bit of research about where you are applying to! Prepare some questions about the role/company/prospects if you were to get the job. Use the information about the company to form useful questions – this will showcase your research and your interest beyond what is given in the vacancy description.

Research the industry you most want to work in…

  • Do your homework into the particular sector you are interested in to give you an extra edge, especially for interviews.
  • Get stuck into researching engineering firms and the area you wish to work in.
  • Identify an area you think you'd like to go into and develop knowledge/skills that will make you an obvious hire.

… but don’t get obsessed with an ‘ideal job’

  • Don't be too focused on applying for your ideal job. Most people I know aren't doing it yet. But if you can gain experience in related sectors or even develop your soft skills in an unrelated sector it helps boost your CV for when you do get to interview for your ideal job.
  • Apply to a breadth of engineering sectors – any experience is preferable to none. You may also be surprised and discover another area of interest.
  • Don’t just look for work in your specific degree area; be willing to try other roles.
  • Keep your mind open to the exact job role. It is easier to move once in a career than to wait for your ideal job and you might even like the role you end up in (as I have).
  • Broaden your search – don’t just fixate on the big names. Ask for a list of where the graduates a year ahead of you went to. There are loads of great companies out there; it just requires some research.

Finding engineering work experience

  • Go for even short term work in companies as once people see your work your desirability increases and it improves your CV.
  • I rang up and begged for my first placement, but it has helped me secure work ever since and set me above other candidates.
  • Start early and with smaller companies; the bigger ones only really offer internships for final year students and it helps if you've done others before you apply to the bigger firms.
  • Apply to as many internships as possible – I ended up applying to 30+. But make sure they are of quality – it’s quality not just quantity!
  • Take every opportunity to network: a lot of getting a placement is who you know not what you know.
  • Offer to work unpaid if necessary.
  • Undergraduates should research local engineering companies and apply (in writing) for a week or two weeks’ unpaid work experience. I found it was actually the smaller firms who were more enthusiastic about this idea as they aren't bound by strict company-wide policies.

Head to our beginner's guide to engineering work experience to learn more about getting your foot in the door at an engineering firm.

Don’t limit your job search by geography

  • Don't restrict yourself to finding something in the UK. There are plenty of opportunities available worldwide and a foreign internship goes a long way to impressing any future employer as it is rare for a British student to do one.
  • Keep looking and don't be afraid to move around the country in order to find the right role.

Get feedback on unsuccessful applications

  • Seek feedback from employers, especially after an interview, as there is usually a specific set of criteria which they will assess against so it is good to know where you can improve. I found the most effective method to be phoning people rather than emailing as emails can be easily ignored!

It’s not what you know…

  • Make use of any contacts you have already in jobs or the sector you want to work in. Networking is important: attending careers fairs and presentations are good starting points.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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