Navigate your career within the automotive or transit industries using these job application tips as your guide.
Recruiters spend a lot of time developing job postings, selecting precise words and phrases to describe the company, role and desired qualities in great detail. Every word matters to them and so, they should matter to you too. Review the job posting carefully because your application will be assessed against the requirements described within it. Identify both the technical and non-technical skills that the employer wants and ensure that your application includes these same skills, described in the employer’s language.
Want to learn how to decode job descriptions? Visit The Job Description Toolkit.
Your résumé is the key that opens career opportunities. It’s one of the most important tools you have for your engineering job search. To start, make sure there are no typos, which some recruiters will interpret as evidence that you're careless. In terms of length, one or two pages is ideal. Studies show résumés that are longer than two pages have a high failure rate.
It is essential that your résumé and cover letter include the words and phrases that are used in the job description. Often, employers use software-based systems to screen out applications that do not align with the job posting. These systems are programmed to scan your application for the key words and phrases included in the job posting. If those words and phrases do not appear in your application, you will be screened out.
Employers may receive up to 50 applications for each job posting, sometimes more. Experienced HR staff can tell the difference between someone who has taken the time to customize their application and someone who is using a boiler-plate résumé. Aligning your résumé to the job posting improves the chance of a second look.
Really? It is true that some employers do not read or even accept cover letters. But still, there are many employers that expect a cover letter. In those cases, not including one can effectively rule you out.
The good news is that your cover letter should be short... about half a page or 300 words is ideal.
The cover letter is your opportunity to communicate your strongest qualification for the job you are seeking. Here are some best practices:
Employers expect that you have learned at least the basics about their company and you should reflect some of that knowledge in your job application. No employer is interested in an applicant who has not taken the time to investigate the company and its technologies. The most appropriate place to show that you have investigated the company is in your cover letter.
Engineering is an applied science. Employers want to know what you have done, so put the emphasis on your experience. It is standard practice some employers have replaced résumé applications with electronic forms on their web site, forcing candidates to be more descriptive. This saves the employer time.
Employers are also on the lookout for “title inflation”. Knowing that candidates may exaggerate their roles, many employers don’t put a lot of faith in the job titles included on applications. Therefore, it is essential that you accurately describe your role on a project or in a job.
Engineering employers can easily tell when a résumé exaggerates a person’s experience or their role in a project. So when you describe your experience, describe it honestly. Employers report that over-selling is a common mistake. It often results in qualified candidates being screened out.
Sometimes engineering graduates under-sell their experience, which is just as serious a mistake as over-selling. Think about your experience and ask yourself what aspect of that experience would be valuable to this employer. Maybe it was meeting deadlines. Maybe it was working with tradespersons or production staff. Maybe it was supporting someone else. All relevant experience is useful and has value.
It is a common mistake for engineering graduates to under-value or even ignore non-technical skills. Most job postings describe the non-technical skills that the company values. Similar to technical skills, these non-technical skills are included for a reason.
You should assume that the company will receive several other applications from candidates whose technical skills are equal to yours. Quite often, the selection of a successful applicant is based on their non-technical skills. Employers regularly report that ‘A’ and ‘B’ could both do the job, but ‘A’ will fit in better because that candidate seems better at teamwork or demonstrated a greater keenness to learn.
Identify the non-technical skills desired by the employer and include a concise description of how you have demonstrated these in your work experience. If needed, you can use your extracurricular experience to illustrate non-technical skills such as collaboration, leadership, problem-solving, customer relations, etc. However, only include extracurricular activities that relate to the skills identified in the job posting.
Want to know which non-technical skills are in demand? Here are “Five Non-Technical Skills Every Engineering Graduate Should Have”
If you are a recent graduate, you will almost always be asked about your capstone project (your major final year project) in your interview. If your capstone project relates in any way to the skills in the job posting, be sure to include a short description of the project and why you chose it. Employers are truly interested in your capstone project; it tells them what you are passionate about.
Creating a portfolio has four benefits:
1. It helps you focus on the aspects of your qualifications and experience that are most relevant to employers.
2. It makes you stand out from the crowd because not every candidate will have one.
3. It enables employers and search firms to find you.
4. When you go to an interview, you can give the company a hard copy of your portfolio.
A good portfolio typically includes:
Your portfolio should be hosted online, so that you can include it on your résumé, your LinkedIn profile and any other materials you’re submitting with your application.
For recent graduates, the advantage of a small company is that you will get a broad range of experience that will support you as you advance in your career. You will also likely have more responsibility for assignments and projects than in a large company. However, it is important to recognize that small companies are different. They often look to hire individuals who are:
What are they not interested in? Most small companies weed out candidates who have not taken the time to do any research on the company. When the job posting lists a required technical skill or type of experience, it is usually non-negotiable. If you don’t have that skill or experience, the company is not likely to respond to your application.
A good way to show that you have the leadership skills and the commitment to engineering that many employers prize is to participate in your university’s engineering society. ESSCO is the federation of Ontario student engineering societies.
Employers look for engineering graduates who are keen to be professional engineers. Registering in the Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) Engineering Intern (EIT) Program demonstrates your commitment. Other things being equal, many employers will choose a recent graduate who has registered as an engineering intern over one who has not.
Joining the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers tells employers that you're committed to an engineering career. Benefits of OSPE membership include networking opportunities with other engineers, discounts on professional development courses, and access to OSPE’s career services.
Joining an engineering technical association shows that you're keen to learn and committed to your engineering career. The conferences and seminars offered by technical associations can also be useful networking opportunities.
Associations to consider joining:
Employers do not expect recent engineering graduates to have fully developed technical skills. Often, employers report that they are looking for recent engineering graduates who are keen to learn and who are passionate about engineering. This is especially true for large employers. Joining engineering technical associations and taking courses demonstrates a commitment to professional development. You can highlight this by including a brief statement on what you learned in each job or assignment included in your résumé. Employers are especially positive about candidates who explore subjects outside their specialization.
Many employers and industry professionals whom you meet at events will do a web search to learn about who you are. It’s important to check your electronic footprint and clean up anything that might suggest a lack of maturity.
Many YouTube videos on interview techniques are promotion pieces for consultants and are of little value, so you might consider taking an online course. You could also check your local government website(s) to see if they offer instructor-led interview skills workshops (in person or virtually). This is particularly helpful if practice or mock-interview sessions are available. This website also includes a resource to help you Build Your Skill at Job Interviewing.
Many companies include situational or behavioural questions in their interviews to identify personality traits or attitudes which are important to the company. Many job applicants handle these questions poorly simply because they have not prepared appropriate responses for them. The following are some typical situational or behavioural questions you might encounter:
Notice, that these questions almost always ask for an example. Many interviews use what is called the STAR method, here’s how you can apply it:
At the end of an interview, you will usually be invited to ask the interviewers some questions. Not asking any questions implies a lack of interest in the job or the company. If you’re stuck, here are some questions you might consider asking:
Who doesn’t like appreciation? This is your opportunity to thank the employer for taking the time and opportunity to discuss the role with you. You can do it with a short email, about 150 words or less, including:
Want some more tips?
Randstad is one of the largest international employee search companies (head hunters) focusing on recruitment in the engineering sector. They offer recommendations for graduates seeking their first engineering job.