Navigate your career within the automotive or transit industries using these job application tips as your guide.
Showcase Your Interest, Skills and Experience
1. Read the job posting carefully and decode it.
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 – 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 employers language. Want to learn how to decode job descriptions? Visit The Job Description Toolkit.
2. Create a stellar résumé.
Your résumé is the key that opens career opportunities. It is the single most important investment you can make when seeking an engineering job. Ensure that there are no mistakes. While some employers are not bothered by typos, most will interpret typos as evidence that you are careless. A one or two-page résumé is ideal; résumés that are longer than two pages have a high failure rate.
3. Customize your résumé for each job posting.
It is essential that your résumé (and cover letter) includes 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.
4. Write a cover letter.
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:
- Express interest in the specific position (with a maximum of one sentence for each item below):
- List the title of the position to which you are applying.
- Explain how you learned of the position.
- State (briefly) how you believe your skills are a match for the job.
- Provide details regarding your relevant experience, applicable to the job:
- Summarize your relevant professional background and years of experience.
- Describe key responsibilities in your current or past position.
- List skills that directly apply to requirements pulled out of the job listing.
- Include soft skills such as management or teamwork that may be applicable to the role.
- Encourage further communication (with a maximum of one sentence for each item below):
- Express excitement in the position and interest in learning about the next steps in the hiring process.
- Mention that your résumé is enclosed and that you are happy to provide additional information.
- Thank them for their consideration.
5. Learn about the company.
Employers expect that you have learned at least the basics about their company and for you to 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.
6. Describe what you have done.
Engineering is an applied science. Employers want to know what you have done, so put the emphasis on your experience. Some companies are so fed up with résumés that do not describe the candidate’s experience that they have replaced résumé applications with electronic forms on their web site, forcing candidates to to be more descriptive. As tedious as this may seem, in the end it saves the employer time.
Employers are also on the lookout for “title inflation”. Knowing that candidates are prone to exaggerating their role, 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.
7. Don’t over-sell your experience.
An engineering employer can tell almost immediately when a résumé is exaggerating a person’s experience or their role in a project. Describe your experience, but describe it honestly. Employers report that over-selling is a common mistake. It often results in qualified candidates being screened out.
8. Don’t under-sell your experience.
Sometimes engineering graduates under-sell their experience. Under-selling 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 experience is useful. All experience has value.
9. Describe your non-technical skills.
It is a common mistake for engineering graduates to under-value or even ignore non-technical skills. Every job posting describes the non-technical skills that the company values. Similar to technical skills, these non-technical skills are included for a reason.
You should naturally assume that, in addition to you, 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 perceived differences in their non-technical skills. Employers regularly report that ‘A’ and ‘B’ could both do the job, but ‘A’ will “fit in” better because he or she 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 soft skills such as team working ability, leadership, problem-solving, ability to relate to customers, etc. However, only include extracurricular activities that relate to the soft skills identified in the job posting.
Want to know which non-technical skills are in demand? Here are Five Soft Skills Every Engineering Graduate Should Have.
10. Describe your capstone project in a way that relates to the job posting.
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.
11. Create an Online Portfolio.
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:
- A bio page summarizing your strengths, education, professional and technical association memberships and recognitions.
- Your résumé .
- Concise information about your coursework, internships, volunteer work, language proficiency, hobbies and other things that set you apart from the crowd.
- A short description of your capstone project.
- Examples of work-related and other projects you’ve worked on.
- Evidence of your non-technical skills and your personal accomplishments. Tip: Be descriptive – instead of just stating that you ran a marathon, discuss the self-discipline and hard work needed to train for the event.
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.
12. Consider Targeting a Small Company.
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:
- Quick learners – if you can demonstrate this in your résumé, you will be a strong candidate.
- Capable of multi-tasking and who are multi-skilled. If you can demonstrate adaptability in your résumé, you will be a strong candidate.
- Entrepreneurial. They usually assign a high value to any type of business experience that is entrepreneurial.
- Capable of learning and have experience of any kind in the same industry – “domain experience” is an extremely strong advantage.
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.
Grow Your Network
13. Join an Engineering Society at your University.
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.
14. Become an Engineering Intern.
Employers look for engineering graduates who are keen to be professional engineers. One way to demonstrate your commitment is to register in the Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) Engineering Intern (EIT) Program. Other things being equal, many employers will choose a recent graduate who has registered as an Engineering Intern over one who has not.
15. Join the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE).
Joining the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers tells employers that you are committed to an engineering career. Benefits include: networking opportunities with other engineers, discounts on professional development courses and access to OSPE’s proprietary salary survey.
16. Join a Technical Association.
Joining an engineering technical association tells employers that you are keen to learn and that you are committed to your engineering career. The conferences and seminars offered by technical associations can also be useful networking opportunities.
Associations to consider joining:
17. Demonstrate your keenness to learn.
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 keenness to learn. You can demonstrate this by including a brief statement on what you have learned in each job or assignment included in your résumé. Employers are especially positive about candidates who demonstrate that they are learning about subjects outside their specialization.
18. Check your electronic footprint. Clean it up, if necessary.
Many employers (and industry professionals whom you meet at events) will do a web search to learn about who you are. It is important that you check your electronic footprint and clean up anything that might suggest a lack of maturity.
Prepare For The Interview
19. Learn good interviewing techniques.
Most YouTube videos on interview techniques are promotion pieces for consultants and are of little value. Consider taking an online course. You might also consider checking your local government website(s) to see if they offer in-person interview skills workshops, 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.
20. Prepare for situational or behavioural questions.
Many companies use situational or behavioural questions in their interviews. They do this 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. Here are some typical situational or behavioural questions:
- Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem.
- Give an example of a goal you reached and tell us how you achieved it.
- Give an example of a goal you didn’t meet and why.
- Describe a stressful situation at work or in your university studies and how you handled it.
- Tell us about how you work when you are under pressure.
- Have you been in a situation where you didn’t have enough work to do? What did you do?
- Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
- Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you handled implementing it.
- Have you gone above and beyond the call of duty? If so, how?
- When you worked on multiple projects how did you prioritize?
- How did you handle meeting a tight deadline?
- Give an example of how you set goals and achieve them.
- What do you do when your schedule is interrupted? Give an example of how you handle it.
- Have you had to convince a team to work on a project they weren’t thrilled about? How did you do it?
- Give an example of how you’ve worked on a team.
- Have you handled a difficult situation with a co-worker or fellow student? How?
- Give an example of what you did when you disagreed with a co-worker or with a fellow student on a project?
- Have you handled a difficult situation with a supervisor? How?
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:
21. Prepare some questions that you want to ask.
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:
- What would my first priority be in this job?
- How will success be measured?
- What can you tell me about the team I will be working with?
- What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to excel in this role?
- What are the next steps in the interview process?
22. Write a follow-up letter.
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:
- A specific item of interest they brought up during the interview, to indicate your commitment.
- How a specific aspect of your experience (perhaps the one the interviewers spent the most time discussing) aligns with this job.
- Any follow-up, e.g. if the interviewer asked you for further information.
- Your desire to hear from them at the next stage of the timeline, as determined during interview.
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.