Like it or not, the vast majority of today’s open positions are filled through networking, not through blind

online applications. It’s always a bit frustrating to read about students who feign surprise when filling out dozens of online applications does not yield them a job or an internship. These positions are largely being filled by applicants who have an internal recommendation or bypassed the application altogether. This is not a rule – there are certainly exceptions – but it is a general guideline that your absolute best shot at employability is working through a network. With this said, I’d like to explore what it means to network as an engineer. Before anything else, however, I have to state: your friend who got a summer internship at Company A because Dad is the chief engineer there did not network. Those who get jobs at their parent’s or uncle’s company are enjoying the benefits of nepotism, not networking. So what, then, constitutes networking? In the most general sense, it means building a web of industry connections upon which you can draw for employment opportunities, advice, or furthering your network. The latter point is perhaps most important – your immediate connections may not find you a job, but they likely know someone who can. For this reason, there is no point in being selective in who you connect with. Although they may work in Industry A, and your interest is Industry B, their friend may be a project manager for your ideal company in Industry B. With this idea of networking in mind, I’d like to go through a few of the most common methods for building your own. Family Friends and Hometown Connections: I am listing this first because it is the simplest way to form a base for your network. Family friends and contacts from your pre-college years provide an easy pool of connections to draw upon with minimal initial work on your part. The initial introduction may be easy if you already know them, or you may need an intermediary to connect you. Either way, the goal is to make acquaintances out of as many employees at engineering companies as you can find. Since the possibilities are essentially endless for this type of networking, I’ll use two examples to demonstrate what it might entail. Ex 1: The husband of your calculus teacher from high school worked at a local engineering company. You make an initial connection through your teacher, and build

upon it by corresponding with her husband about his work, your interests in engineering, and so on. After a short time, you bring up the idea of working for his company over the summer and he gladly recommends you for an internship position. Ex 2: You ask your mother if she knows of any engineers outside of the family, and she recalls that her childhood friend has a spouse who works at an aerospace company. Your mother finds you the email of the spouse, and you introduce yourself with questions about working in the aerospace industry. After some back-and-forth about his career, you inquire if his company is hiring any interns. He says they are, and requests your resume to forward to a hiring manager. With these two examples, a trend becomes clear: identify the contact, have an intermediary introduce you over email or in person, build a rapport with the contact by corresponding about their work and your interests in it, and then petition them for a recommendation or referral. I am not going to try and cover the fact that, all things considered, you are using them for your own benefit. Your primary purpose in initially befriending these people will almost always be to better your own career. However, this does not imply that these acquaintances cannot develop into genuine friendships, because they often will, and it also does not suggest that they are getting nothing in return, because they are. Firstly, everyone enjoys talking about themselves: if you focus a portion of your correspondence on your contact’s work, they will enjoy talking with you. Secondly, you are a potential coworker for them and it will be in their best interest to maintain contact with you, assuming you are intelligent and easy to work with. Let us look, now, at a few more ways to build up your network. Professors and Other Faculty: Some of your best opportunities for networking are those who are, quite literally, standing in front of you every day. All professors and faculty members are connected in some way to the industry of the field they lecture on. The nature of their connections will vary widely, but the one consistency is that faculty are always willing to help their students. It can sometimes be awkward to transition a relationship with a professor from teacher to acquaintance, but it will be far less so if you take it upon yourself to put your name in their mind from the beginning. Involving yourself in class discussions and attending office hours are the two best ways to go about

this. Once they know who you are, you can speak with them about matters outside of classwork but related to their field, such as their research or experience in industry before they began teaching. From here it is easy to segue into asking them to connect you to potential employers or, alternatively, to employ you in their own research. In addition, I guarantee that building a connection with your professors will lead to you doing better work in their classes. Seminars and Lectures: While on the subject of university-related networking opportunities, it’s worth mentioning the value in attending different on-campus events. Leaders in academia or industry will visit your university fairly often and, although the events are sometimes poorly advertised, these seminars are a fantastic chance to gain new connections. Both the attendees and the lecturer are fair game for building your network, as long as the event is informal enough. Since no one is going to sit around and talk with you for any extended period of time, these events usually offer you just the chance at an initial introduction. The next step is to follow up with an email – or, if you don’t have their contact info, a LinkedIn correspondence – and develop them into an acquaintance in the same way as you did previously with your hometown and family connections. In addition, your professors will often attend these lectures and this offers a potential chance to build your relationship with them outside of class. Engineering Association Conferences: If you are not already a member of the professional association for your major, you should be! AIAA for aerospace engineers, ASME for mechanical engineers, IEEE for electrical engineers, and so on – your campus likely has a chapter, and it’s a fairly small fee to join. Aside from local events that your chapter hosts (which, depending on what they are, can offer their own unique networking opportunities), there are conferences for these organizations throughout the year and all over the country. They will be absolutely filled with potential connections, as they are attended by career engineers, researchers, and other members of academia. Career Fairs: Aside from providing a very direct route to finding an actual job, career fairs present a networking opportunity that is often overlooked. Briefly, before anything else, a few tips for career fairs: do your research ahead of time, identifying the companies you would like to speak to and finding out about what they do – get a few

good questions to pose to the recruiter; wear a suit or, at the very least, khakis with a collared shirt and tie; be friendly! Introduce yourself and describe the more interesting points of your resume with some degree of excitement; have resumes ready to hand out if requested, and be prepared to offer one if they do not ask; lastly, always get the business card of the person you spoke to before leaving the booth. There are innumerable resources online for how to act during career fairs, so I’ll keep my tips to that brief list. Back to networking: even if you do not get a single interview out of a career fair, every person you spoke to is now a part of your network. You have their business card, simply follow up and thank them for speaking to you. Perhaps ask when they will be returning to your school next, if they have any recommendations for applying to the company online, or if they can connect you with an engineer because of some other questions you may have. Past Co-Workers: If you have already held an engineering-related position, be sure to stay in contact with your coworkers and supervisors. They will likely change jobs at some point and may one day be able to recommend you for a position at a different workplace. And, if not, you should stay acquainted with them solely for a source of solid references. Cold-Contact: This is likely the least effective form of networking, but it has the benefit of being limitless in scope. Develop a list of 30-40 companies that you are genuinely interested in and hit the internet to pin down a specific name at each business – Google, LinkedIn, and the company’s own website are your best options for this. Then simply begin sending off friendly emails to all of your new (potential) connections. Ask about their experience at the company, what skills they would recommend a student learn, what projects they are working on, and so on. Because this is essentially a cold-call, your purpose for the first few months of contact should be building them as an acquaintance. Do not even mention the words employment or internship. Once they are firmly established as an acquaintance you can seek a recommendation or ask them to forward your resume. So that’s it! A fairly thorough overview of what it means to network and where to look for connections. As far as actually communicating with your connections, I offer no

advice beyond this: be friendly, use proper grammar in your emails, and show genuine interest in them. As I have said before, people love to talk about themselves – utilize that. If you are uncomfortable in social situations or in corresponding with others, I would suggest reading the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s an easy read and offers a number of essential tips on being an all-around enjoyable person. Recap:  If you are not actively networking from Day 1 of deciding to become an engineer, you are already falling behind those who are. The absolute best way to secure work, either during the summer or fulltime, is through a network.  Friends and connections from home offer the quickest way to start building your network, but acquaintances made through professors, campus events, and the internet will make up the bulk of your network.   Always make the conversation about them, and speak about yourself only when asked. Personality and amicability matters – you would not work with or hire someone who is difficult to get along with.