How do I find a job with my college resume?
December 14, 2008 9:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to graduate with a BS in electrical engineering. I never had an internship, co-op, etc., and I have a kinda crappy GPA. Where do I begin my job search?

OK, lemme try to sum up my undergrad experience as concisely as I can:

I enrolled at the University of Michigan back in 2002. My first few years went well; my GPA through five semesters was just under a 3.5. Right about then (Winter 2005), everything kinda came off the rails.

It's hard to describe what was going on in my head at that time. The best I can offer is immaturity and habitual procrastination snowballed into a period of extreme anxiety. I came out 4 semesters later with a D and three E's scattered amongst B's and C's. My GPA plunged.

After failing to climb out of academic probation for three straight semesters, the college of engineering said I had to take a semester off. So I did. Then all my friends graduated. And then I took another semester off. And another. I awoke in 2008, twenty credits away from graduating and with $30,000 of student loans (out-of-state tuition at U of M is steep, especially after 3 junior years).

Anyway, I took a summer course and some more engineering coursework this fall, and now I'm on the verge of graduation. I'm working much harder now, but my GPA will probably be somewhere between a 2.7 and 2.8 when I'm done.

I admit that I've never really put any effort into finding any kind of EE-related work. I've always felt a little detached from the field. My peers have always seemed more immersed in the subject matter than me, so I fear that I'll be overshadowed by the really passionate kids at job fairs/in interviews. Now I realize that I just gotta get over that fear and apply for these jobs anyway. The problem is that I feel a little late to the party now that I'm about to graduate in the spring with no work experience.

My coursework is kind of a grab-bag assortment of EE classes (a little communications, some DSP, some control systems). I don't have time to tailor it to any particular EE subfield. This seems like it will probably limit my prospects.

It seems that every internship posted online says something to the effect of "Must be graduating later than May 2009 for consideration." Meanwhile, entry-level positions often list GPA requirements of 3.0+.

So, where do I begin? Should I go for an internship or full-time, entry level job? How hire-able am I? Is my case hopeless? Will I be ok provided I put in the necessary leg-work? Are there any alternative options that I've overlooked?
posted by Team of Scientists to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Go to your career counseling office! Your tuition dollars are being spent in part to pay people who are trained to answer exactly these questions for you. You might even have someone in the EE department who serves such a role, and that person could give you the most highly tailored advice. But start with the college office, and if you need more EE-focused advice, they'll know which direction to point you to get it.

I have worked in a college career counseling office, and had them help me with my own job and internship searches. They definitely know things you do not, and career counselors are eternally frustrated about how few students take advantage of such a huge opportunity so readily available to them. They're there to help you with exactly these issues, and they'll know things specific to your school and your department and the job opportunities in your region.

(They can also help you figure out if EE is really even what you want to do, and if not, how to a) figure out what you want to do, and b) use your EE degree to leverage your way into it. This is actually the role in which I have used a career counseling office myself, and it helped me immensely.)
posted by adiabat at 10:48 PM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

How enthusiastic are you about EE? Are you REALLY enthusiastic: you breathe it, eat it, live it every day (I know some EE&ComputerScience people like that)? Or are you just doing it because it's a "good-paying-job" thing? And even then, the latter is less a reality now due to the sour economy.

If you really are serious about EE, get connections with friends, professors, whatever, and see what campus projects are interesting and can always use more researchers. Work on independent projects, build up your experience, then go for internships or entry-level jobs if you can (in my case, since I'm graduating next semester, I can't go for internships. Yeah, it's weird). If you can build up your independent-work experience, then I think interviewers can overlook your low GPA and be impressed with that instead. AFAIK, it's not about GPA, it's about what you actually DID outside of class. YMMV depending on school prestige (I'm a Berkeley student, so yeah, here low GPAs are breezed over a bit in favor of outside work). You will need to narrow down to some subfield and focus there, to avoid being a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none.

But if you aren't INTO EE, think about what you really want to work in. What are your passions? Your interests? Talk to your college advisors, get their opinions. Visit a campus career center if there's one, talk to advisors there.

On preview: yeah, pretty much what adiabat said.
posted by curagea at 10:48 PM on December 14, 2008

At this point, you should stop focusing on your GPA. It sounds like it's more or less a given that you're going to graduate at under 3.0. While it's important to get that as high as possible, I think it's more important to give companies a reason to take a chance on you. In short, you want to make yourself the most attractive 2.7 or 2.8 GPA candidate they've ever seen and give the guys who only have a 3.0 and nothing else a run for their money.

I've always felt a little detached from the field.

To me, this is what you should be focusing on. You need something that shows you really care about your chosen field. Just because you can't tailor your coursework to a specific subfield doesn't mean you can't focus on it outside of class. Try to come up with something that's fun for you work on in your off time.

When you start talking to companies you want to have some sort of experience you can talk about where they can see that you really do care about EE. Companies want to hire someone who enjoys the field their working in.

What you need to do is figure out an angle where you can get a leg up on the guy that just barely got a 3.0 GPA.

If your in major GPA is higher than 3.0, make sure you call that out on your resume. If you're back up to a 3.5 GPA just across your last few semesters, make sure you call that out in your cover letter.

Apply to all the jobs you can even if they have a 3.0 requirement. The worst that happens is they don't call you back.

One thing to remember is that not everyone gets a 3.0 or higher. You might have to cast your net wider but you should find something.

Best of luck, don't get depressed!
posted by mge at 10:53 PM on December 14, 2008

My brother is an EE (he also got his degree from U of M!) and started out in the field working for small (20 employees or less), independent contracting companies. During that time he had to be a jack-of-all-trades, from circuit design to supervising workers in the field to conducting OSHA training sessions. He eventually found his passion - airports. He's terrified of flying, but is absolutely fascinated by airports. He now works for a major contractor and for the past few years has been one of the project managers for the new terminal at Detroit Metro Airport.

Maybe starting out with a small company and getting some experience in different aspects of electrical engineering might help you decide whether you truly like the field or not and which particular area interests you the most.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:35 AM on December 15, 2008

Have you been to any career fairs to get a sense of what the job market is like, or how hire-able you are? I did an EE degree at a fairly unknown state school in the middle of nowhere, but there were still tons of companies coming to recruit engineering students twice a year - mostly defense contractors and power companies. The recruiters would usually give your resume a quick once-over and schedule you for a short 15-minute interview, which might turn into second-round interviews, site visits, etc. if they liked you. Although my GPA was higher than yours, I didn't have any internship experience whatsoever, yet I still got a lot of attention from recruiters and job offers.

EE is one of those majors where your GPA matters a bit more, but I do remember a lot of my classmates with poor GPAs getting jobs. I don't know if the job market's changed since then, but the demand for EEs was incredible. I also remember a lot of the interviews being surprisingly non-technical; in one case the guy basically looked over my resume, invited me out for a site visit, and offered me a job without asking me a single technical question.

But like other posters mentioned, you should consider whether you really want to make a career out of EE. Like you, I was never terribly interested in EE throughout the course of my degree, so after I graduated I went into mathematical finance (which I find a lot more interesting).
posted by pravit at 8:58 AM on December 15, 2008

You mention your peers have gone on and graduated. Any chance you could hit them up as contacts? If they can just forward your resume to someone that'll get the ball rolling.
posted by losvedir at 12:31 PM on December 15, 2008

Response by poster: Well at the moment I'd prefer to start working now and chipping away at those loans a bit. I figure I can always switch careers somewhere down the road. Who knows? Maybe I'll love EE once I get practicing. I've certainly enjoyed some aspects of it during my career here.

Regarding the friends who already graduated, like I said, I'm detached from the EE program. My friends and housemates were all in different departments. One was computer science, but he's gone on to work at EA (as in video games) in Palo Alto. For a CS kid, he's not very close to the EE field at all.

Anyway, I'm trying not to stress out too much over the situation yet. Emphasis on trying. The clock is ticking, you know? I don't want to be unemployed after graduation. The economic conditions do suck, but the consensus seems to be that EE/CS companies aren't affected as much as other engineering fields.

I suppose a trip down to the career advising center is in order.
posted by Team of Scientists at 12:25 AM on December 16, 2008

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