Incorporating a technical perspective into our professional development programs

“I want a job.” These four little words resonate with many students at Rensselaer; whether they are instilled in us by our parents, our guardians, or ourselves. As a senior student, I think about job security and the start of my professional career perhaps too much—what can I say, I’m an overachiever. Yes, college is much more than getting a job: it’s a place to open your mind, to change your perspective, to collect new experiences, to meet new people, and to think back on with nostalgia. But, undeniably, college is about preparing yourself for “the real world.” Although, one may argue that simply calling it “the real world” further separates us from the idea.

As an RPI student, I have a multitude of resources available to help me prepare for a job hunt. To list a few, there’s the Center for Career & Professional Development and the Fall and Spring Career Fairs. As an engineering student, I also have required courses in my curriculum developed by the Archer Center for Student Leadership Development. Although these resources are helpful in educating students about the general application process, there is a lack of an industry perspective.

I attended one-on-one scheduled meetings with CCPD representatives during my freshman and sophomore years, and asked for guidance on structuring my resume and writing cover letters. As a result of the meetings, my resume was more aesthetically pleasing, but did it highlight my technical strengths? Looking back at my earlier resumes, I would have to say that it missed the mark on appealing to an engineer. I can say this now, having experienced a technical internship and understanding the qualities desired by an employer in that setting.

Currently in Professional Development III, a required course for engineers, I have learned about “the 60-second sell,” behaviorally based questions, and a concept called emotional intelligence. Despite their importance in human behavior, these ideas fail to educate students on the technical aspects of job acquisition and job security.

For instance, in my experience, some of the toughest interview questions I’ve had surrounded technical concepts specific to my major: materials engineering. When interviewing for various semiconductor companies, I was asked, “What is the leading force in atomic force microscopy?” and “What are some of the variables present in the epitaxy chamber?” I understand that there is no way to fully prepare for such specific questions. However, when the reality of my life in “the real world” weighs heavily on my ability to perform in technical situations as well as work in a team, I would like to have some additional perspective on what will improve my quality of work.

Now, all the interactions I have had with career counselors and faculty on campus have been absolutely positive. Everyone I have worked with has only had my best interest in mind. In fact, I believe the Archer Center faculty are some of the nicest people around, and I would strongly suggest you stop by for a brief conversation. This being said, there could be room for improvement in our career oriented programs. This could take the form of guest speaker alumni to reflect on their previous application process and current employment experiences in casual classroom setting. Or, inviting industry representatives to speak on important technical qualities they look for when hiring new college graduates and describing the technical culture of their company. Even more so, hiring faculty with previous engineering industry experience to teach alongside our existing faculty.

Such considerations would benefit the student body, and may even be extended to other technical fields outside of engineering.