Trying to find a placement or graduate job is difficult. Applying for that first professional full-time role in your potential dream role will seem rather daunting, especially when you are struggling to find the relevant experience that is often listed on job postings.
Luckily, the term is a bit more open for interpretation at this point in your career. Roles such as part-time retail and being a society leader can have transferable skills that still tick the boxes for employers. This is why technical and skill-based CVs are a great choice for those looking for a more technical, STEM-based role.
Skill-based CVs will have a section, typically underneath work experience, highlighting the skills required by the employer, giving examples from your own past experiences to match up to the criteria. This is especially helpful if you have no engineering/STEM-specific experience, but still have the qualities for the role. Make sure that with each job application, you tailor this skills section to be in line with what the particular company wants, using different examples that may gel with the company dynamic more.
If you have some time before graduation to look into some more role-specific experience, these are the things that are typically open to undergraduates;
These may either be held by a company or university, but it can either be a single day, or a week of talks and exercises on a particular area of study. Look online for opportunities with large companies like ExxonMobil or University College London holding such events. It gives you the chance to speak with industry professionals and learn a bit about the topic. Sessions like these are competitive and may require good grades, but prior experience is not expected.
Check with your student’s union to see if there are STEM societies that carry out practical activities or site trips. Some universities have groups like Formula Student or UAV clubs, giving you an opportunity to work on a project and even create something that can be talked about easily in an interview. If these opportunities are not currently available, look into creating a society with like-minded students and ask members of staff. You would be surprised how enthusiastic lecturers can be about doing fun projects on the side and most student’s unions offer some form of funding for materials or trips to local engineering companies.
Depending on your area, this may not be as easy, but being able to volunteer at an aircraft museum and working on parts is a fantastic way to get some experience as it can be very rewarding as well as a great point to add to a CV. Be sure to also join a relevant professional body as a student member (e.g. IMeche, IoP or IET) and see what events they have on throughout the year in your area. A sure fire method of showing your passion would also be through the STEM Ambassador programme, which is a great way to do small practical exercises/talks with young children about your subject area. This will show off many soft skills such as time-management and conflict resolution as well.
These can also be quite difficult to obtain, but make sure to try to get your foot in the door early on. Applying for roles is a great opportunity to learn more about the application process as it is usually quite similar to the graduate process. In earlier years of university, be sure to apply to opportunities that are available to first year students, as well as sending out emails to local companies that may not be listing. That follows on to the next point of…
Utilise small companies
Completing work shadowing or a week of small tasks at a local business is a wonderful way of getting some experience. Send out speculative emails to relevant companies in the area that may not have a big graduate intake, if any. Be polite and explain your interest in learning more about your topic and seeing how your course material can be applied in a professional setting, being sure to be clear about what sort of opportunity you are looking for. Request to walk around for a day or two, be shown a department, or even just have a talk with some of the staff. This will all also help further down the line by making you more confident with networking down the line.
When I received my job offer for my placement, my line manager mentioned he had first noticed that I had more engineering work experience than he had been expecting. I believe it helped me out quite a bit as I was rather flustered and left thinking I must have messed up as he had been so complimentary and I mistook it as pity towards my strange answers! Interviews are not meant to be frightening though and are there to give you a chance to put your personality across to the employer and developing the points they have already read about in your CV.
Remember that employers won’t be looking for just relevant experience at this stage, but a well-rounded individual who shows that they can learn and effectively gain the experience with the company over time.