Want an entry-level engineering Job? Learn the right software
When I was 18 years old, I got my first job as an entry-level engineer. I started working for a point-of-purchase manufacturing company that specialized in sheet metal. While working there, I obtained a lot of valuable information about how sheet metal is manufactured, how to design around sheet metal, and how the point-of-purchase industry works. Additionally, the company funded much of my college education, as well as a respectable steady paycheck. I didn’t know a thing about injection molding, vacuum forming, cutting wood, or even sheet metal when I started at that job. I had no idea what an ERP system was, and I sure as hell didn’t know how powder coating worked. I was just some geeky kid who went to a vocational school to learn how to render a dragon and discovered my love for solid modeling and drafting in SolidWorks.
I walked into that company with a portfolio that included a rendering of a key, an exploded view of a 1/3rd scale Gatling gun, and some assorted machined gizmos that my CAD teacher had us draw for class assignments. With such a small portfolio, no resume, and such little experience, what made them decide to hire me? I got the job because I knew how to use SolidWorks and AutoCAD. That’s it.
In the point-of-purchase display industry, things move fast. To keep up, the company needed a person to help them model up their displays, and create 2D drawings to be sent out to the shop floor. They didn’t need a full-blown designer to handle everything for them, they just needed someone handy with 3D modeling to come in, sit down, and model what is drawn on a whiteboard. I worked at this company for a number of years, and it still remains on my resume as a talking point for my freelance gigs 10 years later.
3D modeling is how we communicate our design. It’s the vessel to transport an idea from our head to production. As a result, there is plenty of value in mastering it as early as possible, because many companies will hire you based on your interest in engineering, your knowledge of 3D modeling, and your continued progression through college. To get a job, all you need are the skills required and an opportunity to prove to the right person that you know how to use those skills (that is, assuming your profession doesn’t require a license, too).
Don't rely on college alone
Most people jump right to college, which can provide you with both of these things, but you shouldn’t rely on college alone. Start by picking an in-demand 3D modeling package (like SolidWorks), and learn it. If you don’t already know them, learn good drafting practices, and start making some drawings of assorted parts. If you happen to know what industry you want to go after, start making drawings of parts that are used in that industry. Try to emulate what the manufacturing drawing would actually look like. Do more than model a pretty picture, because companies will see right through that.
Accept that you may not get hired in your ideal industry right away. When I was 18 and just getting started in engineering, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do professionally anyway. I just knew that I was interested in engineering, and believed that the best way to learn if an industry was right for me was by working in it for a while. Your goal is to show that you have enough knowledge about 3D modeling, drafting, and manufacturing processes to start working at a company. You don’t have to know everything, in fact, you barely have to know anything. You just need confidence, a willingness to learn, and enough applicable skill to get hired. Post that you know how to use these programs on job posting sites like Monster.com, and LinkedIn. Connect with job search companies. Some of these companies specialize in a specific industry (such as point-of-purchase), some specialize in a specific career path (mechanical engineering), and some are generalists. Try to find these companies, get your name listed on their boards, and you may be surprised to find that you’ll be getting phone calls for interviews before you know it.
Don't sell yourself short
If you play your cards right, and prioritize learning the applicable skills that your industry relies most on, you can find an opportunity to get a paycheck while you are learning about your industry. While working at a job like that, you will learn more about your field than schooling alone can teach you. That first job is the spark that can ignite your career, and is the one thing that will make you stand out against your peers when the time comes to get hired at a more lucrative position. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even end up staying at the job you get, climbing the corporate ladder, and working your way to the top within the company. The possibilities are endless, so don’t sell yourself short by “just” going to college.
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About the author: (Alex Standiford)
Alex is an engineer in the Point-of-Purchase display industry since 2006 and has played a big role in moving displays from concept, to prototype, to production. He's also a SolidWorks nerd, family guy, and beer snob.
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