My Job Search Master Plan

Hey Everyone,

I’m 6 months out from graduation at the moment, and starting to ramp up for my job search. I just finished a search for a summer design internship, which was unsuccessful, so I’m trying to figure out what my mistakes were and what I can learn from them.

I’m approaching this as the biggest project of my life, so I figured I would start a sort of project thread. I’m hoping that this format will allow for a bit more context in the responses, less total threads, and a more complete picture of a job search for students. I can post my failures and mistakes so everyone can learn from them. I have a tendency to overthink things, so forgive me if I ramble occasionally. I’ll do my best to edit down.

Mods: Please let me know if this is inappropriate for the boards, or belongs somewhere else.

A bit about me:
Rather than taking part in the typical “high achievers” curriculum in high school, I avoided taking biology in favour of auto and design tech classes. I was listed as one of the top 60 math students in Canada, based on annual tests they put out, and got to travel to attend special seminars on advanced topics within math.
I got offers with scholarships to every university I applied to, but decided not to go to the “best” one because the isolated location would limit my enjoyment of life outside of school. Life’s short, so I never want to simply be toughing it out. Canadian education is so highly regulated that there’s not much of a difference, but reputation still means a lot. I’m near the top of my class currently, and slated to teach a seminar on advanced CAD techniques for the students going into their final semester capstone.
I’ve been a bit frustrated lately, because I feel like I’ve been pushing incredibly hard and spinning my wheels, while friends I used to tutor are now working/interning at Facebook and Wall St.

My wish list (prioritized):

  • Huge, cool city (London or NY preferably)
  • Opportunities to be creative (not just “make this manufacturable”)
  • As small as possible (to create mentorship opportunities, I know I’m still learning)
  • Concept through production and/or broad range of products (opportunities to be a generalist)

My limitations:

  • Next semester is our capstone project. Typically the scope of this is somewhere along the lines of: 3 person team, design an engine for an amphibious vehicle, 4 month timeframe. This likely won’t leave me much time for the search, so I’m hoping to have most things prewritten so I can send them out at the appropriate times.
  • I’ve always said “if it’s not life and death, it’s not worth worrying about”. However, I view this as a task that could significantly affect the rest of my life, so I will likely be a ball of stress for most of it.

My first set of questions:

  • In my previous search I often applied way too early, they would tell me when to contact them back, then when I did, they would say they hired already. If you were looking for a hire to start at the beginning of January, what would be the perfect time for initial contact?
  • From the same search, I know my skills are up to par, and I’m connecting logically, but not emotionally. Do you have any examples where something the candidate said/wrote connected with you emotionally, and pushed them above everyone else?
  • I know it’s tough to generalize, but is there a trait you consistently must correct in junior design engineers? If I can point out that it’s already corrected, I may be able to set myself apart.

How have you been contacting potential employers? Email, phone, fax, post?

  1. Hiring comes when we need to do it. In theory we plan on hiring X number in a year, but only when it is needed. Your timing is based on luck. But I certainly don’t frown upon anyone, including vendors, who contact me once a quarter as a reminder. And if someone is too bothered by reading an email 4 times a year, i don’t think I would work for them.

  2. Personality is personality. Either you fit or you don’t. Don’t take it personally, it just is. Forcing yourself to fit is bad for both you and the company. Don’t do it.

  3. Inexperience. Then there are those who try to compensate by being know-it-alls. Well , they don’t know-it-all and come off either foolish or annoying. The best you can do is own up to the fact you don’t know. No harm in saying I don’t know but I look forward to finding out.

Re #3 above:
This is a big hurdle to get over as a young employee starting out. The above advice is spot on. They know you are inexperienced, they want you to be able to learn and learn quickly without constant hand holding along the way. If you can express your ability to do that, you’ll be ahead of others.

Regarding posting all your thoughts and happenings, I guess I’d be careful how much you post just to protect yourself. What happens to you in your search may not apply entirely with someone else so I guess be general with your findings. That’s my opinion anyway.

Initial contact by email. If there was an internship posting I would address it, if there was a full time position posted I would outline how I could temporarily fill the gap, otherwise I would explain why I was inspired to contact them and what I think I can offer.

If no response, and provided that there is no “please do not call” stipulation, I would call after 2 weeks. Usually the response to the call was that they got my email and would tell the appropriate person to look through it. I would repeat every 2 weeks until it felt like too much. Starting 6 months ahead for the last search, I kept this up for two months at one firm before finally getting an interview (they didn’t have enough work, but referred me to a friend that was looking, where I got the interview but not the job).

If they did have a “please do not call” stipulation, I would send a single follow-up email after 2 weeks.

If there is a job posted now, and I can only start in 6 months, is it appropriate to apply, or am I just wasting everyone’s time? What if the job posting has been up for the past 6-8 months and is likely a standing posting?

I used to agree completely, however this is one of the areas I’m considering adjusting. I had picked out around 10 firms out of a list that I had compiled over 2 years. I thoroughly researched culture and job descriptions for where I thought I would fit perfectly. I flew out on my own money and met with people who I would be working with. We got along really well, and they thought I would fit as well.

However, when it came time to talk to the upper management, I became too casual because I thought I was practically already vetted. It became the difference between selling your car and lending it to a friend, I was telling them how the window sticks and you have to turn it this way for it to work properly.

So, in the interest of being able to sell myself better, I’ve been reading up on advertising techniques. One was that the pitch must connect both logically and emotionally, so I’m trying to figure out how to wow rather than simply fit the job description.

This is something I’m working on compensating for already. I used to say my biggest strength was that I’m a fast learner, and I always got the job. But as I began fitting the job descriptions better, I would talk about my technical abilities more. I’m going to go back to focusing on quick learning and hunger for learning.

Yes, I’ll definitely be keeping things anonymous.

I’m thinking the application to others will be similar to that of open-source code. The whole thing won’t apply, but sections can be used and modified appropriately once the full context is understood.

someone once told me the smartest thing a person can say is “I don’t know right now”

To clarify, you are looking for engineering, not design positions? Seems so from a quick skim of your site but I didn’t dive in nor see any comments from you in the thread either way.

If think the answers and process would be quite different depending.


Yes, design engineer positions. However, only because I think my current skills/experience best fit that. I would be happy with anything that fits some or all of my criteria (see first post). I’ve met ME grads in service design positions for example.

You are wasting everyone’s time. Professionals act like professionals.

There is a difference between a personality fit and knowing your audience.

Careful how you express this. What you wrote there is a little too Eddie Haskell. It’s verging on “What’s your worst attribute?” - “I work too hard.”

Thanks, that’s what I wanted to hear. However, if a student does approach you too early, please don’t view it as a sign of unprofessionalism. It may be a sign of excitement and eagerness for what you’re doing. We’ve never done this before, and don’t have a sense of the timeframes, which is why I’m trying to get the “stupid” questions out there. Personally, I would prefer to work for companies that look far ahead. It means that they’re hiring me, rather than just someone to fill the workload.

Exactly, so I’m trying to figure my audience out. Being half indian (from India, not native), and raised in Canada, most of the people I regularly talk to believe that when you openly and honestly discuss your own weaknesses, it’s a sign that you’re self-aware and working on improving. However, when I interviewed in New York, it felt like they were looking more for a pitch. I need to sell more without coming off as narcissistic, and need advice on striking that balance.
For any Brits out there, do you feel that the London crowd would respond more to the Canadian or American angle?

Any advice on how to make it clear that it’s true and not just a sales technique? I’m planning on taking one evening university course every semester, even while working. I regularly attend seminars and hackerspace nights to better round out my education. Should I be bringing these up? What if they don’t naturally come up, is there a way to bring them up without it feeling forced?

Get over yourself. You are not special. I will get dozens of you applying for every opening I post. Your sense of entitlement will definitely make you lose out to the other applicants.

You are over analyzing.

You are confusing experience with education. They are not the same. The best way to show you are willing to learn is to ask pointed questions. Vague, open-ended questions are a waste of time.

Note: This post has been heavily edited. I was taken aback by the comment, and in responding, the original post didn’t represent my actual viewpoint.

The thing is, many other industries hire way in advance, including engineering. I’ve been hired both well in advance, with no specific work plans in mind, and weeks in advance with a very clear plan. Although I enjoyed both, I had much more freedom when hired in advance; I even spearheaded some new projects and took them to completion within the internship. This isn’t based on a sense of entitlement, but rather experience of what worked well for me. I’m sorry if I insulted your hiring practices, I’m sure it works well within your context.

No questions on the rest of your post, it was very clear and helpful, thanks.

Alright, so I’ve been asking similar questions to recruiters and designers outside of the boards and I think this may be a good time to synthesize what I’ve learned so far and get some opinions:

On application timing:

4 months out:
Reconnect with contacts - “Hey, just wanted to let you know I’m graduating in 4 months, if you guys are looking any time soon, please keep me in mind, or if you know anyone that needs help, please let me know!”

3 months out:
Open new connections, express interest without actually applying. A good time for buying a few designers lunch to learn more about the company.

2 months out:
Apply to postings.

On interviews:
Although planning and over analyzing is helpful in engineering and design, it is not helpful in personal interactions. Don’t plan your conversation style ahead of time based on the company culture, but rather match the style of the person you’re talking to.

Two examples, though most will fall somewhere in between:

For casual conversations (eg. lunch meetings):
It’s ok to be honest about your weaknesses, however, make sure to give examples of what level you’re at. Perhaps you’re working to improve in some area, but because you have been working at it, you’re above what is expected. Be friendly, but not so friendly that you divulge your every weakness. You’re still trying to impress.

For quick “interrogations”:
These will likely come from upper management who only have the time to get to the point. Answer succinctly, without examples unless prompted, or you will be perceived to be wasting their time. Some slight inflation may be necessary since in this case, a “sort of” is worse than a yes or no.