Get a Job Right Out of College

You’ve graduated! Now what?

You put in 4 years (maybe 5, maybe 8, no one’s judging) of all-nighters and caffeine overdoses in order to get decent grades and find the job of your dreams. Even though there is no single answer to anyone’s quest, there are steps all of us can take to reach this goal with more ease.

There are endless resources online for resume and interview tricks, but here are a few things that have been pivotal in my pursuit of landing a job right out of college.

Let’s get past the obvious: study!

This is self-explanatory. You are an engineer in training.

The only advice I can give in this area is to be aware of the existence of “weeder” classes. There are many lower division classes that are meant to scare away the students that are not fully committed to such a challenging area of study. My advice is: don’t be scared! Play the game. If you are interested in your major, keep going. It’s much easier to study for a circuit design class that interests you than it is to study for a lower division chemistry class (which is absolute torture!).

If you’re not sure whether you’re interested in your major, do everything you can to find out more about your interests and what the degree offers. You can even audit upper division classes if your school allows it.

Likewise, if you’re not getting good grades in your lower div classes: don’t quit! Be persistent. A lot of graduate schools and employers will accept a GPA from your upper division classes. My upper division GPA was stronger than my overall GPA so I preferred to put only that on my resume.

Second and most importantly: internships!

As you can conclude from the title of this section, internships are by far the best thing you can do for yourself and your career.

That is if you are getting good enough grades to graduate.

The biggest perk is that you get your foot in the door!

My life was forever changed when I took an unpaid internship halfway through the summer after my sophomore year in college. As I had not taken any upper division classes, companies were hesitant to hire me. I wasn’t feeling all too bad about not landing a single interview as almost all of my classmates were using this summer to travel or take summer classes. I can only thank my mother for tirelessly pushing me to find an internship (any internship) in the industry. It was late July when I finally got a call and went in for an interview where all questions of the type “Have you ever done x before?” was answered with a solid “No.” He said, “Don’t worry, you’ll learn.”

That unpaid internship opened other doors for me and allowed me to get paid internships and it was a lot more entertaining than lounging in bed and counting down the days of summer. Spoiler alert: I got my full-time job after graduating at this company!

From the perspective of the hiring manager, a person with previous work experience is a much safer bet than someone who has an excellent GPA with no previous experience. It is my opinion that your office personality and ability to work with your team has a lot of impact on the impression you leave behind.

The quickest and easiest solution to finding a job right out of college is to get an internship. I received job offers from both of my internship companies I contacted, one of which did not even request an interview. Many of my classmates went on to work at companies they had internships at. The trend is obvious for those of us who have gone through it.

A big perk from internships is that you get to experience different industries.

If your major is anything like mine (Electrical Engineering), there are probably countless types and subtypes of industries you can start your career in. Although we all tend to migrate toward the popular industries, there is no way to know what works for you without experiencing it first-hand.

My first internship was at a medium-sized company in type: Consumer Electronics and subtype: Avionics. The pace was: extremely fast and stressful.
My second internship was a small-sized company in type: Space and Defense and subtype: Space Exploration. The pace was: slow and still stressful.
My third internship was a large-sized company in type: Telecommunications and subtype: Cellular. The pace was: relaxed and less stressful.

If I had not gone through these three, I would have never known that what I enjoyed the most was a fast-paced environment at a larger company. The slow-paced company did not suit me and neither did working at a company of just 30 engineers. I usually left the office feeling displeased with my output. I had, however, left the office feeling inspired and energized at my first internship. The difference was clear as a Californian day. I had also loved the energy and office culture of my first internship the most. It is thanks to my internship experiences that I am exactly where I want to be at this stage of my professional career.

Be involved

This is self-explanatory as well. Being involved at your campus organizations will add a layer to your resume that presents your teamwork capabilities and your initiative. And while President, Vice President, or (gasp) Founder positions might attract the most attention, it is also important to strike a balance so these activities don’t affect your academics.

I was, at some point, President of two different clubs, taking close to the max amount of units each quarter, and doing undergraduate research. Let’s be real, that level of stress wasn’t necessary. One of my organizations was an engineering organization and the other was a cultural organization. It won’t surprise you if I admitted only the first of those two helped me obtain my job. It helped immensely. I don’t regret my decision to be involved in my cultural club as it was one of the most fun parts of my college experience but I would warn you guys to not spread yourselves too thin. Keep it fun all the while using your extracurriculars to your advantage.

Think outside the box

This is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Your next steps will be different for everyone reading this article. Don’t feel the need to do something just because it’s the norm. Don’t do research if you’re not interested in grad school just because all of your classmates are doing it. Don’t feel hesitant to apply for unpaid or minimum wage internships just because others dismiss it. Ditch the FOMO!

Do consider doing an internship in another industry if you can’t find something in your field. Worst case, you’ll leave it out of your resume.

Do go to networking events, even if it’s just to ask insider information about the industry you’re interested in.

Do spend time on home projects and bring them to a career fair or interview if you can. I saw one of my classmates bring a small robot to the career fair that he had made and, well, he works at Google now.

Feel free, as I did, to go to a career fair in the city you want to work in, instead of the city your school is in. Do call the school and request permission beforehand so you don’t waste a trip and precious study hours. After I got my job after college, my manager informed me that what stood out most for those who reviewed my resume was that I took the initiative to crash another school’s career fair.

In Maya Angelou’s famous words: “All great achievements take time.” So be patient, work hard, and have fun.

Congratulations on choosing a career in STEM!

Selen Alper
About the Author

Selen Alper is a Software Development and Test Engineer at Panasonic Avionics Corporation and true-blue Bruin. Selen graduated with a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from UCLA. Selen was extremely active on campus. She held leadership positions as President of the Engineering Society of UCLA, President of TCC, and committee members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).