How to Get and Keep a Job

Started by MaxMaxfield 1 month ago9 replieslatest reply 3 weeks ago80 views
I'm going to be writing a mini-series of blogs aimed at young engineers (or wannabe engineers) about "How to get and keep a job" -- starting with how to decide what courses to take at college or university, how to write a resume and comport oneself in an interview, and how to keep on learning and developing once you have a job. I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.
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Reply by MatthewEshlemanSeptember 24, 2020

One of our standard interview questions (not my idea) was:

"What would you say if I told you that you are not qualified for this position?"

And it was always our last question in our standard phone interview.

9 out of 10 people would nicely answer:

"Well, if you were to say that, I would thank you for your time and move on to the next opportunity, perhaps requesting any additional and more specific feedback on why I'm not qualified, but obviously deferring to your judgment on the matter."

1 out of 10:

"What do you mean I'm not qualified? Why did you just waste an hour of my time then?" 

It never ceased to amaze me how that question revealed likely bad hires.

Otherwise, in no particular order:

  • Listen carefully. (see above)
  • Work just a little harder than you think you can. But not too much, burn-out is real.
  • Learn how to accept and process criticism.
  • Be an engineer. Seek out the deeper problem and the root cause of failures.
  • Learn from others' mistakes. 
  • Show up on time.
  • Do not lie.
  • Be considerate when working in shared work spaces.

That is enough for now. Will be interesting to see everyone's contributions!

Best regards,


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Reply by MaxMaxfieldSeptember 24, 2020

This great info -- thanks Matthew

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Reply by antedeluvianSeptember 24, 2020


I have made a practice of taking photographs of all my projects. I found it made it easier to talk about what I had done, and some of the more exotic locations often intrigued the interviewer. There were no smart phones in those days and I used to go to an interview with a huge photo album. Later there were also copies of my articles, letters of appreciation etc added to the album. Having said that- I have always managed to find a job when I needed one, but changing jobs when I wanted out- not so much!

Based on young engineers I have interviewed, I would suggest developing a habit of reading different sources about the electronics industry, both technical and business. Almost every one I have interviewed recently will answer "Google" and "manufacturer's web site" when faced with the question: "Where do you look for information?". What that means to me is that the candidate is reactive and is limited in his/her thought process to the immediate job at hand. Less chance for innovation based on a wider knowledge of electronics.

I would also suggest that the engineer not only look up the potential employer on Google, but also the person who is going to interview them (if that information is available). Surely it would have impressed me if even one of the bunch had ever said to me: "I read your article in xxx..." and better yet, follow up with "I have a question about it..."

Learn to write. Some name-brand universities seem to encourage their students to publish their "thesis" (or whatever you call it) in magazines like Circuit Cellar. 

Matthew's remarks above are absolutely spot on.

And learn to look at the interviewer's shoelaces...

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Reply by MaxMaxfieldSeptember 24, 2020

This is great advice Aubrey -- thanks as always -- Max

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Reply by waydanSeptember 24, 2020

I received my bachelor’s degree in 2013, so I’d like to share some advice aimed at engineering students who have some time left in university.

  • Prefer an engineering internship over a summer job. It may be difficult to find during freshman or sophomore year, but an internship is a great way to learn about how businesses operate since university does little training in this area.
  • Find out about interesting research or labs at your school and volunteer. One of my regrets is that I didn’t look for such opportunities (they’re not well publicized so one has to be proactive). Volunteering for someone’s lab is a great way to network and get exposed to the real-world science and engineering that undergraduate classes are approximating. Spending time in a lab is also one way to evaluate if a graduate program is a good fit.
  • Network with professors. Some professors will have more connection with industry than others. Try to learn about their fields and use office hours or request an appointment to ask them about their research or work outside of the university. Show interest by reading trade materials, but don’t be a know-it-all. Show you’ve done your homework by asking real questions rather than showing off your ability to memorize factoids.
  • Make friends and work on a project. If nothing else, you’ll have something to show during am interview.
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Reply by MaxMaxfieldSeptember 25, 2020

Hi Waydan -- this is fantastic input -- thank you so much for taking the time to share it with me -- Max

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Reply by dnjSeptember 25, 2020

I wrote my first program in 1967, so I think that I've seen a lot of things and met a lot of people.

Advice to the new "whiz kid" graduate at their first job.

Don't go into a new job thinking that you are the smartest person in the room. You probably aren't and the attitude will only generate resentment. Some of us were the best in our classes too. And, we've had to keep up with new technology without formal training. 

If you are the smartest person in the room, then find a different company. This one isn't going to present enough challenges to keep you interested. Always find competition that is better than you so that you can learn and progress.

Show up, on time, every day.

Unless you've been at the office all night to complete something or even to solve a nasty problem, don't get caught sleeping on the job. It never happened to me, but I have seen people lose a job for it.

Listen 10 times longer than you talk. A hundred time longer if it is a large group. Listen and learn.

It's not a job if you love what you are doing and are amazed that people will pay you for what you would almost be willing to do from free. Don't tell anyone that you would do it for free. You'll never work a day in your life if you have true passion for what you are doing.

For software developers: Software engineering is the art, craft and applied science of solving problems with the use of a computer. A programming language is only a means through which you express your solution. Don't get bogged down by trying to use one language to meet every solution. Learn languages. Languages come and go, so keep up with trends and new methods. I can't tell you how many languages that I've had to learn over 50 years, but it has been a bunch. I learned Univac SPURT for my first real programming job. I got laid off (last in - first out) when the company lost a big contract. That made me an EX-SPURT programmer and I'm not ashamed to proclaim that.

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Reply by MaxMaxfieldSeptember 25, 2020

Thanks Dnj -- this is all really good advice -- I'm already planning this as a three-column miniseries in my head.

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Reply by MaxMaxfieldOctober 9, 2020

We just posted Part 1 of what will be a 3-pard miniseries:

How to Get an Engineering Job and Keep It (Part 1) In this first column in a 3-part miniseries, we focus on the precursor days at high school, college, and university leading to a career in engineering.