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Do employers consider atypical experience?

  1. Jun 19, 2014 #1
    Hi all.

    I will be graduating next year and wanted some of your input. I will recieve a B.S. In applied physics and mathematics from University of Miami, hopefully summa cum laude (>3.9 GPA). I also have coursework in chemistry (through organic 2 and physical chemistry 2) and biology (through genetics and cell molec). I did this mostly out of personal interest, wanting to explore the sciences.

    I've set my crosshairs on a career as a systems engineer, as I like the "generalist, glue of the team" role they play as well as the connected management responsibilities. I'm worried from what I've seen at times on this forum: HR may screen me out due to the "engineer or bust" mentality that makes their jobs easier.

    Would they consider extracurricular and pre-college experience?

    1. I have a German Abitur with specialization in electromechanical engineering (pre-college, very good GPA only pulled down a bit by German and German history -- didn't speak the language when I moved there)
    2. I am an inventor, and have patents on functional devices, have met investors and their technical experts to discuss them etc. So far this hasn't cashed out but I was never taken off guard by any questions they had.
    3. I have been working in an environmental engineering lab/project for the past year.

    I feel this is more than adequate preparation for an entry level position, but what do I know? What would you advise me to do to improve my chances? I plan to do a masters in systems engineering while working, hopefully for Lockheed Martin in Orlando (I hear they are more forgiving of science grads).

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 19, 2014 #2


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    I worked as a "systems engineer" without a degree at all.

    Getting by HR's silly automated process in any company is rough, and they may very well screen you out since you don't have an engineering degree or the right keywords. What you could do however, is see if you're able to intern or otherwise work as a temp for the one of the companies you're looking to get hired by. Knowing people who currently work for the company can bypass HR filters quite readily. The good ole boy network is alive and well, especially with defense contractors like Lockheed and Northrup.

    As far as your pre-college experience, it doesn't matter if you can't get an interview.
  4. Jun 20, 2014 #3
    It's a pity that you don't live in this country. Here you could easily get a job without qualifications if you can show that you are skillful enough.
  5. Jun 20, 2014 #4


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    I have in the past been involved in recruiting engineers in the Electronics industry. It wasn't uncommon for agencies to send 300+ CV and expect us to sort through them all to produce a short list. You soon loose the will to live as many CV are so badly written or presented. I would say on average most CVs only get 30 seconds or less to make the first cut. Out of 300 CVs perhaps 200-250 would be quickly discarded as irrelevant. They might well have been ideal candidates but that didn't come across in their CV while they had the readers attention.

    The balance would get more time and perhaps circulated to other people. Typically three of us would propose or agree on say 10-12 to interview. Usually there might be 6 good candidates we could all agreed were worth interviewing with the rest being proposed by just one person.

    My advice is to produce multiple versions of your CV. By all means have one that is general purpose and highlights the areas you want to work to give agencies BUT I would also customise your CV to match specific jobs you are applying for. If the advert says they want experience of XYZ then make sure that XYZ is mentioned somewhere near the beginning regardless if it's a formal qualification, a course module, direct experience or just a hobby interest. No matter how tenuous your experience of XYZ point it out so you make that first cut/cull.

    It definitely helps to have that first paragraph that summarises you and why you are suitable for the particular advertised role. You would be amazed how many CV start with irrelevant stuff such as details of the junior school they went to >30 years ago.

    Once you make the first cut details of Extracurricular and pre-college experience helps give an impression of your general character and work ethic which is increasingly important. Employers don't want people that need constant "managing". They want people able to manage their own time and work on their own initiative. Learning relevant or just difficult new skills on your own time is definitely preferable to playing console games.

    Find a good book on CV writing. Most will recommend avoiding fancy fonts and coloured paper but it happens. Use a decent size font. If that means lots of pages it probably means you have written too much.

    I've also interviewed and been interviewed for a fair few jobs in my time. Don't be surprised by strange questions such as "How many countries in the European Union can you name?". They aren't interested in how many you can name. They want to see how you react when you run out. Does an awkward silence descend while you struggle to remember? Much better to answer "I've no idea but I would find out by..."

    Make sure you have questions ready to ask the interviewer. Perhaps about the company (do your research) but a favorite of mine was "Why do you work here?".
  6. Jun 20, 2014 #5
    In generations past, your practical experience would at least get your foot in the door. Today, that is more and more unlikely.

    Your best bet is to look to businesses that are too small to maintain a substantial HR presence.

    The reason HR exists in the US is because there is a legal need for "impartiality" when hiring or firing people. So they make up silly rules, get silly results, and the courts nod in sage fashion and say this is good. I understand how things got this way, but I have significant doubts that the cure is any better than the disease.

    That said, it is the reality. It is very screwed up. So getting your foot in the door to a different career than what you studied is probably going to be difficult. I would love to be proven wrong, however.
  7. Jun 20, 2014 #6
    Which country are you referring to? Austria? I currently live in the USA, but my German is quite good now -- had to take Abiturprüfung in it after all (as well as everything else, haha)!
  8. Jun 20, 2014 #7
    Recently I've read that approx only 10% of interviews are successful. I'm not sure if the rate is similar in the USA. But either way, if you do happen to fail even several interviews in a row, do not feel disappointed. Statistics dictates the rate of failures.
  9. Jun 20, 2014 #8
    As for JakeBrodsky and CWatters -- a masters in Systems engineering would be ideal then, no? I imagine it helps with HR/recruiters if the first thing they see when evaluating systems engineering applications is a masters in exactly that. I will definitely be tailoring my CV to the spots I apply in a year. I got a job at a medical research lab before because I was he only person who had looked at my boss' web page to actually know what she was researching! A bit of individual care can go a long way.

    Student100 - do you know any ways to meet people from a specific firm, aside from chance encounters at a bar? I checked Lockheed Martin's upcoming campus events and career fairs but it is empty :/.

    Thank again for the advice guys. It may be tough for me but hopefully I'm bullish enough to shove my credentials past the screens!
  10. Jun 20, 2014 #9
    Education seems to be the ticket.

    Mind you: for engineers, education is interesting, but insufficient. Experience counts at least as much. Yet, because education is the only easily verified feature on a resume (or CV), it is given disproportionate emphasis by those who drive desks for a living.

    So, yes, a masters in Systems Engineering is your primary ticket to such jobs. It shouldn't have to be that way, but it is.
  11. Jun 20, 2014 #10


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    Well, you could try interning with DoD agencies like SPAWAR up in Charleston one summer: http://jobs.spawar.navy.mil/Students.aspx.
    You'll hopefully be able to meet lots of guys who work federally and for contractors like Lockheed, Northup, and what not. There are plenty of other governmental agencies which do interning, which is always a good way to get experience and meet contacts both in the government and commercially.

    Look at NASA and their contractors too if you want to stay in the Florida area, hopefully you'll be able to find some kind of internship.

    Experience trumps education, some employers will waive experience requirements with a masters though.
  12. Jun 20, 2014 #11


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    This 10% is an average over a large group of applicants - some that never get hired (but get many invitations because they have a nice CV and apply everywhere) and some that have a chance to get hired. The second group has a significantly higher probability to get hired than the average would suggest.

    See Recruiting the Top 1 Percent - I once saw a similar, but more detailed description, but I don't find it any more.
  13. Jun 20, 2014 #12


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    Do you mean Austria or the UK?
  14. Jun 20, 2014 #13

    D H

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    I just don't understand this phenomenon. I'm not arguing with you, CW. I've seen the exact same thing myself. But still, I don't understand it. Do these people with lousy resumes not have a spell checker, a significant other or friend to read their resume?

    You mentioned that those resumes came from an agency. It's time for your company to think of firing that agency. They should be filtering those very bad resumes for you, and they should be helping to improve the quality of the resumes they do send to you. If they don't do that, why are you using an agency?
  15. Jun 20, 2014 #14
    That's roughly consistent the results of the interviews I've conducted. It's not a huge data set to say the least, maybe 80 or so, with about 8 to 12 getting offers. I've rarely been involved in doing phone screenings, so I can't speak to that.
  16. Jun 20, 2014 #15

    A lot of job applications seem to be posted only because they legally have to be. Very often, there is no intention to hire based on interviews, the placement is intended for a friend or relative. Asking a friend or relative seems to be the most successful way of getting a job these days.

    Once I've seen a research about hiring people randomly from the street, I'm going to try and dig it out if you're interested in such topics.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2014
  17. Jun 20, 2014 #16


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    I don't think it is true of the UK, in general. If you want a graduate-level job, you need a relevant academic qualification to get your foot through the interview room door.

    That said, the UK probably puts less importance on formal "professional engineer" qualifications than some other countries - but having them won't do you any harm!.
  18. Jun 20, 2014 #17


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    What does the percentage chance, that may or may not be pulled out from someone's behind, have to do with the post?

    Experience, as I've pointed out, is the one thing that will readily improve your chances of landing a position right out of school. Networking, and a masters degree would also help.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 21, 2014
  19. Jun 20, 2014 #18
    Someone who's just about to graduate isn't going to have much experience yet, so while it's obvious that experience would be helpful, this information really isn't going to be much news to OP.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 21, 2014
  20. Jun 20, 2014 #19


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    And a random 10% of interviews that are successful statistic is? I don't see the logic.

    Internships/temp jobs offered to college students and recent college grads can provide experience which would improve the askers chances of landing a job. More so than any quirky pre-college/college hobbies he/she may or may not have. It would also provide a chance to network with companies they may like working for.

    To the OP: With the project you worked on were you able to collaborate with any private firms? Have you reached out to them and let them know you're graduating soon? Do any of your professors have professional contacts they could provide you with? Check the agencies I mentioned earlier, they normally do routine internships.

    Edit: Another useful strategy is to keep in contact with as many of your peers at school as possible, if you haven't forged a lot of friendships with your classmates now would be a good time.
  21. Jun 20, 2014 #20
    Then to put it in simpler words, it means that he should apply to as many places as possible, and should not feel discouraged if he will get no more than a few replies from dozens of applications. It can make some people extremely discouraged and depressed to constantly fail at even landing on an interview. A lot of companies simply throw out batches of CV's if they think that they've received enough to process and look through and will not bother looking at the rest. I wanted to point out to OP that he should not expect to graduate and land on a job immediately. The process can take any time between a few days to a few months.
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