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To those who hire

  1. Jan 8, 2014 #1
    Hello everyone, I am new here and this is my first post. I am in my early 30's and I am a senior in mechanical engineering. I will be graduating in December of this year and I want to make the most of the time I have left in school. I am also looking to have an edge, since I am older than most people in my graduating class.

    So this post is specifically to those who hire engineers. Beyond the normal things you expect to see on a resume, what are some specific skills you look for when hiring an engineer. If you could, when naming skills, please describe what you expect that person to do with that skill? For example, you may expect a person to be able to use excel to create pivot tables. Here, excel would be the skill and creating pivot tables would be the capability.

    In addition, if you could highlight skills or experience you would find desirable in a new engineer specific to your industry, that would be great. Another example, you may work for a robotics company and you would prefer someone that has experience with SolidWorks and is able to create 3D models of robotic hands.

    The plan is to pick some of the answers given here, learn them, and add them to my resume. Thank you in advance for your time and I look forward to hearing from you all!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 8, 2014 #2
    Somebody help this dude!
  4. Jan 8, 2014 #3


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    Don't know if this will help you but I was told an interesting anecdote in a management course I took many years ago. This is supposedly a true story but I didn't note the names and have no citation, but it's a valid lesson in any case.

    One of the most successful managers in the banking industry some years ago was widely regarded as being the best there was as a hiring manager for banking talent. He was asked by an interviewer how it was that he had managed to hire such a brilliant team of people who understood banking so well and made him such a success (he readily attributed his success to his team). His response was this:

    I have never hired anyone for banking talent. Given a little time and effort, you can teach a monkey how to do banking. What I hire is people who seem honest and straightforward and who communicate really well and who have demonstrated that they have drive and initiative. That's the whole secret to my success.

    You're a bit older than most college grads so may have a good feel for this already, but my point is that college grads in general have no idea how little their education matters in terms of specifics learned. I don't at all mean that the subject matter expertise is irrelevant but it is only a small part of being a real-world problem solver. I don't think this manager meant literally that you could teach just anyone the principles of banking but he was exaggerating to make a point.

    My advice to you is to research as much as possible what real world engineering is like in the kind of companies you want to work for and then do as much research as you can on any company you interview with and without overdoing it, make it a point during the interview to demonstrate that you have done that and that you are interested in solving the kinds of problems they solve.

    Now, some people will say that technical areas such as engineering and computer science are different from banking, but I think that's just because they underestimate the complexities of banking. I personally have only hired Electrical Engineers and computer programmers, but I still think this lesson is valid. Some of the worst hires I have experienced, hired by other managers, were people who demonstrated a strong knowledge of <insert the name of any computer programming language> but who turned out to have a really crappy understanding of how computers work in general and/or who did not work well in teams.

    Anyway, good luck.
  5. Jan 8, 2014 #4
    Thank you for your response Phinds. You are indeed correct, soft skills are incredibly important. Every interview I have had, except one, was behavioral. This is typically not very hard for me as I have had many experiences working in teams before I went back to school. The problem is I tend to spend a lot of that time speaking on my previous career and less time speaking about engineering. As a result, I come off as more passionate about what I used to do, instead of engineering. I will join an organization to try gain more experience working with others in the engineering field.

    I have researched the companies that I interview with in the past, but I have never thought to use that information to talk about my interest in solving their problems. I usually just use that information to ask intelligent questions. Thank you for that and for reminding me of the importance of people skills.
  6. Jan 8, 2014 #5
    I don't know if I'm qualified enough to answer your question. I'm pretty sure that there will be a few people on this forum that have hired engineers, but they would probably have hired very few, given the demographics of the forum (unlikely to be in HR or running a large company). So I'd take my post with a pinch of salt: I've been running a small financial firm for 2 years, and small startups have their own quirks. And I've hired (only) a handful of engineers (if EECS counts).

    First, we only spend 5% of the time ensuring that necessary conditions are met: e.g. not an application for an internship position, research or programming background. For the latter two conditions, we do not have specifics in mind. R vs Python vs Scala is not as important as the level of work that the candidate had previously produced in the said language. Any kind of project involvement is impressive. Honestly, most candidates I've assessed already meet the basic requirements or qualifications (as phinds posted, educational background doesn't really matter as most of the relevant material is learned on the job).

    Thereafter, we spend the remaining 95% of the time considering the candidate's fit with the culture at our firm. These things typically do not show on the resume/CV. We eliminate everyone who is motivated purely by pecuniary reasons, and favor those who exhibit intellectual curiosity and a willingness to learn. The words sound vague, because this process is more of an art than a science.
  7. Jan 8, 2014 #6
    Thank you for your input meanrev. I think I am naturally intellectual curious and I also believe I have a strong willingness to learn. I suppose I should ask you, how do you know you have found that kind of person? Is it a gut feeling or something you look for on the resume? Maybe a combination of the two?
  8. Jan 8, 2014 #7
    A gut feeling, mostly. Fortunately, I can say that we get to spend more time with a candidate than recruiters in most other industries. For instance, we could run a short hackathon, take the person out for dinner, host an info session with free food, games and prizes etc.
  9. Jan 9, 2014 #8
    Though I'm not responsible for the actual hiring and firing, I have been on interview committees for technical/engineering positions and seen piles of resumes.

    As others have pointed out, the job itself, while not unique, has enough nuance that it is almost impossible to find someone who can hit the ground running. There will be loads of training. We need someone who can sponge off experience and information wherever it may be. We are also looking for people who can talk to everyone from the dumbest of the dumb, to those rare breed of folk who are so smart that they have a faint blue glow about them.

    Why? Because in the wee hours of the night even someone who would be a genius in less stressful situations can act like an idiot. We also need someone who can think on their feet, not just at a desk in front of a computer. This work isn't for everyone. There are many subtle things going on that seem arcane and silly --until you've been bitten by an accident. Many less experienced people tend to take shortcuts. They risk not only their own lives, but those around them besides. We have a plaque on the wall of our headquarters building of people who died on the job. I don't want to see any more friends/co-workers listed there.

    So we look for people with a careful attitude. We look for experience. The experience doesn't have to be strictly engineering. It can be field work while or before earning the engineering degree. We look for people who can be bluntly honest about what they're thinking without offending most other people. Telling people to go to hell in a way that they actually look forward to the trip is a valuable skill where we work.

    We look at the education, yes, but most of all, we're looking at the person. We want a reliable, sociable, and mentally rugged individual. Education is really a secondary issue, although our HR department will ding us pretty hard if someone doesn't have a degree. It shows perseverance and commitment toward a goal.

    So you're asking what should you do. The answer is not technical. I've been working here for nearly 28 years. The things I do today are not the same as I did when I got my degree. Don't just focus on short term skills. Focus on longer term sociability and commitment. Emphasize flexibility and diversity of experience.

    You're not "old" until you're a just a year or two away from retirement. You have many years ahead of you. The fact that you're in your 30's is no obstacle in many places.
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