The fall of each school year brings hundreds of companies and thousands of students to the annual career fair. Our campus floods with well-dressed students and alumni with leather portfolios and ambitions, looking for the next big step, be it an internship or a job. Georgia Tech, being an engineering school, draws some of the biggest corporations out there. But what does all this mean to a non-engineer?
I’ve been going to the career fair since my second year of undergrad, when I was an Aerospace Engineering major. There were a lot of companies I could talk to, and I even approached a few companies that weren’t listed under my major. However, when I returned to the fair later as a master’s student in Industrial Design, I found that many of the big name companies were no longer interested in me because I wasn’t doing engineering. Between the two days of career fair, I found a total of two companies who I saw potential opportunities with. It was hard to believe how much more difficult networking had become all of a sudden. I learned, however, that networking is a skill; there is a method to this madness.
- The first thing to remember when you’re going to look for research or job opportunities is to know what you want. Don’t waste time contacting every lab in your school or every company who hires your major; look at what you’re interested in and narrow it down to three. The best way to find this is to go online and do your homework. Read what the position is, ask questions about what your responsibilities will be, and if you know friends who’ve worked/researched there before, ask them to see if your findings line up with the reality.
- Second, be persistent! Once you make a contact, keep in touch. Don’t harass him/her, but check in and say hello every month or so. Update him/her on your educational career and get updates on their credentials. It’s okay to even ask for advice on next career steps. There are very few people who bother following up once they apply online. Yes, career fairs can be frustrating when you hear “apply online” a million times, but that’s how companies know that you’re really interested!
- Third, build a strong network. Keep in touch with professors whose classes you’ve taken, even after the course is complete; stay in contact with colleagues and bosses from summer internships or research positions. I still catch up with my engineering professors from the first few years of undergrad and with my coworkers from my last job. I got 3 phenomenal recommendations for my graduate school by simply keeping in touch. The network you build by having a relationship and keeping in touch is far more valuable than something that will come out of one email.
- Finally, remember to be yourself! Yes, the job or internship has to be something you like, but it has to go both ways. If you stay true to yourself, you’ll end up at a job or internship where you’ll get along and blend in well with the team. Yes, there are right and wrong answers in the interview, but the best answers are the real ones.
Are there more networking tips that have worked for you? Please share them with us through the comment box!
Tanaya Joshi is a masters student in Industrial Design at Georgia Institute of Technology. Her previous degree is a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. She is is looking to bridge the gap between engineering and art through Industrial Design and hopes to focus on using design as a tool to enhance feasibility in products.