Tips on Getting a Job (or Admission into Grad School)
The search starts your freshman year! Do not make the mistake of thinking that there is nothing you can do now to help you get a job later. So much of the process starts now, and students who realize that will reap the benefits for the rest of their lives.
So what can you do now?
1) Know yourself.
What kind of job do you want? Even broader, what kind of career do you want? Where do you want to live? What do you want your average day to look like? The Counseling Services Office on LA Tech's campus has great resources to help you with these career-related questions - call them at (318) 257-2488 to make an appointment. This is an important first step; after you realize what you want to do, you will be better able to pursue the experience that will help you get there. That might include graduate or medical school.
2) Build relationships.
Meet people, talk to them, ask questions, and explore their experiences. This includes family members, professors, older students, and company representatives who visit our campus for one reason or another. Not only will it give you more information about different careers, it will also grow a network of people who know you, your interests, and your goals. Look for opportunities to be in the "right place, right time." Remember that every conversation is an interview, but better because not as awkward, forced, or planned. Being yourself is easy in these kinds of conversations - take advantage of that!
3) Start building your resume now - with both grades and involvement.
No matter what you want to do when you graduate (work in a plant, go to graduate school, work in a research lab, go to medical school, etc.), they will be looking at two main things: your grades and your experiences outside of class. What you do now matters - in both areas! If your grades are high from the beginning, you will never have to dig yourself out of a hole. And if you start getting involved now in some organization, by the time you are a senior you will have great opportunities for leadership. Yes, you. Even if you have not necessarily pictured yourself as a leader, you can be one! Just be a diligent member of an organization, volunteer for projects that interest you, and you will gain more and more responsibility.
4) Get highly relevant work experience by your senior year.
We strongly encourage every student to get some type of real, relevant work experience sometime during their last two years of college. That has become a requirement for many companies looking to hire engineering/science graduates. If a student is looking to work in a manufacturing plant, he/she might pursue an internship with that type of company. If a student plans to attend graduate school, he/she may choose to participate in a research program for undergraduates.
Many students ask the difference between internships and co-ops. Both offer very realistic previews of jobs in their area, and usually both pay well. However, internships usually last only one summer, while co-ops last three quarters. Usually the commitment for a co-op is two summer quarters and one fall or spring quarter. Since co-ops are longer, a student has more time to learn about the company and work on more in-depth projects. The company invests a lot into them, and often offers a full-time job upon graduation. On the other hand, internships also offer valuable experience, usually without delaying a student's graduation date. Each student should consider his/her life situation and goals in order to make the best decision about pursuing an internship or co-op.
Students leaning more toward a career in research, teaching, or medicine might pursue an undergraduate research experience. The path to finding this type of job is just the same: talk to people who are involved in this type of work, realize your interests, communicate them, and search out open positions. Many professors at Tech hire undergraduate students to help them with research, so talk to them. Other universities host summer research programs, so research them online or ask around about possibilities. You might hear about them at conferences or through emails from your organizations. Begin now getting an idea of what is out there that would fit you.
5) Get somewhat relevant work experience earlier.
Even short-term jobs like internships might require some prior experience. If you can get a summer job in any technical field during your freshman or sophomore summer, that will help you to get a more connected job later. This first job might not be very glorious; you might be filing papers or sweeping floors. However, the experience will get you closer to engineering/science work so that you start to understand some terms and the culture of the field; plus, it will build your resume.
And when you become a senior...
6) Take initiative.
When it comes time to heavily pursue post-graduation plans (a job, graduate school, etc.), you will have to take action early. Companies and schools will probably not just come to you, though good relationships and experience you have gained along the way will help a lot. Realize that all of this will happen during your senior year, which is already incredibly busy. If you are going to beat procrastination, you will need to set a plan and specific goals/deadlines for yourself along the way.
Pursuing a Job
If you are graduating in the spring quarter, you should start looking for job openings right at the beginning of the fall quarter. Usually Career Day is at the end of September or beginning of October; be sure to register at the Career Center prior to the event. Most on-campus interviews are also held in the fall quarter. The Career Center has lots of good tips on their website, and they offer several seminars to help you get ready for the whole process. Take advantage of their services!
Pursuing Graduate or Medical School
A) Apply to more than just one school. You should probably apply to at least five schools: one dream school, two or three schools that you would like to get into and think you might have a pretty good shot at, and one or two "fallback" schools that you know you can get into.
B) Be aware of each school's timeline for applications and scholarships/ assistantships. You might want to keep a calendar of different deadlines for different schools, just to keep yourself organized. No matter when the deadlines are, start the application process early; in fact, the summer before your senior year is the right time if the applications are out by then. And do not only start early, but continue working on it diligently throughout your senior year. Most applications require you to write a personal statement of purpose and to obtain recommendation letters; do not underestimate how long those two things will take. Also, most schools require some type of test (GRE, MCAT, etc.), so be sure you give yourself time to study, take it, and submit your scores before the application is due. Study hard; you do not want to have to take a big test like that twice!
C) Recommendation letters are often a very important part of the application process because they show a school what someone else has to say about you. As a result, you should choose your letter of recommendation writers very carefully. Some people think that you should try to find the most "important" people and try to convince them to write you a letter of recommendation. However, if you ask Dr. Guice, Dr. Napper, or Dr. Hegab to write you a letter of recommendation based solely on the fact that they hold higher administrative positions and you do not really know them very well (or at all, for that matter), it probably wouldn't even contain half the amount of useful information as one letter from a faculty member that knows you on a more personal level. So, the key to getting a good letter of recommendation is to find someone who really knows you well (if they cannot remember your name, that might be your queue to look for someone else) and can speak (positively) on your academic achievements, work ethic, etc. Examples would be a teacher that taught three of the classes that you aced or a faculty member that let you get some undergraduate research experience.
7) Look for your fit; you will find it!
Here is a secret: every student has a period of time where he/she has no idea where to go next. Many times the senior year is a time of re-evaluating (or evaluating seriously for the first time) what a student really wants - which takes you back to Tip #1! Do you want to keep going to school, or do you want to get out there and start making money? Do you want to live close to family, or are you ready to live far away? Do you want to work for a big, competitive company, or for a small, local one? How much will salary affect your decision? Do you want to travel a lot? All of these are big questions, and suddenly they become much bigger when it is decision time! Just take those questions one at a time. You will make the right decision, and you will find the place for you.
8) Explore opportunities at the Louisiana Tech Career Center at http://www.latech.edu/career_center/.
**This page was written with the help of several successful Engineering and Science students. Contact Jane Petrus, the College Student Success Specialist to talk more about planning your future.