I get a variation on this question very often: I recently graduated as a civil engineer. How can I complete job applications in a way that will yield results quickly? The process is taking a long time and I cannot find a position.
It seems that over the past 18 months during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have received this question from even more civil engineering professionals than usual. The good news is that, pandemic or no pandemic, my answer is the same and I would like to share it with you in this post.
When a company is looking to fill a position, they typically have a need, whether it be a new project that they need to build a team for, or just a growing client base, or maybe they are planning to expand to a new geographic location. Usually they are hiring for that need. Your approach as someone looking for a job should be to identify their need in hiring for this job and position yourself as a solution to fulfill that need.
What most professionals do is create a resume that is focused around detailing how great they are or what skills they possess, yet they fail to actually connect the dots and show how their skills will fulfill the needs of the prospective employer, which typically results in a failed job search.
Here’s a simple analogy to show you the importance of this often-overlooked step. Let’s say you plan to cook something that requires butter, but you don’t have butter in the house. Well then, you need butter. So you drive to the grocery store, and you ask the first clerk you see, “In what aisle can I find butter?” The clerk responds, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have butter; we do have really nice, fresh tomatoes though, and you can find them in aisle 5.” What might you do? You certainly wouldn’t buy the tomatoes, as you don’t need them, no matter how fresh they are. You would probably go to another store that has butter, since you need it to cook the desired dish. You have a need that you have to fill, and tomatoes won’t help you.
In terms of an engineering job search, if you are telling a prospective employer all of the great skills you have, yet none of them fulfill the need that they have, then you are not helping your case. You must position yourself as a fit for the specific job you are applying for.
Here are some simple steps you can take to do this:
1. Read the job description multiple times to determine the specific need or needs the company is trying to fill through the position. Look for keywords or phrases that explain their needs. It would be ideal if you could speak to someone at the company to dig deeper, but this may not be feasible.
2. Review your existing resume and create a version just for this job that positions yourself as a good fit to fill the need. Obviously you can’t do this if you aren’t a good fit, and I am not suggesting that you do. If you can fulfill their need, make it abundantly clear through this resume specific to their job post.
3. When you submit the resume, use every opportunity to emphasize how you meet their needs. This might be the subject line of the email that transmits the resume or a form on a job board submission portal.
4. Lastly, should you obtain an interview, try to confirm the need early in the interview and then speak to how you can fill that need throughout the interview.
I am not trying to make this process sound easy when it isn’t, but I need to stress the importance of presenting yourself as a good match to the prospective employer’s needs, as most engineers I talk to simply don’t follow this approach, and it costs them, bigtime.
Anthony Fasano, P.E., F.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Management Institute, which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and is the author of a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. Through his work at EMI, he has also recently launched the Civil Engineering Collective as well as a weekly news show for civil engineers called This Week in Civil Engineering.
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A version of this article was originally published July 26, 2021.