Photo by PennStateNews [CC BY-NC 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/deed.en)], via Flickr
Whenever I mention the importance of networking and professional social media to a group of engineers, at least two will roll their eyes.
During all of the internship preparedness talks I have given to my Phi Sigma Rho Engineering Sorority chapter I know that there will always be those who do not take my warnings seriously – even engineers need to know how to network and leverage professional social media to land an internship. In this economy, finding an internship (or job) takes more than just knowing the academics of your field and industry. I have personally experienced the benefits of going above and beyond to land my internships.
In the fall of 2010, after finishing an unpaid internship at the Smithsonian (a story I’ll save for another time), I began my second internship hunt. At the same time, I entered my first year in the Human Centered Design and Engineering program at the University of Washington. It was during my first courses in that department that I learned how powerful networking really could be – even for engineers.
It is one thing to get the best grades and know your material. It is another thing entirely for an employer to actually know who you are. That is where you benefit from networking; through professional social media and otherwise. Employers are much more likely to hire someone that they know, either through a current employee or from the industry online. Additionally, those employers will know that you can act in a professional manner, which means less risk for them to hire you.
By setting myself up with strong LinkedIn, AfterCollege, and Twitter accounts, I was putting myself ahead of the curve. I was able to show many companies that I was not only successful academically, but I was up to date with the industry outside of my classes. I knew what was going on in the world of user experience and usability. I knew the trends, the popular blogs to follow, and the up and coming stars of the industry. I could connect with others in the industry and get my name out there – something that simply knowing your coursework will not help you with.
By January of 2011, I had landed a paid internship with American Express Global Payment Options in Salt Lake City, UT. They had found my application through AfterCollege.com and were impressed with my profile and references.
Now I am sure a lot of you are thinking, “but that’s different – I’m headed into X engineering field and this probably doesn’t apply to me.” But let me tell you – IT DOES! Think about it this way – you’re walking down the street and you come across two lemonade stands. One stand is being run by someone you met last summer. Let’s call them Sally. You know from the last time you talked to Sally that she has been working on perfecting her lemonade. You’ve never met the other person (let’s call her Rachel) before. Who do you buy lemonade from? Sally of course! Rachel could have the better lemonade – but you don’t know her or her history. You’re going to buy Sally’s lemonade because you know her.
Let’s take this one step further. Say you had never met Sally or Rachel – but your friend Suzie knows Sally and she recommended Sally’s lemonade. Again, you’d buy Sally’s lemonade because someone you know has recommended her product. This is the essence of networking.
There are companies of all engineering fields collaborating, sharing, and connecting with college students through professional social media outlets. They are looking through their networks for the next great engineer to add to their ranks. So get out there and start connecting for your next job!