For the second project, Kat and I created an Interview and Job Search guide (featured on this blog post). It was interesting to be able to think back on all of the advice that I have been given regarding interviewing and networking and really reflect on what advice is really worth following.
Of all of the preparation that I have had to do for the job search process, figuring out how to give the best responses to behavioral questions was the most exhaustive. Unlike computer science, interviews for most mechanical engineering jobs are mostly behavioral, unless the job is highly technical. Even so, there are not a lot of tests that an interviewer can make a mechanical engineering candidate do on the spot.
The STAR method for answering behavioral questions is the best thing I learned in preparation. I have a tendency to include superfluous details when I tell stories or recount experiences, so having a sort of recipe to follow for responding helped me a lot. Apparently it is not uncommon for people to forget to include the resolution of the problem they are recounting in an interview because they get sidetracked by their own stories. Another important note on the STAR method that I made sure to include was to remember to discuss your role in the situation. Often the problems we solve as engineers are in groups and it is easy to discuss the project in terms of what “we” did instead of what “I” did. This is definitely something I did and need to be careful to avoid still.
I wish that I had started using the alumni network a little earlier in my college career. I ended up getting connected to an alum junior year and he gave me some great advice and helped me navigate through the interview process. He was also able to get me in touch with other alums who worked for the company I was interviewing with. Notre Dame alums really do love helping fellow Domers out, and it is a really special thing about our school that should be utilized more often.
It is a reality that students are preoccupied with preparing for interviews and networking for a lot of the year. The time spent on this preparation can definitely take away from time spent on academics, but I don’t think that there should be a major shift in curriculums because of this. College is, indeed, a place for us to gain the skills to succeed in the job we eventually get. Although it would be great to have a one-credit course that focuses on interviewing and networking, we already have a lot of resources through the career center that can prepare us really well. If someone is not taking the initiative to make appointments for mock interviews or resume reviews, they cannot be upset for not getting the job they want. On the other hand, the things I am learning now about professional issues in this course would have been good to start thinking about last year. From my perspective, the CSE department should probably go ahead and split this current ethics course up to enable conversations about work-life balance, contracts, negotiations, etc., to happen earlier, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say there should be a unit on interviewing. (And the other departments in the College of Engineering should follow suit and add a course like this one!)