Job-hunting advice

Ali’s unsolicited advice for getting jobs in engineering

Curriculum Vitae

Skills-based vs job-history based

New and recent graduates do not have a strong job history, so a skills-based CV is the only appropriate form. The skills-based CV is also quite useful for experienced engineers shifting into a completely new field for which they have experiential qualifications but lack formal training. Create a hierarchical list in which the upper level bullets are broader skills, e.g. communication, data analysis, experimental design, team management, equipment maintenance and operation, research supervision, computing and software expertise, etc. Under each skill, use sub-bullets to indicate how you have demonstrated that skill. Start with the strongest examples, e.g.

  • Communication
    • Interim and final powerpoint presentations (10 min each) of my final-year project research
    • Independently researched literature review (20 pages) synthesizing the previous work related to my final-year research project
    • Full research report (20 pages) outlining the context, methods, results, and a discussion of my final-year research project
    • Guide for new students during university orientation week
    • Discussion leader for my Film Appreciation Club
    • Guest speaker at my church


Some basic guidelines

  • Maintain a scannable format with sufficient white space; bullets and numbering are great; avoid paragraphs and full sentences
  • Do not end incomplete fragments in a list with a period/full stop
  • Avoid including personal information (age, marital status, photo) unless absolutely required
  • A new-graduate CV should be 1–2 pages, no longer
  • Avoid fluffing out your CV with generic skills

Cover Letter

  • Application letters must always begin: “I am applying to the position of senior engineer (reference 92376), advertised on Jobs for Engineers.”Customize the italicized parts. It’s kind of a code that signals to the employers that you are an adult and you know how to apply for jobs.
  • The next line must explain why you are qualified for the job, e.g. “My expertise in nanomaterials engineering, with an emphasis on solar cell fabrication, uniquely qualifies me to contribute to Solar Scape’s research division.”
  • Avoid generic statements that could apply to anyone, e.g. I am an enthusiastic, environmentally conscious engineer seeking to improve human quality of life through innovative products and processes. Instead try “My commitment to environmentally friendly engineering practices led me to participate in the Energy Systems student group for two years, competing in the Design-a-Grid project in 2017. I tested the performance of a novel, biodegradable electrode during my final-year research project, contributing to the emerging field of flexible electronics for environmental sensing.”
  • Avoid mentioning how the job or company would benefit you; transform this into how you and your expertise will benefit the company, e.g. instead of saying “I will be exposed to many projects across different industries that will help me develop a diverse outlook,” focus entirely on what you will do for the company: “My proven ability to manage multiple research projects and engage with diverse research fields will enable me to support Solar Scape’s recent expansion into the African NGO market.” Do a bit of homework here to find out what new direction the company is moving towards, and particularly what the priorities are for the division that is hiring. The website may be outdated, so hedge your words carefully.
  • Be fearless when it comes to pitching an idea for how you could personally do something for the company…they expect blind enthusiasm from a new person. (E.g. You could start a working group on electrode morphology or introduce a technique, like latex lamination; or manage the characterization needs for an ongoing project…)
  • Make the connection between character assertions and examples from your life within a single paragraph rather than dividing up information. It’s very important to emphasize your team leadership skills, so say “I am a supportive team member and a strong team leader. As a member of the physics team in 2012, and the OilSim team in 2014, I contributed my keen mathematical skills to support the teams in victories of finalist and second place, respectively. My leadership of the tennis team enabled me to coach my peers; known for my positive attitude, I was able to inspire 15% greater participation in team events.”
  • Your closing must focus on what you will provide, “I look forward to discussing how I can harness my expertise in organic electronics to improve the efficiency of devices manufactured at Solar Scape.” Don’t worry about being spot-on aligned with the company’s goals, the most important thing is that they see you will make a place for yourself within the company and work with them towards their goals.


The main trick here is not to stuff it up!

  • DON’T say anything bland or negative about yourself, e.g. “I’m not an expert in device manufacture, but I once made a functional solar cell.” Instead say “My work focussed on the design of active-layer nanostructures and extended to the production of a device for validating our proposed structure–properties model.”
  • DON’T disqualify yourself because you don’t think that you meet the job requirements. A good manager wants to hire a reliable team player rather than a hermit who possesses all the correct skills.
  • DON’T go over time if you are asked to present. Demonstrate your time management skills.
  • DON’T let your body language close down (no crossing your arms or turning away from the committee) even if you feel intimidated. Focus on trying to take up as much space as possible to open up your body language.
  • DON’T ask questions that can easily be found by scanning their website.
  • DON’T negotiate anything at an interview, it appears unprofessional. Wait for your offer, then you can negotiate for the terms that make your employment the best possible opportunity for you.
  • DON’T ask about salary bands, it’s not professional. Look online to find standard salaries for the industry sector.
  • DON’T end on a low-note. Usually they will ask if you have any more questions. Say “No, but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the committee members for their time.”

This content owes many, many thanks to Liz Elvidge of Imperial College London’s Postdoctoral Development Centre.