Many employers seek to hire employees that already have some level of professional experience, and some even require it. This is why all College of Engineering students are strongly encouraged to complete at least one internship, co-op, or research experience prior to graduation. If you are seeking a full-time position but do not have any professional experience, we recommend utilizing one or more of the strategies below, in addition to following the advice in our guide to employment.

Even if you don’t have any professional work experience, remember that you have gained many relevant skills through other experiences. You will need to fill out your resume by highlighting coursework, capstone design projects, student organization participation, part-time jobs, and other experiences where you have developed skills that engineering employers will be interested in using. Here is a list of all engineering-related student organizations you could join to help fill out your resume. Review our page on Understanding What Employers Look for in Engineers for further information.

While this is an important step for all job-seekers, it is essential to those with no professional experience. Read through several job descriptions of interest and look for key skills and qualifications that are mentioned. Think back on your experiences in which you used these particular skills and emphasize those in your marketing materials. This could include course projects, student organization involvement, non-professional work experiences, professional certifications, independent projects, etc. The more you can tailor your resume to the positions you are applying to, the more effective it will be. View the example resumes in Canvas to see how some of these experiences can be incorporated into a resume.

If there is an extenuating circumstance that affected your ability to complete a professional work experience, it is sometimes beneficial to address it while networking or in your cover letter.  For example, if you needed to contribute to a family business or family farm, some employers will value this as much as an internship as long as you were developing skills that will be useful to them.  While it can be beneficial to mention reasons why you do not have professional experience, the main focus of your cover letter or answers to questions should be the experiences and skills you do have that make you a great fit for the position.

While networking is essential for all job seekers, it is even more important for those with no professional work experience.  Networking provides an opportunity for you to shift the focus off of your lack of work experience and on to your skills and positive character traits.  The relationships you develop with potential employers through networking will hopefully result in their willingness to overlook a lack of professional experience. Initiate networking through a face-to-face interaction when possible or through LinkedIn to show a high level of interest in the position and demonstrate that you are willing to go above and beyond the efforts of others.

At least two of the references that you provide to potential employers need to have first-hand knowledge of your skills, the quality of your work and your work ethic.  Since you don’t have a co-op or internship supervisor, you will need to use references that have a professional relationship with you through experiences such as part-time/temporary work, research, or course projects.  It is best to use references that have a professional title such as supervisor, manager, professor, academic advisor, or organization advisor.  Your references should be eager to help you and have good things to say about you.  Help prepare them by providing a copy of your resume and discussing your strengths and other things that you would like employers to know about you.

Some employers have a challenge filling rewarding positions simply because their facility is located in a rural area, their products are not very glamorous, or they do not have good name recognition.  Their applicant pools are typically small, and therefore, you have a higher probability of being the best candidate for the position.  At the career fair, talk to employers that are not receiving a lot of attention from other job seekers.  Apply for positions in rural areas and consider commuting from a nearby larger city if small town living doesn’t appeal to you.

When an employer can’t hire you for a full-time position because they require some professional work experience or they are just unwilling to take a chance on someone that is untested, ask them to start you in an internship or co-op position.  Use this as an opportunity to make a good impression on the company. Prove your worth as a team member, demonstrate your skills set, and network with as many colleagues as possible. Working hard and completing high-quality work will produce strong references and may lead to an offer of full-time employment.  About fifty percent of entry-level engineering positions are filled through co-op and internship programs.  Even when a company isn’t able to make an offer of full-time employment, your supervisor and/or mentor will likely be willing to serve as a reference and say positive things about your work.  They may even recommend you to their friends and colleagues or write a letter of recommendation that you can show to other employers.