What Employers Look for in Engineers

Thanks to Boise Startup Week, we were able to join Nick Crabbs at a workshop on what to look for in development jobs as a recent engineer graduate, as well as best practices pre-, during-, and post-interview.

Nick is a partner at Vynyl, a full-service software design and development agency, and has been building software and engineering teams for the last ten years. The audience was made up of primarily recent engineering grads, therefore the tips he shared were geared towards those who haven't had much experience searching for engineer roles. 

Things you absolutely need to know before you start the job search:

  • You don’t ever stop learning - appreciate that. Embrace the quest of learning.
  • Github is an absolute must-have! You should be able to show your projects, not just talk about it. 
  • Show PASSION for your projects and work – don't just talk about the fact that you built something cool. Did you do something risky? Was it elegant? Did it work? 
  • Lastly, you may not think it, but LinkedIn matters. Employers stalk your profile before deciding to interview you. 
  • Plot a path before beginning your search. What kind of technology do you picture yourself working on? What kind of team do you want to be on? Without a path, you'll just be wandering aimlessly.
  • Ask yourself what problems you want to solve.
  • Start targeting 3 companies you want to apply for per week. Be strategic about who you choose; make sure that they are the type of company that will align with your goals. 

What kind of company should you work for? Startup, medium-size, or large? 

In a startup, you'll likely be very close to the founder, have more control, you are heavily relied upon, and are considered a key member of the team. Startups are much riskier in terms of job stability and pay. You also can expect to take on other roles and wear different hats.

In a medium-sized company, still possible to get face time with the founder or senior management, although not always a guarantee. Typically companies of this size go out of their way to pimp out their culture – it's how they attract talent and differentiate themselves. You can expect that this is a less risky environment, but you can still expect to work on different things. A technically diverse skill set will still be appreciated in a mid-sized company.

You'll find the most stability in a big company. Just be prepared for slow growth, slow product development, and getting highly specialized in one thing. Of course there are exceptions, but most companies have these characteristics. 

Tips for when you're ready to apply for jobs:

  • Always write a cover letter. Keep it short and sweet, and highlight accomplishments or projects you're proud of. Don't tell us about your dogs, or random personal stories that have no relevance. 
  • AVOID soft skills in both your cover letter and resume! They are just fillers of fluff.
  • Keep in mind employers have to sort through hundreds of resumes – think about what will make yours stand out! Get to the point. 
  • You shouldn't have a resume longer than one page (unless you have 20 years of experience.)

The interview:

  • Be ready for casual chit chat, it may come up!
  • Bring your laptop and be prepared (and offer) to share your Github and/or other personal projects
  • Show passion! Employers won't hire someone who doesn't get excited about what they'll be doing on a daily basis.
  • Ask questions! Asking about things like development methodologies, tools used, agile, and who your manager will be are all great talking points. It's best to have several ready to go before you show up.
  • Do NOT ask about money. It's not the right time. You should wait until you have an offer in hand. More on that later.

Get an offer? 

  • If you have an offer, ask to go back on campus. That will give you an opportunity to assess the space, meet your manager, and make other observations that can help you determine if it's a good fit. 
  • Keep your eyes out for the chairs. Yes, the chairs. You can tell so much about the company & it's engineering culture based on the comfort level of the chairs. If they look uncomfortable, think about the fact that you'll be spending a majority of your time in those chairs. 
  • If the office is awesome, great. But know that you're being sold! Think about the technology, stack, team. Don't let your decision be swayed by cool decor.
  • On the offer: if it's not what you were expecting, don’t accept or decline immediately. Acknowledge receiving their offer and tell them you will review it. Then think strategically about your goals and where you want to be. That can help you decide if the offer is a good one or not.
  • If you intend to ask for more money, don't ask for something completely outlandish. Be reasonable. The conversation is approached best when you say that you're happy with the offer, but would be much happier with "x" amount. They respect that. 

We appreciate Nick for sharing all of his advice with college students that are entering the world of engineering.

My personal piece of advice for any fresh engineering candidates... You should know that there are many more considerations during this process; we've barely skimmed the surface. One big takeaway here that you need to understand: you're SELLING yourself. Put yourself in the shoes of the target audience, the hiring manager. What are the things you'd want to hear if you were him or her? What's your value proposition or your elevator pitch?

Although you're an engineer, you'll have to apply principles from your Marketing 101 classes in order to really stand out from hundreds of candidates. How can you capture your audience's attention in 7 seconds or less? 

We wish you luck on your job search! Happy hunting.

Roumena Kratchunova