How to Network as an Engineering Student
Updated: Jan 16
Congratulations! You've made the decision to go down the path of earning an engineering degree that will likely set you up for a rewarding career.
Your family is proud.
I am proud.
But you have no connections in the field except your hand full of study mates.
Back the Statics truck up!!
If you want to land an awesome job upon graduating -- and I mean awesome, not, “hey I got lucky and ABC Engineering up the road offered me a gig.” -- I mean interesting, fulfilling work on a great team… chances are you need to develop some sort of network in your field in advance of walking across the stage.
If you have target companies, you will improve your chances of landing an interview and a job offer if you take the time to develop a network to help you get there. It would definitely benefit to have a more senior level person interested in helping you in your career and willing to advocate on your behalf.
But how do you find those people?
The prospect of finding people and building the network can seem overwhelming, especially to students busy trying to pass their junior and senior level engineering courses while working and prepping for the FE.
Engineers are often stereotyped as awkward introverts; I'll let you be the judge of how much truth there is to that for you. If introversion is part of what makes you *you, this may make it seem more difficult to find those important people to connect with.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or intimidated, try this for a moment:
Imagine that you have been practicing as an engineer for 10+ years.
OK, can you see yourself?
You have a good position with interesting, challenging responsibilities and you’ve completed quite a bit of fulfilling work in your career so far. You probably have some lessons learned that you would love to share with some younger engineers.
There are many professionals out there now who would love the opportunity to give back to younger engineers. You just have to find them and ask.
Here are several ways you can find engineering professionals and get the ball rolling…
Professional Organizations - What organizations can you get involved with locally at the professional level (versus just the student chapter)? Is there a local ASCE, AIChE or ASME group? Find out what groups are around and active and either join or sign up for their email list to learn about upcoming events.
Luncheons - If there is a local chapter of an organization related to your profession, chances are they host some type monthly or quarterly luncheon. If you’re having trouble getting the ball rolling, start by finding out if there is a state or local engineering society. In Florida, we have the Florida Engineering Society; there is a local group and their events are attended by a spectrum of engineers. If you don't meet someone in your discipline at an event, you'll definitely meet someone who knows others and can help you begin making some connections.
Networking Socials - Professional organizations may also host networking socials. If you don't mind hanging out with professionals when they're winding down for the day and having a drink, these types of events are a great place to kick off your networking endeavor.
Conferences - I understand conferences can be an expensive investment, but they can also yield big payoffs. Here are some ways you might be able to reduce the cost burden of conference attendance:
Volunteering - This is an excellent way to meet a variety of people. There are two ways to look at this, and I'll illustrate with an example from my experience... There is a large, industrial company in my area (let's call them Julie's Widget Manufacturer) that hires many engineers, and also hires consulting engineers for various projects. It is important and beneficial for Julie's Widget Manufacturer to be viewed as (1) active in the local community and (2) environmentally friendly. Switch back over to a student view now - there is a local organization that does valuable projects like habitat restoration and beach cleanups. In doing volunteer work for them, I've run into people who just so happen to work on "both sides of the fence" for Julie's Widget Manufacturer. Doing this while still in school allowed me to network within that company, but also to network with potential consulting employers. This is a total win because as a consultant, it is a huge benefit to walk in the door with connections to potential clients.
Formal Mentoring Programs - The local chapter or national level of the professional engineering organization you're involved with might have some type of formal mentorship program. As an example, the American Society of Civil Engineers facilitates an e-mentorship program where you can connect with volunteer mentors anywhere in the country; read more about that here.
(Suggested by Nick Tooker of Boston) There may be opportunities to work/volunteer in a professor's laboratory as an undergraduate or graduate student. After working on a project, you can take your experience/results present at a conference. Conferences are often looking for student presenters, particular for poster presentations on research.
If you are interested in an entrepreneurial path, try your local Chamber of Commerce to find their upcoming activities. You may be able to find a business leadership program or business mentorship program through them.
Those are just several of the ways. Do you have a technique that you would recommend to others? Share it with us in the comments or send it to me directly to add to the list.
Wishing you networking success!