Beating the Odds: First-Year Students Can Secure Co-ops and Internships at the Engineering Career Fair

by Betsy Miller

“No company is ever going to give me an internship; I’m just a freshman.” Such a common misconception. I found that it is absolutely possible, if that freshman is determined, especially with the incredible resources and opportunities to network at Penn State.

I decided about a month in advance that I was going to attend the Engineering Career Fair in pursuit of an internship for the summer of 2015, despite the “odds” being against me. I spent weeks doing research about the employers who would be in attendance, attempting to narrow down the long list to a few who truly captured my interest. Factors such as company type, reputation of internship program, and location played significant roles in my choices, leading to the final eight with whom I spoke when the day arrived.

As a member of the Society of Women Engineers and the Women in Engineering Program, I received excellent advice for preparing myself prior to the Engineering Career Fair. I was given suggestions from upper-class students about the format and content of my resume, as well as useful advice about dressing in formal business attire, giving a 30-second introduction, and carrying out a successful conversation with a company recruiter. My dad also prepared me years in advance by teaching me how to shake a person’s hand. If I could give anyone a piece of advice, it would be to never underestimate the power of a strong handshake.

With all of that knowledge brimming in my head, I made my rounds to my selected employers, trying to be confident and enthusiastic during each interaction. I ended up scoring an interview with GE, one of my top companies, and they have offered me a co-op position with them for this coming fall. I am ecstatic about the opportunity, and I am eager to see what else comes to fruition as I follow up with the other companies through emails and online applications.

For me, the Engineering Career Fair was a success, but even if I did not receive offers, I would have been thankful for the learning experience and chance to network for the first time. The career fairs at Penn State are such unique opportunities that many other colleges do not offer to nearly the same extent, which is why I think it is important for students and employers alike to attend. Penn State’s students, after all, are a great pool of young adults to invest in and hire, and companies should continue to support and recruit them at career fairs because our generation is the future.

Betsy Miller is a first-year aspiring mechanical engineer from Pottstown, PA. She serves as the corporate chair for professional development events in the Society of Women Engineers, as well as a member of Springfield (a THON organization) and Changing Health, Attitudes, and Actions To Recreate Girls, a women’s health and fitness club. Following graduation, Betsy would like to secure a career related to sustainability and design, and she hopes to climb the leadership ladder to become an engineering manager someday. 

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“Competitive” Doesn’t Mean Don’t Try: The career fair for first-year students

by Cayla Castells

From the moment you enter college, rather from the moment you enter “adulthood,” everyone is asking what you want to do with your life. While many students in their late teens struggle with the thought of planning their futures, I was fortunate enough to have a plan. From previous experiences, I knew that I wanted to work for General Electric. I had a plan, but then I was faced with the means of carrying out that plan. I talked about working for GE to several of my friends, all of which had the same answer: “Go out there and do your best but try not to get your hopes up.” Every person hinted at the idea of competition and how in the real world, there was not a spot for everyone. I took this as a challenge and despite the negative response I received from my peers, I decided to try anyway. For all those experienced with job hunting in college, the obvious next step was the career fair.

Before heading to the Engineering Career Fair, I did a lot of homework. I looked on the website to see which companies would be attending. I asked Cheryl Knobloch, Women in Engineering Program (WEP) director, numerous questions and even reached out to some alumni about their experiences. My Women in Engineering Program Orientation mentors were able to give me helpful advice regarding everything from handshakes and appropriate attire to questions to ask the recruiters. Each piece of advice was vital in the success of my trip to the career fair.

Following my plan, I only approached the GE Transportation booth and spoke with the recruiter for several minutes. I highlighted aspects of my resume I wanted her to notice and asked her questions about the positions GE offered for freshman candidates. The conversation went smoothly and quickly led into a discussion about interviews the following day. I left the career fair knowing that I had used all the advice given to me and succeeded.

My trip resulted in an interview and an offer for a position, but not everyone can have the same experience. The important thing to note is that the experience at the career fair itself is more than enough. Starting to network as soon as possible is the key to becoming an expert at career fairs and ultimately getting a job. The more times someone attends, the more successful they will be. Most companies do not accept freshman applicants but that did not stop me from attending and it should not stop anyone else. Even if the odds are stacked against you, doing your homework and showing a genuine interest and knowledge about a company shows a lot. This extra piece of effort ultimately stood out to my recruiter, rewarding me with an interview and a position.

Cayla Castells is a first-year engineering student majoring in mechanical engineering. A native of Downingtown, PA, she is a member of the engineering sorority Phi Sigma Rho, the secretary of the acapella group Sorenity Row, and is active within WEP. Cayla hopes to take her technical skills to sales and work as either a sales engineer or in management.

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