Preparing for a Career Year by Year

Getting a job after graduation is not the only goal of a college education and should not crowd out all else. Nonetheless a career takes intentional preparation. For example if you wanted to pursue a career in engineering and wanted to do so after a four year BS in Engineering/Physics, what would an employer look for? Your calling card is the resume you hand him or her. What experiences have you had that has prepared you other than classwork? Did you do an internship? What skills do you have? Have you made personal or professional contacts so that someone you know at the company will hand in your resume and recommend you? So back up and ask yourself, how do you get that internship that is important? How do you build a resume to gain the internship? The goal of this plan is to have you start early to be the best prepared you can be.

First Year: The transition from high school to college

Here you are mostly getting used to college life, figuring out your major and how to study. Courses are way harder than high school. This is not the year for resume building but some activities may end up on your resume. Actions include:

  • Get good grades, maintain your merit scholarship.
  • Coursework: since science is sequential it is important to get started right away with calculus and general physics.
  • Network with classmates for study groups, homework, etc.
  • Get to know the faculty, let them get to know you. (a) take advantage of office hours and informal meeting opportunities (b) there are no stupid questions
  • Figure out if physics, engineering or something else is your destiny. Talk to your advisor about the different tracks and opportunities in each field.
  • Keep ears open for any family friends, acquaintances in science or engineering that could help down the road to get an internship or job experience.
  • Consider service work (e.g. Potter’s Clay). Besides demonstrating a caring heart, the work itself may be relevant (e.g. building a house)
  • Summer: Work for a technology or engineering company, even in a non-technical position just to get your foot in the door.
  • Also summer: consider taking a skills course (like CAD, or software) to begin having items for your resume.
Second Year: Building a resume

If you are still pursuing engineering or physics, it is time to gain skills and experience that will populate a resume beyond classes and a good GPA.

  • Get good grades.
  • Consider being a grader or teaching assistant or lab assistant for a first year course you excelled in.
  • Consider volunteer work in the community: example: judging school science fairs, doing demos in the schools, assisting an “Odyssey of the Mind” club in a school.
  • Get involved with the Keck Observatory and open viewings
  • Learn how to use the observatory technical equipment so you can do things like variable star measurements.
  • Tutoring either college freshmen or high school students
  • If considering off campus program (Europe Semester, Urban Program, etc.) plan for it in your schedule to cover your General Education credits
  • Decide between pure physics and engineering/physics
  • Consider applying for scholarships and awards (e.g. Engineers Week Scholarship, APS Minority Scholarship, etc.)-discuss with your advisor
  • Put together an initial resume. Get help from Career Development & Calling.
  • Summer: Take skills courses (CAD?) or GE courses that would lighten your load during the school year.
  • Summer: Try to get a career related job or internship
  • Apply early in summer for a school year internship starting in the fall semester (maybe 10-12 hours a week for which you can get academic credit).
Third Year: The year of Internship/research

If there is a most important year in college, this is it. No grades matter more and there is no better time to get an internship. If you are pursuing the 3:2 program, applications are due, if you are pursuing physics you need to gain research experience either here or at a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program somewhere else.

  • Take your course work seriously and get good grades. For 3:2 or grad school or jobs, doing poorly now will not be overlooked (as might be true for 1st year courses) or not seen (as senior courses).
  • Update your resume. It may not have an internship on it yet but it should have a list of skills and experiences.
  • Meet with Jennifer Taylor to get ideas on internships.
  • A fall internship should be procured during the prior summer and a spring internship should be applied for no later than early November
  • A summer internship should be pursued no later than February
  • 3:2 Applications need to be sent out in November for the UC/State College system.
  • Summer REU’s applications need to be sent out in January or February.
  • Community service work is still valuable
  • Make a list of every engineer or scientist you know and make sure they know you exist and are interested in them.
  • Figure out what Westmont Engineering/Physics Alums live near your home or near Santa Barbara. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee and ask them about their career path. Send a thank you note for the time.
  • Learn about and join LinkedIn
  • Figure out what career you want.
  • Do an internship: fall, spring, or summer. Every experience will enhance your preparedness for post-college employment.
  • Make sure you did a good job on your internship
  • If you are planning on grad school begin preparing for the GRE’s
Fourth Year: Getting into grad school or lining up your job after graduation
  • If going to grad school, put together your case for getting in. The things you’ve accomplished the last three years (GPA, experiences, skills) come together now. Take the GRE’s in the summer/fall.
  • Determine who will write letters of recommendation for you and ask them if they are willing.
  • Determine whether you can or want to work for where you interned after graduation and explore opportunities.
  • Used LinkedIn to find opportunities. e.g. where are Westmont alums employed, what jobs are open.
  • Identify every connection you have to deliver your resume into decision makers hands at the various employment opportunities.
  • By February you should identify employment opportunities-the number of choices will vary but do not limit yourself to one.
  • Also in February, start sending out resumes.