What's Next?

Like Bennett and completely unlike Jessi and Ellen, I find myself in the possession of a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from Olin College, yet lacking gainful employment.

Angela with her diploma

When I applied to Olin, I was told that Olin gives its students all the skills that industry desires from engineers--that Olin engineers are multidimensional, well-rounded, and, above all, desired. However, I've noticed a certain lack of job postings for entry-level interdisciplinary engineers capable of quickly learning and adapting to a variety of problems. Instead, I find myself struggling to fit my skills and experiences into the molds prescribed by today's job postings.

I have a few job leads, but nothing very firm, and I can't help but feel a sort of despair. I have been conscientiously searching for and applying to jobs since October, and thus far I have been completely unsuccessful.

Yes, I've had interviews. Yes, I've even had interview coaching. My resume has been critiqued, edited, re-critiqued, re-edited. I've been personally recommended for several jobs (the few for which I've been interviewed--and subsequently rejected). I have a fabulous GPA, loads of project experience, tons of extracurriculars, heaps of leadership positions, and I've had an internship every summer since arriving at Olin. Not only that, but I've held a job every semester at Olin since the beginning of my sophomore year. I know I'm bright, talented, hard-working, and responsible. Working in a team? No problem. Communication skills? Check. But, I must wonder, what does it all matter if nobody in my geographic region of choice will believe me, or even give me a chance?

Not that I'm wallowing in self-pity. I'm pretty convinced that somebody, somewhere, someday will hire me. But will it be for a job that I find fulfilling, interesting, and challenging? Will I be able to actually use what Olin has taught me? Or will it be for a position with a laundry list of required computing skills? Or, heaven forbid, flipping burgers*?

Perhaps Seattle is an extreme example, but many companies seem to be looking for either senior-level employees ("proven track record of ___ required" and "must have at least 10 years experience in ___") or code monkeys ("Java, JavaScript, XHTML, CSS, AJAX, SQL..."). Even most of the programming positions require years of "proven" experience. These positions are safe. People with a proven track record of success in industry and easily verifiable computing skills are a conservative bet for a company to take. Recent engineering graduates--especially those from a new, small, little-known college some 3,000 miles away--are not safe, are not conservative, and, in this economy, may not be worth the risk.

To be fair, many of my classmates have found gainful employment. I suspect that if Olin had a stronger network in Seattle I might have more luck. At this point I'm simply going to have to get better at selling myself, and selling Olin as well.

What could all of this possibly mean for you? You may judge for yourself, but I suggest the following: Olin may be an accredited institution, but if you think that people will recognize the name Olin wherever you go and understand all its implications, you're probably wrong. Do I regret going to Olin? No. Did going to Olin make certain things--finding a job, for example--more difficult for me? I'm guessing yes.

I must note, however, that the issues of Olin being a small and new school with only a handful of alumni and a somewhat nonstandard curriculum are only compounded by the fact that I chose a make-your-own major that requires a lot of explanation. Additionally, I've realized that I'm more interested in user-centric design than I am in engineering, thanks to Olin's fantastic design curriculum; it's a bit more difficult to fit an engineering degree into the mold of a design position without a lot of professional experience. Moreover, I've so far limited myself to a single geographic location, and, of course, have just graduated into a huge economic recession. In short, I'm a bit of a special case. Not all Olin graduates have had or will have as much difficulty getting a job. Nevertheless, my experiences are not completely unique, and as you might one day find yourself in a similar situation, I hope you will consider the issues at hand.

When I accepted my offer of admission to Olin, I knew--or, more accurately, guessed--what I was getting into. When I applied, Olin wasn't an accredited academic institution. It didn't even have a full four classes. I knew Olin would be a risk. Today, Olin is certainly more well-established than it was four years ago. But don't think you wouldn't be taking a risk in attending Olin, too. Olin is still risky--and in constantly striving to be innovative, it (hopefully) always will be. If you're excited to take that risk with Olin, best of luck.



*I have been a vegetarian for approximately thirteen years.

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