By Aliya Kassam, MEng ’20 (ME)Advice from an MEng alum on how to maximize your job search and build your network — starting from within the program. Looking for a job can be a daunting task. But it can be made easier if you know your end goal and the steps in between. Here, I’ve compiled some takeaways and tips from my experience searching, networking, and interviewing. In particular, I have three separate areas of the job-searching process that I would like to cover.
 Getting started — Networking and making use of LinkedIn
 Informational interviews
 Interviews: Behavioral + Technical
Getting started — Networking and making use of LinkedInIt’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do right away, but it’s important to narrow down the industries you would like to work in. Here are two ways I approached this:
Seek local and in-person resourcesBefore applying to jobs, find people who you can talk to in-person first. Networking is really what helped me find what types of roles and companies I wanted. I focused on on-campus resources, Jacobs Institute specialists, and professors. People that helped me in particular were Professor Kosa Goucher-Lambert, Professor Purin Phanichphant, Gary Gin from Jacobs Institute, and Sara Cinnamon, a Jacobs industry specialist.
Make use of online platformsAnother good place to start your search is LinkedIn, a wonderful resource that is full of surprises. Early in the MEng program, make sure that your LinkedIn and Fung Institute Connect profiles are solid. The Fung Institute career development team hosts sessions to help with this. On LinkedIn, you can see people who hold positions similar to what you’d like. Take a look at their skills on their profile, and figure out what you might need to add to your own or what you already have that can take you closer to this kind of work. Be curious — send messages to people who do something that interests you to show that interest. Other great online resources are Handshake and Glassdoor. Here’s an example of how I usually start a conversation with an online connection: “ Hi [name], I hope you are doing well. I’m a current Masters in [field] student at UC Berkeley. I’m really interested in working at [company]. Would you mind sharing your experience working there? Best, Aliya.”
Informational interviewsOnce, you’ve narrowed down the industry you’re interested in and made connections with professionals in that area, schedule a few informational interviews.
Set up your interview and prepare the right mindsetWhenever you can, always try to meet with people in-person. If you aren’t able to meet in-person, request a phone call. It’s often much quicker than writing and you get a better feel for their personality. Conduct some pre-research on the person that you are going to talk to: What do they do? Where did they go to school? Tailor your questions to the information you find. A very important point to note during those encounters is that you are not going there to ask for a job. This is very important. You should refrain from asking for a job at this stage. The goal is to learn more about the individual you are meeting — what they do and where they work. Try not to talk about yourself or show your resume unless they ask for it. However, you should start by giving a quick introduction about yourself so that they can adjust the information they share to be most helpful to you. Keep an open mind — you never know what might happen. Often, people might invite you to meet them at their headquarters, which is always a fun experience in itself. Once, I drove down all the way from Berkeley, CA to Mountain View, CA just for an informational interview. Even though it did not lead to a job opportunity at the moment, it was still a good experience and practice. The person I met turned out to be a solid contact and mentor.
Prepare your questions in advanceMake sure you have a set of job-related questions prepared, but also team and management-related questions. These will give you a good sense of how it is to work at the interviewee’s company, and will also make you appear as a well-rounded individual. Here are some of the things I like to ask during informational interviews:
- Can you tell me more about your professional and educational journey? This last one is by far the question I’ve enjoyed asking the most and learned the most from. People tend to love sharing about themselves. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot. Follow up questions may include: Is there something you wished you had spent more time on at school? Tell me about your daily routine. What do you like most about your job?
- Can you share more about your industry, company, and team? If you are targeting a company, this is your chance to get an insider’s opinion, not just what you can learn from an embellished website. Follow up questions may include: Can you tell me about team dynamics? What is your company culture like? What do you think of your CEO? What constitutes a good candidate in this industry? (I got this one from bootcamp class “Engineer Ethics.” One of the best classes, by the way.) Try to get specific here. For instance, if the website says that the company fosters a “collaborative environment,” ask about how this environment is ensured and encouraged, and if it actually exists! If the website says “creative environment” or other buzz words, you may ask: How is this creativity fostered? How do you avoid mental sets?
- Insight into handling specific situations. I ask questions based on some case studies from bootcamp that cover teaming, ethics, communications to gain an idea of what their approach would be to some situations.
Be attentive and let the conversation flowPay attention to red flags — things that go against your values and what you got from your prior research. Sometimes you’ll really feel that you don’t want to work at a company just by talking to some of their employees. Once, I asked something along the lines of “How do you address communication issues?” The interviewee replied that they don’t have communication issues in his team because he only hires people capable of communicating well. To me, that was a huge red flag. There will always be communication problems and the lack of these can also be a sign of a disengaged or toxic team. Additionally, make sure that you aren’t just going through your list of questions, one after the other. Familiarize yourself with them ahead of time and bring relevant ones up as the conversion flows. Try to make the conversation organic and ask follow-up questions. During the conversation, take good notes. They may come in handy when later you write a cover letter. You’ll get a feel of the values and the work environment of the company in this interview and can then explain how you are a good fit and what you can contribute.
Stay in touch after the interviewAlways thank your interviewee for their time and send an email later on to thank them once again and reiterate a point mentioned that you found interesting. I highly suggest keeping track of companies you are interested in and contacting multiple people who work there for informational interviews. Of course, don’t expect everyone to answer and don’t get offended if they don’t. Make sure you keep in touch with people you were able to talk to and felt a good connection with. This is not to ask for a job, but so you can let them know if something they told you was helpful or if you end up finding a job. This way, they will also keep you in the back of their minds if an opportunity comes up. (Ideally, try to stay in contact with some of them even after you find a job). Below is an example of how I kept track of my job search on Excel. I use 11 criteria: Company name, Deadline, Location, Job Title, Link, Number of people contacted, Contact (People who I actually spoke to), Applied (Y/N), Date applied, Status (Pending, Phone interview, no answer, rejected, technical interview…).
Interviews: Behavioral + TechnicalSo now you got a real interview! Here are my tips for making the most of this opportunity.
Do your research on the company and the position you are interviewing for.You can and should ask by email what type of interview to expect (technical or behavioral), if there’s anything you should prepare for, and the dress code. It goes without saying, but make sure you research the company before going to an interview. You should know the job description very well and how your skills match what they are seeking. I actually was asked once, “What are the most important skills for a mechanical engineer?” My interviewer expected a very thorough answer mentioning safety awareness and compliance, technical skills, iterative approach to design, communication, viability, commercial awareness, reliability, testing, etc. A lot of what employers expect is in the job description — but personalize your answer and show your values. Some great resources to find questions and specifics about companies:
- Company website
- LinkedIn Learning
- Glassdoor: There are so many questions to prep with here. Even if they are not from the particular company you have an interview with, they give you a good idea of what to expect for the type of position you are going for.
Prepare for the common interview questions.One thing that helped me is starting a question bank with some behavioral and technical questions I was asked during some interviews, to help me practice. Feel free to message me for access to it; I’d love to grow it together! Here are some examples of questions I’ve been asked before:
- What is your greatest strength? What is your greatest weakness? (Has to be an actual weakness, not a strength that you turn into a weakness. Show what you have done and are doing to improve.)
- Why do you want to be a [insert job title]?
- How would you describe a technical engineering problem to a non-engineering audience?
- Describe a time when you had to deal with uncooperative teammates and what you did.
- Where do you see yourself five years from now?
- Describe a high-pressure situation.
- What do we do? Why do you want to work here? (You’ll have to do good research on the specifics of what they do for this answer to stand out. Always mention both how you and the company will benefit. )
Have questions ready that you want to ask.Being prepared for questions that you are going to be asked is essential but preparing good questions to ask yourself is almost as essential. Don’t forget you are also seeking a good fit on your end, so use this opportunity to learn about the company, the culture, and get an insider’s point-of-view if you haven’t already. Make sure you ask specific questions to show your interest and that you did some research. Here are some broad example of questions to ask. Tailor these to the specific company and pick your top five. They probably won’t give you more than 10-15 minutes for questions.
- What is the biggest challenge you foresee in the next few years? (This shows you’re in for the long run too.)
- What is your favorite thing about working at this company? (Yes, you can ask some of the same questions as you would during an informational interview.)
- If I am successful in the interview process, what will be my first assignment?
- How is communication handled between teams if there is any overlap? How big are the teams?
- How do you encourage innovation and avoid getting stuck in a solution that has worked in the past?
- Have you ever faced any ethical dilemmas at the company? How were they handled?
- If you looked at the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile and saw that they’ve been at the company for a long time, ask them why they stayed. If they recently joined, ask what made them join.
If you’re giving a presentation, tailor it to your audience and end on a unique note.If you are asked to give a presentation as part of your interview or application, know your audience. Will you be presenting to engineers? Board members? HR? Tailor your presentation to them. Be authentic, be unique and show that you tackle technical issues and different stakeholders. Finish in an interesting and unique way. It could be by saying why you want to work there, or something about you that they wouldn’t know — I have ended presentations on pictures of projects or unexpected skills to incite questions. I also always mention psychological safety and explain how important it is. It’s something you should definitely look up, know about, and mention in interviews even if it’s not directly tied to the topic of the presentation. Here is a good TED talk about it.
After the interview, reach out and show your interest again.At the end of the interview, in-person or on the call, thank the interviewer for their time and say that you are really interested in the position and that you are looking forward to hear back from them. Otherwise, they might not know that you are actually interested! Also, email everyone you talked to during the interview process to thank them and mention something specific that you enjoyed talking about. I hope that these tips can help you maximize your job search and networking experience. Lastly, I also want to encourage you to go to the events that the MEng career development team holds — even if some of the information might seem redundant — and make sure you always take a step back after these seminars to reflect on what parts were helpful, the pieces you should implement, and how. A very important final note is that peers in the MEng program are also part of your future network and support system. Every person you meet becomes part of your network, so it’s important to always be respectful, considerate and curious, in classes, during projects, and during social activities. You’ll learn some wonderful stories too!
About the AuthorAliya Kassam, MEng ’20 (ME / Product Design) is currently working as a Mechanical Engineer at Applied Materials. She’s always open to a good chat! Connect with Aliya.
Alumni advice: How to maximize your job search was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.