Student FAQ

Q - I want to go to graduate school. Where should I apply?

A - What do you want to do when you finish graduate school?

  • If you want to work in fuel cell technology for the CIA, contact the alumni associations for schools you will consider and ask them how many people they have in fuel cell technology at the CIA. Then go with the school that does the best job of marketing fuel cell professionals to the CIA.
  • If you don't know what you want, pick a school with the best reputation that you can get into.

Q - What are the typical work environments?

A - In the remarks below regarding sector characteristics we've listed some general work environment characteristics. Please keep in mind that your co-workers, your immediate supervisor, and the state of the business strongly influence the actual daily work environment. All the organizations have internal politics.

  1. What are the common characteristics of the manufacturing sector?
    • Anything that disrupts product delivery interrupts revenue.
    • Expect a lot of pressure for economical design and fast project completion.
    • Mistakes are allowed but you do have to make more revenue than you lose.
    • For those considering product development (sometimes misnamed R&D in this sector), be aware that sometimes, new products are promised to customers before they have been developed.
    • Production management takes a lot of work but is usually the track to upper management if your decisions are sound (and the path to burn-out if they are not).

  2. What are the common characteristics of the service sector?
    • This is a lot like manufacturing except the product is engineering. Expect to be under pressure to meet deadlines. If you don't want to do the same thing twice, this is a good sector for you.
    • The companies pay you well for 40 hrs/week and some pay overtime. Some will allow you to work all the extra, unpaid billable hours you want. The companies in this business understand a mistake now and again but most customers do not. Advanced degrees raise billing rates (and salaries) so expect pressure to continue with education.

  3. What are the common characteristics of the not for profit sector?
    • There are a lot of different operations in this sector and some of the positions are quite well paying. The only common theme we have observed is that grants play a significant role in the revenue stream and a significant amount of time is devoted to courting the next grant.
    • Advanced degrees give credibility to the organization so expect an MS to be encouraged if not required with a push for continuing on to PhD.

  4. What are the common characteristics of the academic sector?
    • The old saying of publish or perish applies. Tuition is only a part of the revenue a school receives. Grants to do research that requires a published result is a major source. (Publishing not only validates the research, it is advertising for further grants.)
    • The academic environment can be pleasant, but it takes a PhD to play first string in this game.
    • This is the true research sector.

  5. What are the common characteristics of the government sector?
    • Stable employment so long as agency funding holds out, stable hours and benefits, well defined work scope, and an emphasis of quality over schedule.
    • Mistakes that can affect the public are not taken well.
    • The funds used are public funds so one can expect to be closely scrutinized over spending.

Q - What prejudices exist in the workplace?

A - This is a very hard question to answer fully.

  • Collectively we have seen a marked improvement in the attitudes of companies towards all the targeted discrimination. This is due to efforts by the government and by policies issued and enforced by the companies.
  • We continue to see prejudice exhibited by individuals. We inform corporate authorities when we see it and we hope you will too.
  • There is GPA prejudice in the hiring system that we see industry wide. It runs something like GPA over 3.8 = R&D job, 3.2 < GPA < 3.8 = design job, 2.8 < GPA < 3.2 = production job, GPA < 2.8 = sales job.
  • When you interview, try to understand the way your supervisor-to-be deals with prejudice. We all have prejudice. How the supervisor and candidate each deal with it is important to the relationship. At some point in the interview process you should be introduced to a peer who can give you any inside information.

Q - Why do I have to interview for a job?

A - It is very traditional.

  • Most (in number) business are very small and in those cases it is the owner deciding whom to hire.
  • In big businesses it is also traditional, but doesn't seem very effective in predicting success within the organization. During interviews you only meet a small fraction of those with whom you work.
  • It seems to be part of the human need. Both parties seek a comfort level before the hiring offer is made and accepted.
  • We note that the interview process is absent from military units. Soldiers, sailors, and officers report to their units and all manage to fit in with about the same problems as the civilian work force.

Q - How many interviews do I need?

A - What you need is one good job offer.

  • You can judge if an offer is good or not by comparing it to several other offers (considering the industry and the location).
  • In a good hiring period, the tactic is to get as many interviews as it takes to get several job offers.
  • In a weak hiring period, gratefully take any reasonable offer, ride out the period, and then get a better offer if you can.
  • Stay in school while you look if you have to. Never, ever take a substandard offer. Never flip burgers while looking for a job.

Q - What is the hiring process?

A - It depends.

  1. In a small company, the owner adds employees for relief from a business situation. Many times by word of mouth or local advertisement, candidates meet the owner and talk about what the candidate can do and the value of the work. Offers can be made and accepted very quickly.
  2. In big companies it can be much more tedious. Sometimes it goes like:
    • The hiring manager fills out a requisition that lists the job, job value, education, and experience level desired.
    • The requisition is sent to the Personnel Department. They conduct a search for candidates that meet or exceed requirements.
    • Candidates are found by campus recruiting, resume database, head hunter, or other source.
    • Personnel "screens" candidates from the resume. After a person clears that gate the individual is interviewed by telephone. Except to add another hurdle for a candidate to clear we have not ever seen any value added by this interview.
    • Candidates that clear that hurdle are invited to the facility for the interview. At this time they are interviewed by various personnel to determine how well they fit and allow the candidate the chance to look over the operation.
    • If all goes well, the candidate will be extended an offer by mail.

Q - Is the process effective?

A - We don't think so but we have nothing better to offer.

  • We have seen candidates hired go on to be successful and candidates not hired go on to be successful elsewhere. However, that does not mean that they would have been successful at the first location.
  • We have seen candidates hired be not successful.
  • We have seen people hired and go on to be a success by simply going to the hiring manager and asking for the job.
  • Big companies spend a lot of money to find the "right" candidate but the process and the subsequent success are not as directly related as one would hope.

Q - What is interview day like?

A - You should get a letter explaining it fully. It may be something like:

  • Dinner (an interview) with the hiring manager.
  • Breakfast (an interview) with Personnel.
  • Interview with Personnel.
  • Interview with peer of the hiring manager.
  • Interview with another peer of the hiring manager.
  • Lunch (an interview) with a worker peer.
  • Facility tour (an interview) with a worker peer.
  • Interview and wrap up with the hiring manager.
  • Interview and wrap up with Personnel.
  • Tour of the area with a local realtor.

Q - What are these people looking for?

A - In a big company it could go like this:

  1. Most important:
    • Do you want to work here? Not get a job in this city to be close to a family member or any other goal. Do you want to work here?
    • Will you fit in?

  2. Are you worth the investment? They need to have a mental picture that that in X years (maybe 5 years) you:
    • Will be good chemical engineer.
    • Will learn enough about the other disciplines to make good decisions.
    • Will learn enough about the facility practices to be considered safe.
    • Will learn enough about the company technology to be valuable.
    • Are starting to learn about the business.

  3. It is typical for the hiring manager to plan your interview day. Typically the manager will take a key point in your resume, such as an internship and direct a peer manger to ask you about the work. But as you answer, the peer manager is to try and determine a facet about you such as how you go about solving problems.
  4. The people you talk to know that the hiring process is highly flawed. What they want to know (and have some proof in the way of results) is:
    • Do you want to work for the company, not just any company, this company?
    • Do you want to make the product or conduct the service?
    • Do you want to help make the company a success?
    • Can you be trained in the other engineering disciplines, in the business, and in the technology?
    • Will you fit in with the company culture?

Q - What can I expect in an interview?

A - That is a very hard question. Expect anything. Every person who conducts an interview is basically an amateur interviewer.

Q - What should I watch out for?

A - Nothing. Just do your best. If you have to be defensive you don't want the job. There are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Keep a positive attitude at all times. Everything you say during the visit, including time spent with the realtor, could get back to the hiring manager. Consider the following initial meeting with the hiring supervisor.
    1. Example 1:
      • Q - "Good to meet you. How was your trip?"
      • A - "Fine."

    2. Example 2:
      • Q - "Good to meet you. How was your trip?"
      • A - "The flight was OK. The realtor met me at the airport and took me to the motel. Tom met me for dinner. Ms. Green, the Personnel Manager met me for breakfast.

    3. Example 3:
      • Q - "Good to meet you. How was your trip?"
      • A - "The flight was good. The realtor, Mrs. Jones, met me at the airport, gave me a brief tour of the area, and took me to the motel. The area is really beautiful this time of year. Tom met me for dinner. We went to The Outback Steakhouse and had a fine meal. Tom told me a bit about the location. He sounds very exited to work here. Then I had a great night's sleep, saw an impressive sunrise over the valley, and had breakfast with Ms. Green, the Personnel Manager. I am really looking forward to the day.

    If Example 3 can be said honestly, even though it sounds a bit much, shows you want to be here and even more importantly, takes the edge off the opening statement.

  2. Listen to what is said during the day, especially the first statement made when you meet an interviewer. Listen well. Each of these opening remarks tells you a lot about the real corporate culture and corporate values.
    1. Example 1. These people hold the organization (and place within the organization) highly:
      • "We're glad you made it here safely. Let me tell you a little bit about the company. Our CEO is Tom Brown..."

    2. Example 2. These folks are company business all the way:

      • "We're glad you made it here safely. We are really busy here so we need to get started. I see you took Art Appreciation. Why did you take a course like that?"

    3. Example 3. One of these rare companies that have concern for the individual:
    4. "We're glad you made it here safely. We are really busy here so we need to get started. Your predecessor, Mary, took advantage of our educational benefits and completed her MBA. She informed us of her interest in an opening at the Division level for a professional with her skills. We agreed with her and Division agreed with her. She left last week for her new career."

  3. Show interest in the plaques on the wall with company values and maybe ask for one or two of them to be explained. But remember they are hung on the wall because they are objectives to be met. On the other hand, if a value is not listed, it is hard to tell if the corporate culture is perfect in that aspect or so bad the bosses don't even have a clue that there is a problem.

Q - I have several offers. How do I choose?

A - The same way as the company.

  • Do you want to work for this company?
  • Do you want to make the product or conduct the service?
  • Do you want to help make the company a success?
  • Will you fit in with the company culture?
  • Did the work place feel nurturing or critical? Do you feel comfortable there?
  • The pay and benefit package has to be "right". Your next pay level, either with this company or another, will be offered as a percentage over the current one. Start as high as you can.

Q - I don't have any offers! Now what?

A - Keep sending resume's and keep trying.

  • If it looks like a long haul, enroll in graduate school.
  • Never, ever, ever, flip burgers while you are looking.

There are six or so billion people on the face of the planet. You can't give up just because a small fraction of the population did not see a good fit.

Q - Which is better, a big company or a small company?

A - Neither one is better but they are different.

  • Keep in mind that most of the USA workforce is employed by small businesses. Most small businesses are closely knit. Most small businesses will let you do a wide variety of things if you are successful. A small business wants you to use your skills. But the focus will be on the business and the success of the business.
  • On the other hand a lot of chemical engineers are involved in the manufacture of commodity chemicals from big businesses. In a big business the focus will be on doing your job as part of a team. The business will be run from the corporate offices. The only down side we have seen in big business is when a company starts to equate a person's position in the organization to value in society and proximity to God.

Q - How do I write a resume?

A - Account for your professional (only) time since high school.

  • What you say has to be truthful. Concentrate on relevant issues and success as it relates to engineering. Point out "engineering" things that make you stand out from the crowd. If you have a hobby welding, say so. If you worked to provide 80% of your education expenses, say so.
  • There are a lot of books on the market and a few of them are good for engineers. In addition there are internet sites that will help you make a professional looking one. We have seem some good work posted on

Q - How do I prepare for an interview?

A - Practice! Practice! Practice!

  • Set up a video camera and rehearse with a fellow student. Then look at the tape and see if the candidate is impressive.
  • Ask for help at the local AIChE chapter.
  • Ask for help at the local NSPE chapter.

Q - What should I ask in an interview?

A - You can ask anything relevant to the position, typically:

  • Why is this job open? Is this a new position? If not, where is the previous worker?
  • Who will be my supervisor? Who will be my peers?
  • What is the business organization?
  • How is success measured?
  • What is expected of me?

The topic of the interview is the open job at hand and how well you fit in. The people conducting the interviews think the business and the job are very important. You only have a few hours to make a good impression so stay on topic and act like you think the job is very important too.

Q - What do I not ask in an interview?

A - Don't ask anything that detracts from your employability.

  1. Don't try to negotiate anything during an interview.
  2. Don't make yourself look lazy by asking anything you should have found out by research before the interview. Interview busters include:
    • What does the company make?
    • How much vacation do I get?
  3. Don't ask anything stupid like "How are the schools?". The schools are good enough for the children of the people conducting the interview. If they are not, finding better schools is a problem for you to solve, not them. (They are hiring you to solve problems. Remember?)

Q - So how do I find out about the schools?

A - If schools or fishing is important enough to affect your hiring decision, you should have found this out before you interviewed. If you just have to ask:

  • Ask a peer worker what they do for fun, where they enrolled their kids, and why.
  • Ask the realtor.
  • While you are at it, you might ask the realtor how many people are interviewing for this position.

Q - When will I get a raise?

A - In a small company, when they think you have earned it and they can afford it. In a big company, maybe after 6 months.

Q - What is this PE thing?

A - Engineering is a regulated profession such as medicine or law. Engineers that qualify are allowed to perform engineering for the public.

  • The guy that designed the last bridge or highway overpass you drove over was a registered engineer and probably a civil engineer.
  • You can obtain the exact requirements from the state you want to register in. It can be any state but usually people pick their work state, education state, or home state.
  • Certification involves passing a two day exam and performing engineering under a registered professional for a number of years. The usual process is to graduate and take the Fundamentals Exam (first one day exam) right away. If you pass you are now an Engineer in Training (EIT) and you begin your internship under the supervision of a PE.
  • When you have sufficient experience, you take the Principles Exam (second one day exam) and become certified PE.
  • Obtaining certification is important if you (ever in your life) want to go into private practice, work for an engineering company, or work for any government agency.
  • The only downside to registration is that you need to keep records of every project you ever work on. As an EIT you need to record who supervised your work and as a PE you need to record who you supervise.
  • If you do forensic work or get called as an expert witness, you will need to demonstrate competence in detail.