Gaining Experience

There are many types of experiences that can benefit you professionally – internships, co-op, volunteer work, independent projects – the list goes on. The number of opportunities available to technical students may seem overwhelming, but if you start small, like volunteering or attending an employer information session, you can eventually build confidence in applying to internships and jobs. This section will be most applicable to internships, co-ops, and the job search but can be adapted for other types of opportunities. 

College Recruitment Timeline

Once you graduate and are out working, the average job search takes 3-4 months, so you usually don’t start applying until you’re almost ready to leave your current job. You do, however, spend a decent amount of time reaching out to your network before then. When it comes to college recruitment, it works a little bit differently, especially for the private and government sectors. For summer opportunities (both internships and full-time), this is what a typical recruiter’s timeline looks like:  

  • August-September: begin posting positions on their company website, Handshake, LinkedIn, etc.  
  • September-October: heavily recruit students by attending on-campus events, like career fairs, information sessions, site visits, etc. and begin to screen qualified applicants 
  • October-December: continue to interview qualified candidates and send out offers 
  • January-February: start the recruitment cycle over again if they still need candidates or new positions open up 
  • February-June: interview and send out offers 

As you can see, it’s not impossible to secure an internship or job in the spring semester, but it is highly advantageous to start the process in the fall. It’s even more important if the type of opportunity you’re applying to involves working for the government, since clearances take a while to process.   

Application Process

Since the application process starts so early in the year, it’s important to be prepared. Check out the other pages within Career Resources for tips on resumes, interviews, and more.  

When it comes to applying, most students apply to what they are seeing online or randomly hearing about through friends, professors, etc. This approach comes at a major disadvantage even though it’s the most natural one – chances are if you saw the posting, hundreds if not thousands of other students saw it too. Without any inside knowledge of the company, you could use to tailor your application materials or list a referral, it will most likely take 120+ applications to result in 3 interviews and 1 offer. Double that if you’re an international student, since not every company sponsors.  

Company First Approach

While it takes more time initially to conduct a company first approach, it can be highly effective in obtaining a position now, as well as in the future due to the research you do and the connections you build. There is a great article that outlines this approach in more detail here.   

Essentially, you want to do the following steps: 

  1. Reflect on the type of company you’d like to work for (industry, setting, location, size, mission, etc.) and the work you’d like to do. If you’re stuck, schedule a meeting with your SCI Career Consultant and revisit the Career Exploration & Planning page
  2. Create a spreadsheet to track notes and any progress you’ve made with companies of interest (applied for a job, interviewed, spoke with someone, etc.) 
  3. Research companies with your set criteria using resources like Buzzfile, Handshake, and LinkedIn, as well as specialty sites on this handout 
  4. Peruse job boards, not necessarily to apply, but to better understand the types of work you’d like to do and to research the skills typically required of them  
  5. Set up job alerts on Handshake, as well as on company websites, so you’re not constantly checking them for openings  
  6. Begin requesting informational interviews via LinkedIn or Pitt Commons and/or attend relevant employer information sessions and site visits hosted by the university to not only learn more about the company, but the types of talent they need for various roles 
  7. When you go to apply to an opening, tailor your resume and cover letter to the type of role and the company – list a referral on the application and cover letter if you have one 
  8. Follow up on applications you’ve submitted within 2-3 weeks by emailing a connection you’ve made or by using Handshake’s employer directory and LinkedIn  

Sometimes during this approach, you realize what you don’t want to do, which can be just as enlightening. Keep in mind this is not your last job, but only what you want to do in the next couple of years or in the case of an internship or co-op, a semester or two.  

Market Value

It can be weird to think of yourself as a product going to the market, but essentially that’s what it is since you’re competing with many other qualified candidates. The true competitive edge is being able to effectively explain what you can bring to a company and why you are a good fit in the easiest to understand terms. This should be reflected in tailored resumes, cover letters, and in how you interview. If you want to do something extra, you can create a portfolio site on your own or for free through Adobe Creative Cloud software the university has purchased for students. The way you represent yourself will carry over into the offer process as well – check out tips for researching and negotiating salaries here and keep in mind you should always negotiate.