Many students come into technical fields convinced that finding a job once they are done will be straightforward and easy. For most, it is not. Some may claim these job search difficulties are because of a stereotypical lack of “soft skills” and limited social skills attributed to scientists and engineers. However, such claims do not fully explain why many have difficulty finding employment. Often, technical job seekers fall prey to several myths about STEM hiring, especially when they are new to the job market. Others have not yet built up the courage to leave their comfort zone and use these myths an excuse not to. Here are the four most common myths about the finding a technical job and why they are not true.
Myth 1: All you have to do is visit job boards and apply online
The advice many students receive from recruiters at career fairs and career services offices is that if a job is posted online, the student is wise to put together a resume and cover letter and apply right away. What they do not tell students are the low odds of getting that job. In fact, on average 250 applications are submitted between when job is posted online and when it is filled. Assuming all 250 candidates have an equal chance, this means the odds of an applicant getting the job are only 0.4%. Furthermore, company “careers” webpages are often outdated, meaning the job postings they advertise may already be filled according to careerealism.com.
Some companies have policies that obligate them post all new job openings online. Many other companies only post job openings online after the hiring manager or recruiters determine they cannot find someone from inside the company or whom they know personally to fill it. Even after a job is posted, someone who the hiring manager knows, or who is referred to them from someone else they trust, is given stronger consideration then a stranger who applies online.
Myth 2: It’s a numbers game
Even though the odds of finding a job online may be low, many job seekers feel that they may improve their odds of getting any job by applying to as many as they can. Applying to more jobs online at large companies is like buying additional lottery tickets with the intention of increasing one’s chances of winning. Regardless of how many tickets one buys, the chances of winning the lottery are still low. The same is true with filling out many online job applications. There have been many stories of job seekers who apply to over 200, maybe even as many to 500 or 600 jobs, and still have no offers.
The reality is that job seeking is not purely a numbers game and job boards should not be exclusively relied on by job seekers to identify openings.
Myth 3: There is a widespread STEM shortage
There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Cherry-picked data is often used to claim there is a widespread “STEM shortage” for political gain even if only a handful of specialized technical fields have a shortage of workers. One report I read categorized both electronics engineers and sociologists as STEM. The economics that drive employment in one field are entirely different than those of the other. If one field experiences a serious shortage of qualified workers, and another has as an oversupply, analysis of each together will not accurately describe the conditions of both. An excellent and still relevant article on this was published by the Atlantic. In fact, there are more STEM graduates then there are jobs available.
Furthermore, the workforce demands of any field can vary geographically. For example, semiconductor companies in upstate New York and Idaho may be having tremendous difficulty finding enough people to fill their jobs while others in the Silicon Valley may not. Just because several face a shortage does not mean that every company in all “STEM” fields cannot find people fast enough.
Students pursuing engineering or any other STEM degrees are best advised to do their own research and determine if there are jobs that match their skills in areas which they want to live in.
Myth 4: That jobs will come to you
Too often I have observed engineers and technicians get cocky about their technical skills and achievements, then overconfidently assume that they will have no difficulty finding employment. To some, job hunting is for losers who are not good enough to get noticed. Once they join the job market, reality sets in and there appears not to be anyone in their network who can help.
If there is a supposedly widespread STEM shortage, then why can’t a job seeking engineer or technician kick back and let the jobs come to them? Unfortunately, chances are this will not happen. Instead a job seeking engineer or technician must be proactive and seek out potential employers. The best way to be considered for a job is through referral to a hiring manager (or anyone else who makes a decision as to who gets in). The best way to eventually obtain a referral is to grow and maintain a network by going out and meeting people. This is not something that only those supposed losers who do not have what it takes to get noticed must do. In fact, it is often not what a job seeker knows that gets them an employer’s consideration but who they know.
The reason many engineers, technicians, or other STEM professionals struggle to find jobs is not always that they have bad people skills or are generally inadequate. Instead, many I have interacted with have bought into one of the above myths, and adjusted their job search accordingly. Several unsuccessful attempts later, they were still on the job market. The best way to find technical jobs is to be connected to someone who is hiring. Creating these connections is called networking.
If you are looking for technical employment at the time you read this post, do not make the mistake of believing these myths. Instead, get outside of your comfort zone, and go meet people. Good luck in your job search!