Just how bad is the engineering job market? Recruiter Ben Liebstein gives his view from the trenches—and it's not as dire as some people might think.
What type of recruiting do you do? Our firm specializes in recruitment of design and development mechanical engineers, which make up about 90% of our placements, and electrical engineers the other 10%. The industries we focus on produce hard goods, like appliances and automobiles.
Last year many recruiting firms had their worst year ever. Are things looking up at all? Actually, we're having our best year ever this year. I don't really see any industry that is particularly hot these days, there just seems to be a steady need for design and development engineers in general. I think what's happening is that companies are realizing they cut too far back on their engineering staffs in 2002 and need to do some rehiring.
How long is it taking for engineers to find jobs? Generally, it's taking about five to ten weeks for an engineer to land a job. A lot of folks think if they get caught in a downsizing that it's the end of the world. And of course there's always some horror story out there about an engineer who has been out of a work for a year. But generally speaking when you talk with an engineer who has been out of work that long there are reasons that goes deeper than a bad economy. For example, an engineer who is unwilling to relocate is going to limit the number of opportunities.
We hear GM gets something like 750,000 unsolicited resumes a year. How can an engineer make his/her resume stand out? Engineers need to make sure that their resume actually describes the type of products that they have worked on and their specific areas of technical expertise, so that the person reviewing the resume can immediately get a pretty good idea of their accomplishments. You'd be surprised how many engineers fail to put even that kind of basic information into a resume. They also should talk about any kind of project or innovation that they have been involved with that had an impact on the bottom line. Hiring companies are always looking for job candidates who can come up with innovations that will help them save money or be first at something in the market.
What's happening with engineering salaries? Paychecks for engineers increased over the last 4 to 5 years, particularly during the tech boom of the late 1990s. But salaries are now tending to remain steady, particularly over the last year or so. The good news is that we are not seeing engineering salaries going backward, though it is certainly more of a buyer's market than a seller's market today.
What's your prediction for the next six months? I think the job outlook for engineers will remain pretty steady for the foreseeable future. It's not going to be as robust as it was several years ago, when a job candidate would start interviewing and get offers in two weeks. But recognize that companies are always looking for good candidates, and that there are not as many qualified candidates for a position as you might think.