Finding your first engineering job in mobile communications

Finding your first job after completing your engineering degree can be challenging. In mobile communications or any other industry, if you don’t already have a network of people, things can potentially take a little longer for you. But there is absolutely nothing to worry about because many of us go through the same journey when we start our careers.

As a general rule, to find your first engineering job in mobile communications, start your search when your degree starts to understand the job market. Stay close to your teachers during the degree to find placement and thesis opportunities, apply for graduate schemes, and not dismiss any prospects.

What exactly is the mobile communications industry?

The wider telecom industry consists of a range of sub-industries that allow customers to get services like fixed telephone, mobile phone (cell phones), internet, TV and other communication services. At a very high level, there are three sub-industries within the telecom industry: fixed network (telephone), mobile communications, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

While the TV services can generally be considered a separate sub-industry, we can expect an ISP or a telephone company sometimes also to offer TV services. Similarly, you can also expect a specialised TV services company to provide internet and phone services.

The term “telco” is often used in the telecom industry, which means a telephone company or telecommunications operator. Telcos are communication service providers (CSPs) that offer fixed and mobile telephone services.

In today’s world, a telco can provide mobile phones, fixed telephones, and internet services. Moreover, in many countries, telecom services are converging, which means many mobile operators are also offering fixed phones, and many fixed phone providers are also offering cellular services.

Another inter-related technology is Unified Communications or Unified Comms (UC), mainly for the B2B world (Business to Business), which combines fixed, mobile, and data communication services. The world we live in is becoming more and more mobile-centric, with over 8 billion mobile subscriptions globally.

The two fundamental types of companies within mobile communications are mobile network operators (e.g. Vodafone, T-Mobile etc.) and mobile network vendors (Ericsson, Huawei etc.). In between these two, some other players provide platforms or systems that can work within a mobile network.

A mobile operator can be divided into two categories: Mobile Network Operator (MNO) and Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). A mobile network operator owns an entire mobile network, whereas an MVNO piggybacks on the radio and potentially other network components of an MNO.

If you are new to mobile communications, have a look at my dedicated post on the basics of mobile communications. If you are already familiar with mobile communications as an industry but not sure about MNO and MVNOs, look at this post on the differences between an MNO and MVNO.

How specific should you be in your job search?

Eventually, most professionals reach a point in their career when a specific job function or industry defines their profile. For example, some people work in Finance as a job function but are willing to work in any industry. On the other hand, some people are willing to work in various job functions, e.g. technical sales, DevOps etc. but want to stay in the same industry.

Have a look at the diagram below to see how the mix between job function and industry works. There is no right or wrong approach, and you can be as specific or generic as you like in your job search.

If you have no experience and your degree is generic (e.g. BE or BSc in Electrical or Electronics Engineering), it may be better to be more flexible. However, if you have some experience in an industry (e.g. mobile networks) or a specialised degree (e.g. MSc in Wireless Communications), you may be in a position to be more specific in your job search.

Finding your first engineering job: Job function vs Industry focus in your job search
—Finding your first job: Job function vs Industry focus in your job search—

Generally, when you finish your bachelor’s degree in engineering, you may be more generic in your search, i.e. any job in any industry (Quadrant A in the diagram). However, as you progress through your career or do a specialisation (e.g. MSc or MS), you may start becoming more specific either from a job function perspective or industry perspective.

Being more specific at the start of your career can limit the number of job opportunities for you, but it can give you a better focus. For example, suppose you limit yourself to mobile communications (Quadrants C and D). In that case, your job interviews with telcos are more likely to succeed, but you may be limited to mobile operators and vendors only.

On the other hand, if you are initially open to any jobs in any industry (Quadrant A), you may find many more opportunities, but you will need to work much harder to prepare for each job interview. For example, one day, you may be learning about OFDMA in 4G LTE networks, while the next day, you may have to dive into SD-WAN.

Your job search starts when you start your degree

Let’s take a step back and talk about the timing of your job search. For most people, the job search starts when they finish their degree, but there is something fundamentally wrong with that approach. The job market never stops, and it’s not reliant on the timing of your degree.

Your first job search should ideally take place even before starting your degree. You can do that either on your own or with someone more experienced to gauge the market demand before choosing which degree you want to pursue.

Once you get a feel for the market by conducting a few job searches, you may have more information when deciding which degree to choose. The market demand can also help you determine which courses to focus more on during your degree.

So a helpful approach is first to get a feel for the job market and then do some reverse engineering to make a plan of action for how you want to progress with your studies at the university.

For example, when I started my MSc in “Communications and Signal Processing”, I aspired to work in the mobile communications industry, specifically with the radio network optimisation of mobile networks. In the diagram above, I was in Quadrant D (specific job function and industry), which is not ideal when you lack experience, but it does give you a much sharper focus.

I started looking and applying for a few occasional RF engineering jobs in mobile communications as soon as my MSc programme began. I had no direct work experience in RF engineering, but the job searches allowed me to understand the job market by speaking with recruiters and hiring managers.

The job searches allowed me to learn which subjects and areas (e.g. digital signal processing, antenna propagation, link budgets etc.) were more likely to help me in my job search. It also allowed me to identify gaps, i.e. topics needed for the job but not part of my degree programme.

Knowing your high-priority subjects and identifying the gaps earlier makes it easier to focus on the key areas and fill the gaps by doing additional studies.

Your thesis is your license to enter the industry

One of the most critical components of your degree programme is the dissertation or thesis. The thesis is your first opportunity to enter the industry as it gives you the license to work as a student within a company and gain valuable industry experience.

As an additional benefit, a thesis allows you to add a few valuable bullet points on your CV (resume) that genuinely represent work experience. Relevant industry experience can help you transition from student life into professional life. I have written a dedicated post on how to select a thesis topic in wireless communications.

It is vital that you don’t take the thesis lightly because writing a thesis on a topic not aligned with your career goals is a missed opportunity. Your ideal scenario is to find a thesis topic that allows you to work with a mobile operator or vendor in the mobile communications world.

By doing that, all your research work can be fully reusable and relevant for any mobile communications jobs you apply for in the future. Also, it allows you to start building your professional network by meeting the people in your industry and making a good impression through your hard work.

Prioritise degree programmes that include work placements

While this may not apply to all degree programmes, some universities have work placements to help students transition smoothly from student life to professional careers. Work placements are even better than dissertations as they usually last for a bit longer and give you a better chance to find employment within the company offering work placements.

The first and most crucial step is to find degree programmes, often MSc programmes, that include work placement opportunities. When you start your degree, you need to be active because there can be some competition with other students in terms of your grades. It is also a good idea to stay in the good books of your relevant professors/instructors.

Look for graduate schemes and fast-track programmes

Your thesis and work placements are great options to get into the mobile communications industry during your degree programme. However, if you cannot secure those, graduate schemes and fast-track programmes can be valuable tools for approaching telcos based on your qualifications after finishing your degree.

Many mobile operators, network vendors and companies in the wider telecom industry work with academic institutions like engineering universities and business schools to find qualified professionals. However, not every institute that teaches mobile communications necessarily works with telecom companies.

If your university does not have links with telecom companies like mobile operators and vendors, you will need to go the extra mile to build those relationships on your own. You may find these programmes directly through your desired company’s job site or other dedicated job portals.

While there are many job portals out there, LinkedIn is one of the most effective sources. One advice is to contact the recruiters after your application rather than just hoping for the best. Internet is too easy, and every job gets a large volume of applications, so if you don’t contact them, your application may never even get seen.

Many large companies have fast-track programmes for graduates from top universities. These programmes allow graduates to spend a few months in different roles within the company to get an all-around experience. Generally, though, these programmes are for MBA graduates and require some past work experience (e.g. 1-2 years).

Create a compelling CV that is customised for each job

While it is easy to think that a CV is mostly about your job experiences, your academic background plays a crucial role in defining your profile. There are many roles where a degree qualification is a pre-requisite.

It also depends on the country where you are applying. For example, it is not uncommon in northern Europe to see MSc or MS as the minimum requirement for some roles. But once you reach a certain level in your career, it is mainly the job experience that defines your profile, and everything else, arguably, is just a tick in the box.

A good CV tells the employer why they should hire you for a particular role. It is like a screening process that allows employers to decide which candidates to invite to the interview. For candidates, a CV is like a sales pitch where they answer the “why me” question to stand out from the crowd.

If you are someone who completed their bachelor’s degree, it is likely that you may not have much or any experience. In that case, your CV can include any academic subjects relevant that may be relevant to the job in question. Your thesis can play a crucial role, and you can mention that alongside any university projects or placements to show that you possess the necessary industry knowledge.

It is a good idea to have a two-page CV covering your core skills, academic qualifications, professional courses, and experiences. You don’t want to write your entire life history, but you have to sell yourself, which requires a nicely articulated CV. It is helpful to use any easily available CV template so that you don’t have to spend unnecessary time on the formatting.

There is a learning curve when you start applying for jobs, so it is sensible to take your time. A good practice, in the beginning, is to read the job description thoroughly and then re-write your understanding of the job requirements.

You can use the requirements section of the job description to assess your CV against what the employer wants. If you see any gaps, think of any examples from your past academic or professional experiences that can help fill those gaps.

The gap analyses of your CV will allow you to continuously update it according to the requirements for each job rather than using the same CV for all job applications.

Follow Your Instincts

The final advice is not to get intimidated by the job description, no matter how complex it looks. Like a CV, job descriptions also follow specific standards and templates in many cases.

So if you see a job opportunity that you like and feel that you can do the job, apply for it even if you don’t meet all the requirements. You should not dismiss an opportunity just because you don’t meet 100% of the requirements.

If an employer lists ten (10) different requirements for a particular job, there is no guarantee that they will find someone who meets all the requirements. Therefore, you should go with your instincts, and if you feel you can do the job, you have nothing to lose by applying.

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