How to find your first engineering job in telecom?

When you complete your bachelor’s or master’s degree from an engineering university, it feels wonderful for at least a few weeks or even months. However, as soon as you step into the job market, it dawns on you that the real journey has just begun. For many, completing a degree also starts a bit of competition, especially if one of your close friends lands a job at a renowned company while you are still busy with your job hunt. Before you know it, you end up in conversations where everyone is asking you about your progress with the job search and soon comes the point when you start avoiding people to dodge the question. If this sounds familiar to you, don’t worry, you are not alone. Finding your first job after completing your engineering degree can be challenging. If you don’t already have a network of people in your relevant industry, things can potentially take a little longer for you. But there is absolutely nothing to worry about because many of us go through precisely this process when we start our careers. This post will look at the job search challenges for beginners in the telecom industry and ways to overcome them.

As a general rule, to find your first telecom engineering job, start your search when your professional degree starts to understand the job market. During the degree, stay close to your teachers to find placement and thesis opportunities. Apply for graduate schemes and do not dismiss any prospects.

What exactly is the telecom industry?

The telecom industry is vast, and it comprises a range of sub-industries and technologies 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 to also offer TV services. Similarly, you can also expect a specialised TV services company to provide internet and phone services.

You are likely to hear the term “Telco” in the telecom industry, which can often cause confusion as to what it represents. Telco means a telephone company or telecommunications operator. Telcos can be communication service providers (CSP) that offer fixed and mobile telephone services. In today’s world, a telco can provide mobile phones, fixed telephones, and internet services. 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, 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. We have a dedicated post on mobile telecommunications if you want to learn more.

How specific should you be?

The first question you need to answer for yourself is how specific you want to be when you start your job search. Eventually, most professionals reach a point in their career when something specific defines them. Essentially, it is a mix between the job function and the industry focus that 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 help you visualise this concept. When you finish your bachelor’s degree in engineering, you are generally open to any jobs, i.e. Quadrant A in the diagram. However, as you progress through your career or do a specialisation (e.g. MSc or MS), you may find a specific position either in the industry or in the job function (B, C or D). There is no right or wrong approach here because it all depends on what you want to do in your career. Being more specific at the start can potentially limit the number of job opportunities for you, but it can give you a better focus, e.g. if you have good knowledge of telecom specific subjects, you are likely to have good interviews for telecom jobs. On the other hand, if you are flexible initially, you may have more opportunities, but you may have to work harder to prepare for the job interviews.

Job function vs Industry focus

No work Experience – The chicken and egg situation

The most challenging part of finding your first job is the fact that you have no work experience. The trouble with experience is that you struggle to find your first job because you have no experience, but to get any experience, you first need a job. So it is a chicken and egg situation that can be stressful and hard to get out of. What can also be discouraging is that some employers think that their time is somehow more valuable than yours since you have no work experience. So they feel no hesitation in inviting you to a job interview just to tell you a day later that they won’t be proceeding with your application because you lack experience. In those situations, you have to feel sorry for the employer that they have such incompetent people as interviewers who have full access to a candidate’s CV before the interview, and yet they have to personally meet the candidate to comprehend what “fresh graduate” actually means. The silver lining here is that every interview, unsuccessful or successful, helps you learn something new. You also have to remember that there will be good and bad days with the interviews, so focus on the learning and try not to dwell on it too much. The beginning phase is more about learning, so if you have a bad interview one day, try to move on quickly because unsuccessful interviews are a crucial part of the learning process.

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 need to find a job, 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. If it were, every graduate would get a job right after completing their degree, and I would not have to spend my time writing this post. So your first job search should ideally take place even before you start your degree. You should do that to gauge the market demand, which can help you spend your university days focusing on areas with higher market demand. I must admit that this can be hard, especially if you are doing your bachelor’s degree because everything is so new at that time. However, when doing your master’s degree (MSc or MS), which is a specialisation, you are more mature and have a better idea of how you want to shape your career. So a good 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 plan your studies at the university. Let me give you an example to make this clearer.

When I started my MSc in telecommunications, I aspired to work in the mobile communications industry, specifically in the radio network optimisation department of a mobile operator or vendor. Looking at the diagram above, I was in Quadrant D (specific job function and industry), which is not ideal for everyone but gives a sharp focus. So I started looking and applying for a few occasional RF engineering jobs in mobile communications as soon as I commenced my MSc programme. I had no work experience in RF engineering, but the job searches allowed me to speak to recruiters and hiring managers to understand the job market better. That helped me learn what subjects and topics (e.g. digital signal processing, antenna propagation, link budgets etc.) were high-priority subjects for my job market. It also enabled me to realise that my MSc programme was not covering mobile communications in as much depth as I required for the jobs I was after. By identifying that earlier, I was able to do something about that gap by utilising my summer holidays to self-study radio network engineering through some books I borrowed from the university library. I would not have known about that gap if it weren’t for those job searches and recruiter calls.

Your thesis is your license to get some experience

One of the most important things that many students often overlook is the thesis (dissertation). Your thesis is your first opportunity to get a feel for the industry and experience professional life before starting your career. Moreover, it allows you to put something on your CV that genuinely falls into the category of “relevant work experience”, which, as we know, is the biggest challenge for any fresh graduate. If you are in the process of planning your thesis, make sure to check out this dedicated post on how to choose thesis topics in the telecom industry.

What you don’t want to end up doing is to write your thesis on a topic that is not aligned with your career objectives and the job market. Think about it like this; if you want to get into the mobile communications industry, your ideal scenario is to find a thesis at a mobile operator. By doing that, all your research work can be fully reusable and relevant for any mobile communications jobs you apply for in the future. But, more importantly, it allows you to start building your professional network by meeting the people in your desired industry. That can be your opportunity to make a mark and impress them through your hard work and knowledge. You don’t have to be “Albert Einstein” to impress them; all you need is to make yourself and your work visible to the right people.

Graduate schemes and fast-track programmes

While the thesis is one great way to get into the industry, it is not the only option if you can’t find yourself a perfect dissertation topic. As has been the case for many generations, telecom and other engineering companies look for people with relevant qualifications. Many companies work together with universities to run graduate schemes to find qualified individuals. However, not every university may work with the kind of companies you want, and in some cases, you may not find any help at all from your university. In those cases, your best option is to apply directly through the websites of the companies you are interested in and also through the job portals. One piece of advice is to call the recruiters rather than just applying online and hoping for the best. Internet is too easy, and every job gets a large volume of applications, so if you don’t call, your application may never even get seen. Also, while calling the recruiter may improve your chances, it does not guarantee that your application will necessarily go ahead. In 2021/22, one of your best options for finding jobs is LinkedIn.

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).

Work placements

Graduate schemes and apprenticeships are the things you do after completing your degree. But some universities work with companies to find you a work placement during your degree. For that to work in your favour, you have to be active in your university by staying in close contact with the professors/teachers to let them know that you are actively looking for a placement opportunity. The other piece of advice is to check with the university before you start your degree as to whether they do placements or not. That can help you choose the right university for your career.

How to create a CV if you have no experience?

While it is easy to think that the CV is mostly about your job experiences, your academic background plays a crucial role in defining your profile. There are many roles where a bachelor’s or master’s or even PhD degrees are pre-requisites. 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 when 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 is one that 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, it is like a sales pitch where they can answer the “why me” question whilst following any of the standard CV formats. If you are someone who completed their bachelor’s degree, it is likely that you may not have much/any experience. In that case, the CV can include any academic subjects relevant to a job you are applying for. Your thesis also plays a key role, and you can use that and any other university projects or placements to show that you have some industry knowledge/experience. If you have a master’s degree, you can use the same approach if you have no work experience. However, if you are one of those lucky ones who managed to do their thesis at a company or if you have some experience, make sure to take full advantage of that on your CV. To be clear, you don’t want to write your entire life history on your CV, so use a standard template that you can easily find for free if you do a simple Google search.

When you start applying for jobs, there is a learning curve, 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 requirements. You can then use that information to assess your CV quickly. If you see any gaps, think of any examples from your past academic or professional experiences that can help fill those gaps. This gap analysis will allow you to make necessary updates to your CV according to the requirements for each job rather than using the same CV for all job applications.

Follow your Instincts

The final piece of 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 has listed ten different requirements for a particular job, there is no guarantee that they will find someone who meets all the requirements. You should go with your instincts, and if you feel you can do the job, you have nothing to lose by applying.

Conclusion

In summary, when looking for your first job in the telecommunications industry (telecoms), follow the principles below:

  1. Start the job search when you start your degree to get an understanding of the telecoms job market.
  2. Use your thesis as a way to gain valuable industry experience and to build your professional network.
  3. During your degree, stay in contact with relevant professors/teachers to be aware of any placement opportunities.
  4. Look out for graduate schemes at the websites of the companies you are interested in and on job sites.
  5. Do not dismiss any job opportunities just because you don’t meet 100% of the requirements.

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