Career Flow & Frequently Asked Questions
- I am new to the job search and have no idea where to start. What should I do?
- What is “networking” and how do I do it?
- What is a “job-search agent” and how do I create one?
- I don’t have a resume, or I have one but I need help with it. What should I do?
- I want to work in software, but I have no work experience and my academic background is in physics and/or hardware. What should I do, or where do I start?
- What should I consider when looking for a job/internship?
- When should I start looking for a job/internship?
- I struggled academically my first semester. Does GPA matter when trying to get a job/internship?
- Should I put my GPA on my resume?
- I am an international student. What is the earliest I can work on campus?
- I am an international student. What is the earliest I can work off campus?
- What is CPT?
- What is OPT?
- I have applied to many internships/jobs, but I have not heard back from any of them. What should I do?
- Where do Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering graduates work, and in what type of positions?
- Do EE/CE students intern? Where?
- Where do MS EE or CompE graduates pursue a PHD, and in what field?
- How much money do MS EE and CompE graduates make?
- I want to work in hardware, but I have been told there aren’t as many relevant jobs here in New York, or the northeast in general. Should I move to California?
- Is LinkedIn important for networking and finding employment?
- I need help with my English! Where do I start?
- I am an international student and was told that I need to have completed two consecutive semesters here before I can qualify for CPT and intern, but I am only in my first semester and would really like to do an internship. What are my options? What if I intern “for free,” so that I am not paid?
First things first – start strong academically. It’s a fact of life that, at your age and station in life, GPA matters. Simply put, your numerically calculated academic performance – in more cases than not – will make it easier for you to get noticed, be interviewed, and get hired, particularly at the top-tier firms that many Columbia grads pursue.
To start, you can review the EE Careers Page here and the Center for Career Education here. You can also make an appointment to speak with EE Student Career Officers by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brainstorm. Regardless of your work experience, or lack thereof, you need to think about and reflect on what kind of career you are genuinely interested in pursuing before writing a resume or cover letter, since both of these documents should be targeted toward your specific industry. So…
Do some research! Talk to the EE Student Career Officers, the CCE, your faculty, as well as alumni from Columbia University and from your undergraduate institution. Explore your field here. Then see what opportunities are out there.
Network! Outside of performing well academically, this is probably the most important thing you can do during your time at Columbia. See here and question number 2 below for more information. In short, since most jobs are obtained not through simply applying online, but by knowing someone, you need to build strategic relationships both on AND off campus. And get ready for the Columbia Graduate Career Fair, and the Engineering Career Fair.
Start looking for positions – even if you’re not ready to apply – create a profile, and save specific job searches (“Job search agents”) using some of the links here.
Review an example list of EE companies and industries here, and sample companies and job titles here.
See where Columbia EE and CE graduates have found employment here, or where they intern here. Note: These links are accessed through the CarEEr Wiki using your UNI. You will need to get a password from email@example.com in order to open the PDF files.
Explore this PDF of jobs (companies and position titles) that have come through the EE department, alphabetized by employer, over the 2014-2015, 2016 academic year and published in the Wiki. Each company is hyperlinked to that company’s careers page, so you can easily explore. Most job descriptions can be accessed as well, though some will require membership to the Wiki.
Create or update your LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, and Email Address. Make sure you have a profile picture on LinkedIn, but DO NOT use your visa photo. Also, make sure you are using the U.S. version of LinkedIn (as opposed to the Chinese version, for example); if in doubt, look at the URL in your browser – if there is a “.cn” anywhere, you are using the Chinese version. For your Email Address: I recommend using your Columbia.edu account – but, if you are routing your personal account from another country to your Columbia.edu account, please ensure you have updated your language settings. For example, if you have a personal account in China that is connected to your Columbia account, your name will appear in Chinese characters to the person receiving/viewing your email.
Create/revise your resume and cover letter. See here for more information. Once you have your resume, make sure you submit it to the EE Resume Book that is created for and distributed to companies each semester, and organized according to area of interest and graduation date.
Get some experience. Get involved on campus or off campus. See off campus examples here, on campus student organizations here (IEEE, SWE) and departmental positions here.
Get organized. Get ready to network on and off campus. Make sure you know which employers are coming to campus and when here. For resources off campus, see here.
- Target your resume and cover letter and apply! Then, follow up with your network – this is where building a network pays off…ideally, you want to be able to follow up with a contact (e.g., an EE alumnus) who works at the company you just applied to. Be sure to also follow up with recruiters and HR folks – they’re busy people and receive literally hundreds and hundreds of applications. Reasonable persistence (not stalking) will often pay off in the end.
Networking, simply put, is building relationships that – in terms of your career – you can later leverage. It is, indeed, work. It is also a two-way process, meaning that, for others to help you, you have to find a way to contribute to their life as well. Roughly 75% of jobs in the United States are obtained through the “back door” – that is, you meet someone at an on-campus lecture, an informational interview, a career fair, a Meetup.com networking event, through LinkedIn, an alumni dinner, at an art gallery, or a music concert who knows someone who knows someone who can flag your application. The most successful job searches combine online research and applications with live, in-person networking. The more you get out there and network and meet people, the more likely you are to find someone who works at a company you have already applied to or would like to apply to – that person can become your referral. That referral, however, is based on a relationship. This is important - we tend to help people we know; no one is comfortable making a referral if he or she does not know the person requesting a referral; after all, that person’s reputation is at stake. That’s why networking is something you do when you don’t need a job – because it takes time to build relationships, build trust, and establish rapport. Networking is not something you start doing when you need a job – it’s too late by then. “Networking” is often misunderstood because people usually think of it as something that is done quickly with immediate returns, which is not the case. Think of networking more as “making friends,” which takes time and is a long-term investment.
Yes, networking is work and you have to get out there and meet new people, but most students don’t consider the network they already have. To mention a few – your classmates are part of your network, as are your professors, parents, friends, friends of friends, friends of your parents, spiritual communities you may be a part of, your bowling or dart league, and above all, alumni.
Let’s start there, and take LinkedIn as an example. Let’s say you graduated from Tsinghua University and are now an MSEE student at Columbia. Follow the “find alumni” feature on LinkedIn, filter for Tsinghua University (or whatever your undergraduate institution was), then filter for those living in New York City. The result – 2,326 Tsinghua University alumni living in the City. All of these people – not just those working in Engineering (which you can also filter for) – are part of your network. Same with Columbia Alumni. Your task is to research these alumni and then “connect” with those who are most relevant for you through LinkedIn. For example, you find Wang Cai is a hardware engineer at Google, which would be your dream job. When asked “How do you know Wang?” you select “Classmate.” Then, before sending the connection request, add a personal message – this is crucial, and will more likely to result in them accepting your request, at which point you can see their email address: “Hi Wang – I am also a TU alumnus currently pursuing a Master’s degree at Columbia University here in NYC, and would love to connect.” Your ultimate goal is to (1) set up a meeting with Wang in his office or over a cup of coffee, or (2) set up a phone call. What is the purpose of that meeting, you might ask, or what should I say in that phone call? These types of meetings and conversations are often referred to as “Informational Interviews.” This is your chance to express genuine interest in what they do and where they work, and interview them: How did you end up in X company? I noticed you studied software but work in hardware – why did you switch? What’s the difference in culture between Google and your previous company? What was the hardest adjustment you had to make moving to New York? What do like most about being a Site Reliability Engineer? What do you like least? What courses helped you get X position?
Notice how none of these questions were, “Do you have any internships or jobs?” These conversations have two goals: (1) to learn about X field, X company, X culture, X job; and (2) to build a relationship. You now have someone “on the inside.” You will have chemistry with some, you won’t with others; that is just the nature of human relationships. Just as you will learn more from some than from others. Aim to have 2-3 of these informational interviews per month – they are invaluable to your learning experience, network building, and job search success.
There are many on-campus networking opportunities. For example, you can see all the upcoming campus career-related events here. However, New York is one of the largest, most cosmopolitan cities on the planet, so get “out there” and see what it has to offer. Students often don’t get beyond their small circle of acquaintances and social groups on campus, but this is limiting your professional connections and opportunities. See examples of ways to network in the city here.
A job search agent allows you to input criteria into a job-search database and save that information; then, you can enable that system (LionShare, LinkedIn, etc.) to notify you daily, weekly, or monthly of new jobs that match your search – so you don’t have to keep logging back in and re-searching the same thing every day. Let’s take LinkedIn as an example: open the “jobs” page on LinkedIn and – in the very top search bar – type in “signal processing internships.” The list will be quite large. Then, on the left-hand side, create more filters – for example, “New York City.” Next, look at the top-right-hand-side of the page and you’ll see “save search” – click it. Type in a name for this particular search, for example: “SP Internships NYC.” LinkedIn will then send you an email with new positions as frequently as you enable it to. You can set up another search just for California or Texas, or change the type of search overall, to “software engineering internships” for example. For a LinkedIn example, see here. For LionShare, see here. You can create several “agents” using a variety of resources. Since you will start receiving quite a few emails on a regular basis, create a folder in your LionMail account for storage of each.
Next, create an Excel jobs database. When you see a job or company of interest, copy and paste the name, job title, application deadlines, and any contact information into your Excel sheet. For example, see here. This is just an example; be sure to tailor it to your preferences.
First, review resume guidelines and examples here. To set up an appointment to review your resume, you can contact the EE Student Career Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: To maximize appointment time, you are required to send your resume to the EE Student Career Officers at least one day before your resume review appointment.
- Take project-based courses in EE or CS that allow you to gain experience with Big Data, Algorithms, Data Structures, programming languages, Machine Learning, NLP, distributed systems, and/or computer networks.
- There are opportunities to develop software experience outside of internships or CS classes. Compete in one of many Hackathons in NYC (and check out Hackster.io), or throw your hat in the ring on these real-world-based Mindsumo challenges (many with prizes – see examples here). Target the vibrant startup sphere in NYC and see where you can make a contribution. Join the Entrepreneurship club, attend CBS events and locate Columbia business students in need of software and app developers.
- Subscribe to Gary’s Guide and Wakefield. At the top right, enter your email address and hit “subscribe.” Explore sites such as First Mark Elite.
- Learn on your own through Coursera, Khanacademy, Youtube, CodeAcademy, CareerCup, Open Daylight Project
- Join these Meetups
- Develop code – any code – and start contributing: Github, StackOverFlow
- Any projects you start and/or complete, any competitions you compete in – regardless of size or scope, or whether you “win” or not – should go on your resume.
Each person has a different path – replete with a varying set of preferences, strengths, and challenges – to an internship or job. The better question is not “How do I find an internship” but “What do I want to do?” The answer here depends on your interests and passions (yes, as cliché as these sound, your interests and passions are incredibly important!) – there are hundreds, even thousands of jobs in your field, but the real question is what type of work and what type of environment motivates and engages you? And this is what companies want to know – why them!! You can easily find many jobs in iOS development, or hardware verification, but do you want to be a developer or verification engineer for a sports company (ESPN), an automobile manufacturer (Tesla Motors), an internet giant (Google), space exploration outfit (SpaceX), travel corporation (Expedia), gaming and entertainment leader (Sony), clean energy maker (Safari Energy), medical device company (Epic), bio-tech firm, 3D printing (MakerBot) or fashion startup (Fab)? Are you drawn towards serious environments, fun-hip work cultures, American-owned firms, Asian-owned enterprises, giant corporations with well-defined professional parameters, startup atmospheres with less structure? A job search that is too wide is a sloppy one, so focus and prioritize your search based on your interests.
You are not “limiting” yourself by narrowing your prospects down to companies with similar values as yours – you’re helping yourself. Students often say, “I don’t care, as long as it’s software/chip design…it doesn’t matter.” The thing to remember is, companies do not want to hire people who are “open to anything” or “will work anywhere” – they want someone who is passionate about and familiar with their product, service, and philosophy. If music makes your world go ‘round, you’ve worked on one or several projects involving music data, and Spotify is always playing in the background on your computer, why not take a look a Spotify (or similar organizations)? If you’ve been working on cars or assembling model automobiles since you were a kid, and/or have completed a relevant project in vehicular motor sensing, take a look at Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche. Find something that resonates with you. If it’s something you’re interested in, you will be engaged with the process, and the more engaged you are the more enthusiastic and conscientious you will be, which will be reflected in your applications and interviews. Even if you decide to apply to a Big Bank, but have no real interest in finance/banking and/or hate what Big Banks stand for – let’s say you’re just in debt and need a really big salary when you graduate – you are at least going to have to fake your interest reasonably well in order to get the job. That’s just corporate America!
Another point to remember is that many companies (for example, Qualcomm and Boeing) tend to prefer previous interns when they are recruiting for full-time positions, and they can be very selective. In addition to applying to big companies (TI, VMWare, Marvell, Google, etc.), you should look at the many small and medium sized companies in the U.S.
Research suggests it takes 3-9 months to get hired…that’s anywhere from 18% to 50+% of your time from the day you enroll in the MS program. Finding a full-time job is often a full-time job in itself. Think of your job search as a for-credit course beginning your very first semester; you need to devote at least three hours per week every week toward your search – this can take the form of polishing your resume, researching companies and creating a “wish list,” attending employer tech talks or lectures, building your LinkedIn profile, participating in networking events, mock interviewing, conducting informational interviews, etc. Your “credit” is obtained when you get the job offer.
In short, yes. The reason why GPA matters is because that is the only Key Performance Indicator prospective employers have to really quantify your “ability” (remember, companies get thousands of applications, so GPAs can be easily used to quickly screen applicants). Unless you have at least a couple of years work experience in industry, your GPA will factor in as an important criterion in determining your candidacy – especially among the larger, more selective companies (Qualcomm, Google, IBM, Facebook, TI, etc.). Some companies have strict GPA thresholds, some don’t. If you struggle your first semester in Columbia, the goal is to re-group and demonstrate an upward trend in your performance; first-semester struggles are nothing new, but employers will want to see how you have responded. If your GPA is lower than it needs to be, good project, extracurricular, and work experience – along with exemplary communication skills (e.g., your writing skills in cover letters and emails) – can serve as great counterweight.
Generally speaking, if your GPA is above 3.0, include it; if below 3.0 don’t include it. Yes, a higher GPA is important (which is why you should start strong in your program), but companies do look at the entire application (cover letter, resume, references, communication skills, etc.). Important note: You cannot include only your major (hardware/software/EE, for example) GPA without also including your cumulative GPA – this is misleading to employers and can cause a great deal of problems (being perceived as intentionally dishonest, for example) later on when your transcripts are reviewed. You can include your cumulative without your major GPA, but if you have your major GPA you must also specify your cumulative.
Under most visas, you can obtain student employment on campus any time, as a TA, GA, Researcher, Student Assistant in the Library, Computer Lab, etc. Note, however, you still need to apply for such positions, and get to know professors (usually) before they will take you on as a Research Assistant. See ISSO information here. Explore campus-wide opportunities in LionShare. Explore EE Departmental opportunities here.
Typically, for F1 Visa holders who are entering Columbia and the United States from an undergraduate institution/program overseas, the student must complete two consecutive academic semesters (for example, Fall 2014 and Spring 2015) before being eligible for CPT, the course/credit-bearing mechanism that allows you to work/intern in a paid position directly related to your academic field of study. See ISSO information here.
Curricular Practical Training (or CPT) is the mechanism that allows graduate students who are here in the United States on a student visa (as opposed to a work visa) to gain work (e.g., internship) experience during their academic program. CPT is often referred to as “fieldwork” and is a course that bears credit, provided your application is approved and the work experience is directly related to your academic area of study. See the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) guidelines regarding CPT here. For the EE department guidelines and flowchart, see here and here.
While CPT allows you to gain fieldwork experience during your academic program of study, Optional Practical Training (or OPT) allows you to gain directly relevant work experience after your academic program has ended. In most cases, you will have 12 months of OPT after graduation. An example might look like: You apply for OPT in November and you graduate in December. Your OPT may start February 20th, at which point you have three months – until May 20th – to find a job.
See the ISSO page on OPT here.
There are any number of reasons for this. Your resume and/or cover letter may not be getting the attention it deserves, due to poor formatting or lack of targeted content, for example; or you are applying to jobs/internships for which you do not meet the minimum of requirements (relevant projects or skills, such as programming languages). Or, if you’re applying to top-tier companies but have a much lower GPA than the threshold those companies have, you may get overlooked – in which case you need to expand your company targets to include smaller and medium-sized organizations. Another reason may be because the companies you applied to are simply running behind and/or lacking in human resources to follow up with applicants (this happens, even with the bigger companies, especially during the fall semester when university recruitment is in full swing) – this is usually the second most common reason; or, you applied to a position that had already been filled but the employer hadn’t yet removed the online posting. Or, it could simply be the time of year. By and large, however, the reason most students don’t hear back is because they rely solely on online applications, without following up with a human being at the company – and, without networking.
- To see where December 2014 EE and CompE graduates obtained employment, see here.
- For 2011-2013, see here.
- For a more historical look, see here.
A little over 11% of December 2014 graduates pursued another degree after completion of the MSEE/CE degree. Some examples of where grads landed are Columbia University (PHD EE, MS Computer Science, MS Financial Engineering), Carnegie Mellon (PHD EE), Duke University (PHD EE), Northeastern University (PHD EE), University of Chicago (PHD Computational Neuroscience), UC Davis (PHD Computer Science), and University of Minnesota (PHD EE).
Salaries vary wildly depending on what your job title is, what company you work for, what geographical area you work in, and how much previous professional work experience you have. To get a sense of how MS EE and CompE grads fare upon graduation, here are some statistics from the class of December 2014 graduates:
- 45% earned a starting salary between $80-100K
- 35% earned above $100K
- 10% between $60-80K
- 10% between $40-60K.
This is a difficult question to answer and, in large part, depends on your long-term goals and how comfortable you are with risk. First, it should be noted that, while there are far fewer hardware/semiconductor companies on the East Coast than there are in California and Texas, for example, there are many companies overlooked on the East Coast and even Midwest. Hypres (Elmsford, NY), Analog Devices (Somerset, NJ), IBM (many NY locations), Peregrine Semiconductor (Arlington Heights, IL), Atmel (Anandale, NJ; Long Island, NY), Mini Circuits (Brooklyn, NY), Juniper Networks (NJ), Ansys (Harrisburg, PA), MediaTEK (Boston, MA), TE Subcom (Eatontown, NJ), RLE Industries (Fairfield, NJ), Cadence (NJ), Microchip (Hauppage, NY), Silicon Labs (Boston, MA), and Teledyne (NJ) all have offices in or just beyond the Tri State Area, not to mention the numerous hardware startups that call NYC home (MakerBot, Canary, LittleBits, and Keen Home, for example), and – for US citizens and permanent residents – the plethora of defense contracting companies scattered along the East Coast – Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Gruman, BAE Systems, L3 Communications, Data Devices Corporation, Persistent Systems, etc, to name just a few).
Some students secure a position in California before graduating, while others move with friends after graduation without a job lined up. The latter, obviously, can be considered a huge risk to some, but it depends how active you are once in California. Yes, there are many companies to pursue, but, of course, there are many aspects of such a move that should be considered (living arrangements, transportation [unlike in New York City, you will likely need a car in the Bay Area, for example], etc.). That said, I know of many students who made the move without a job but did wind up finding one – within a month, two months, three months, or longer. The best advice is to try and avoid having to put yourself in that position, so do your best to have something lined up upon graduation (or shortly thereafter) before moving. Completing a summer internship in California is advisable for those concentrating on moving out there permanently later. Tech Central SF is one of many good sites to start exploring the California scene. Built in Austin will give you a sense of the tech scene there.
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in one’s job search, and LinkedIn is – by far – the most important of these. See here for an introduction to LinkedIn. A couple quick points: Make sure you have a picture on your profile, but DO NOT use your visa picture; make sure you are using the U.S. version of LinkedIn (as opposed to the Chinese version, for example); and start familiarizing yourself with it now, start building your connections now – don’t worry if you feel your profile is incomplete or not updated in content (except the photo and US version, mentioned above). It’s OK to use what is on your resume for the time being, but the point is to start using it – eventually you will become more familiar with its resources and will then slowly begin polishing your profile page.
Here are someresources at and outside of Columbia to help you further refine your English language skills.
- English Resources SEAS
- American Language Program
- Teachers College Community English Program (CEP)
- Writing Center
- New York Public Library English Conversation Groups
- Additional courses recommended by ISSO
- Other helpful resources: The Purdue OWL, Writing@CSU
22. I am an international student and was told that I need to have completed two consecutive semesters here before I can qualify for CPT and intern, but I am only in my first semester and would really like to do an internship. What are my options? What if I intern “for free,” so that I am not paid?
Regarding your questions about unpaid internships, you must proceed with a great deal of caution to ensure that you are not violating your status or labor laws. The ISSO is unable vet unpaid internships, however, so they can provide you with information which may be helpful:
NY state requirements are found here: http://www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/factsheets/pdfs/p725.pdf
Federal DOL information for unpaid work is here: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf
Please also keep in mind this: Let’s say a lab will offer to cover your transportation and housing, so that you’re not really receiving a salary, per se; however, this is still a form of compensation--and this poses a problem for you since you do not qualify for paid employment at this time.