Applying Outside the (Online) Box: Daniel's Engineering Story

By Daniel Fensom      Facilitated by Elyse Trudell, WorkStory Ambassador

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I was quite amazed reading the stories of young, talented people on this site. In thinking of what to write for my post, it took many hours to determine how my story compared to those of successful entrepreneurs, brilliant artists and activists for social change. So I thought I would begin, from what I remember to be the first thing I wanted to become when I grew up; a professional hockey player. Upon realizing just how realistic this dream was by the young age of 14, I thought it would be time to explore other career paths; perhaps an avalanche hunter in BC, guide in Yukon or a lobster fisherman on the east coast.

I settled on attending the University of Guelph for environmental engineering. I had no idea what to expect prior to the start of second year. I always knew I had a deep passion for nature and exploring the wilderness so I figured that with my math and science credits from high school, environmental engineering would be a suitable subject. I initially thought that I would be designing wind turbines and solar panels but I was gravely mistaken. Much of what I learned in school was about water quality and treatment, air pollution and soil quality.

Although I liked and appreciated the new material I was learning, I often thought that maybe engineering wasn’t for me; maybe attending law school or completing a master’s degree would better suit me. The choice became especially difficult in my final year of university when several of my friends decided to pursue a master’s degree. I came to the conclusion that I should test the engineering job market first and if it did not pan out, I could always return to school. So I scoured the school’s job posting website, recruiting websites and top engineering firm job sites; applying to every applicable job I could. It then occurred to me that there are probably thousands of recent grads applying to these same positions with more experience and higher final grades than me. I then started to search out the smaller firms; ones not listed in the top 100 engineering firms. Although there weren’t necessarily job openings posted, I sent in my resume anyways as a general application.

My hunch worked and soon after graduating, I was lucky enough to have been offered a job at a small engineering consulting firm – XCG Consultants Ltd. It happened to be for a position that I was very intrigued by and enjoyed learning about in school. I have been at this firm now for almost a year and a half and I have really enjoyed my time there. The projects are extremely diverse and I’ve yet to work the same day twice.

The projects I am involved with are mostly water related where I simulate what happens to municipalities under extreme storm events. We then recommend solutions based on our results. As a smaller consulting firm, we do get our share of larger projects but we also get quite a few smaller projects. The smaller projects are really what provide with valuable learning experiences and the opportunity to work in a range of disciplines.

I think the variety of my work is a result of the culture surrounding smaller engineering consulting firms. Smaller companies don’t often employ many junior staff and as a result, junior staff are often assigned a number of projects of a wide variety rather than specializing in one specific task or project. Another intriguing aspect of smaller companies is the hierarchal structure. As a junior staffer, you’re often dealing directly with the senior partners and associates, thus minimizing the distance between you and the final decision makers.

Just recently I learned a valuable lesson for all job seekers. Senior managers don’t like posting job openings online. They seem to find it difficult to differentiate the people who are really passionate about the work from those who have used the same cover letters for the hundreds of other job postings. Senior managers prefer those who take the initiative of sending in their applications even though a posting online may not exist. I’m not saying applying to all the postings on a recruiting website is a bad idea, but rather diversify your applications to firms who don’t post openings online.

If you are truly passionate about a position or field of work, show it and apply where you want to work, regardless of online postings.