Interview: Senior Mechanical Engineer
Name: Brett Tufano
Industry: Defense Contractor
Position: Senior Mechanical Engineer
Experience: 7 years
Education: University of Hartford, currently getting masters at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Major/Minor: Mechanical Engineer- Acoustics Concentration
Length of Job Search: Had job by May Senior year, started in August
- GPA: Usually a 3.0 is required.
- Experience: Prior experience is not necessary.
- Networking: Can help you get your foot in the door. Connect with professors, they may have good opportunities for internships.
- Internships: A relevant internship is very important.
- Interview: Extremely important. Prepare a portfolio of all the work and projects you have done.
- Skills: The ability to figure things out/ problem solve on the job and public speaking for presentations.
- Advancing: A master’s degree gives you an edge in getter higher level positions, but is not necessarily a requirement.
- What did you do to get/ find your job?
Brett: It is kind of a funny story in my case. I decided to apply to the company that I am currently working at, and the interesting thing is that I didn’t end up getting the job.
What ended up happening is that there is actually a family friend at our church and he happened to work at the same company. I told him what happened and he said “No, you have really good grades. Come back, I’ll show you how to prep better for the interview.” I applied for three positions at the company and ended up getting the three offers. So, prepping for the interview definitely made a huge difference.
- So prepping for the interview made a huge difference, can you walk me through what you did?
Brett: The second time I interviewed, I put together a portfolio of all the internships I completed, such as an internship through NASA, and work that I had done. It made a world of a difference.
- Is there anything else that is really important? (GPA, etc)
Brett: Well here is the thing, obviously GPA, previous experience, and internships are important, but I think the interview process is the most important thing that will set you apart.
- Can you tell me about your industry and about your job?
Brett: I work within the defense industry, designing sophisticated mechanical components.
- It sounds like it is an exciting position. What is your day like?
Brett: A typical day in my case, I usually work at a desk. I sit at my computer, I check my email (which is how we correspond with other people in our company and our customer), a lot of times we have different meetings through the day and the meetings will be to checkup on work done, or if you need to clarify something with someone you are working with you might meet up with them to go over the details of that thing. In my case, we do some design related work, we also do a lot of technical writing. It is somewhat of a casual environment. My hours are pretty flexible, but I have to put in at least eight hours a day or forty hours by the end of the week. You can make up the time on different days, but that is kind the minimum.
- You mentioned that did an internship through NASA?
Brett: It was at the University of Hartford, but yes it was an internship that was being funded through NASA. Basically, what we were looking at was how they could produce the battery size for astronauts so that they could go to Mars. One of the things I was looking at was reducing the flow of air through the astronauts’ helmets. By doing so, you reduce the required fan size, and thus you reduce the battery size associated with that system. We designed a cup system that would pick up the CO2 and water vapor from your breathe and absorb it instead of having the fan do as much work as it normally does. This is important on Mars because the gravity is only 1/3 of Earth’s, so they were trying to reduce weight. I traveled to Chicago and presented in front of NASA engineers. It was pretty cool, I enjoyed it.
- That is really cool. How did you get the NASA internship?
Brett: My school set me up. I had a professor for fluid mechanics and heat transfer. I was doing well in his class and he came up to be one day and said that he had an opportunity for an internship if I wanted it, and I said “Of course,” and the rest if kind of history.
- It sounds like your school set you up pretty well. How important is the school that you go to for your field in terms of reputation and strength of programs that it offers?
Brett: When I look at my department, my colleagues are from all different schools. I think the most important thing is that the school is accredited, you have a good background from it, and some prior experience through an internship. If you go to a really low-ball school, you may not be recognized as much, but as long as you go to a half-decent school, you are going to do well as long as you have good grades.
So graduating from a school like MIT might increase your chances of getting your resume read when applying for a job, but graduating from a smaller school like Hartford, where the classes only have 20-30 students, can allow you to get to know your professors, who might provide you with opportunities for internships or even jobs. You grow to know your teachers really well because they work so closely with you.
- What was the most helpful class/ skill that you took/ learned that helped prepare you for your job? Is there anything you would recommend for someone looking for a job in you field?
Brett: Public speaking is great because you have to present at times, but I think the biggest skill (aside for the technical skill that you learn for your particular discipline) is the ability to figure things out even if you don’t know the answer initially. I think that for a lot of jobs you are over prepared due to what you learned in college. I know that in my job in particular, I use some of the things I learned from my engineering courses and basic skills like typing and presenting. A lot of times when you get a job you will have training on the spot anyway and will learn skills you didn’t’ necessarily learn in college. I think college preps you for that because you have to learn to organize yourself, get things done in a timely manner.
- Are there any requirements for getting are job in your field? If so, what are they? (Ex: a minimum GPA of …)
Brett: I can only speak for my company, but the requirement is a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. There are some people who got a little bit less who got through here, but generally speaking that is the cutoff I would say. You certainly need a degree in engineering, whether it is mechanical, electrical, I mean whatever—the sky is the limit—at least for the position I have. There are other people who work in HR and there are business people and they all have different degrees.
- Was there any sort of test that you had to take during the interview process? Such as doing mechanical engineering problems or an excel test?
Brett: In my case there was not, but I will say that some companies may put you on the spot and ask you to calculate something out. If they are really tough at the interviewing process they certainly can do that. My company asked me what my particular skill set was and if I was a match for the particular position, but no I didn’t have to do any kind of test.
- Why are you going for a masters right now? You already have seven years of experience, it seems like you would be fine without getting a masters.
Brett: I don’t necessarily need one. In my case, getting a masters will lead to new opportunities. Right now I am a senior engineer, which is a third tier level engineer. With the masters, I will be able to become a supervisor, manager or other higher tier position. You can get to those high tier positions regardless, but it helps to have a masters degree—it will give you an edge over people who don’t.
- Any advice for moving ahead in your industry?
Brett: I think the biggest thing, at least in my industry, is getting things done on time, communicating well with people, and satisfying the demands of your job. The way to have a good relationship with your supervisor or boss is to get work done in a timely manner and produce satisfactory work. This usually leads to new opportunities when there is a new position to be filled.
I have to say some of it is kind of luck of the draw. Sometimes position will open based on who is leaving the company and if you happen to be the right person in the right position, you have a chance to get into that spot. In my case, as a technical engineer, you start as an ”engineer one”. If you progress, there is usually a minimum number of years and some requirements. In my case, to become a senior engineer, I had to do a few month rotation throughout the company. We also have annual reviews where your supervisor will go through all your work and will give you a grade. So basically, stay on top of your work and a masters degree will help you get into some of those higher positions.