You need more than “The Knack” to launch your engineering career

A tenured engineering professor recently shared one of his favorite YouTube clips with me.  It was a snippet of an old Dilbert cartoon that flashed back to the protagonist’s childhood.  You can watch it here:


You, too, may have The Knack, but is that enough?  All kidding aside, just having an aptitude for things mechanical and electrical isn’t really adequate to get your career started.  Simply being an engineering student with good grades won’t set you apart from other applicants; you’ve got to really show that you have the hands-on skills to allow you to provide value to an employer from day one…whether it’s a job, internship or co-op application, you’ve got to really show them what’ you’ve got.

But where to start?  How about clubs.  There are any number of student orgs that appeal to engineering students.  Some, such as AIChE or SWE are great places to network with older students and employers, but don’t necessarily help you build your technical skills.  Others, such as Formula SAE, Steel Bridge, and the 3D Printing Club allow members to engage in real hands-on engineering tasks in addition to networking.  Visit and run a search for “engineering” to see what’s out there.

Not feeling particularly social?  You can gain some solid experience on your own, too.  Most employers – even at the internship level – expect their candidates to have some design software experience.  The trouble is that most engineering students don’t really gain that kind of skill early enough in the curriculum…so take matters into your own hands.  Download free CAD software such as Sketchup ( to start designing.  Want something more powerful?  The folks over at Autodesk – the makers of AutoCAD – offer free student downloads on basic versions of most of their products:  (

Good grades are certainly important, but they’re often not quite enough.  Leverage these free resources and opportunities mentioned above to differentiate yourself from other applicants.  And then you can really let your Knack shine!




By John Bau
John Bau Career Consultant, School of Engineering John Bau