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Career Connection offers opportunities despite economy

Career Connection drew 200 employers over two days to the Engineering Centers Building.

Career Connection drew 200 employers over two days to the Engineering Centers Building. (large image)

Free bouncy balls, tool kits and t-shirts awaited students attending Fall Career Connection 2009, but more importantly, plenty of internship, co-op and employment opportunities were also up for grabs.

Thousands of students attended the two-day event, held September 16-17 in the atrium of the Engineering Centers Building, to meet with almost 200 employers representing a variety of industries. This year, there was an especially strong demand for electrical and computer engineering students, according to Engineering Career Services Director John Archambault, and numerous software companies were on hand, including Verona, Wisconsin-based Epic, Microsoft, and Facebook, among others.

For recruiters from Oracle, a large global business software company, the resumes that stood out were the ones with solid grade point averages and demonstrated industry experience. These fundamentals will help students get interviews, says recruiter Mengmeng Chen. “Once in the interview, we’re going to ask you about the projects you’ve been a part of before. We’re looking for intelligent people we can train to use our databases,” he says.

That companies are looking for previous hands-on experience is good news for industrial and systems engineering student Joe Madden, who is looking for a summer 2010 internship. “I had an internship last summer that gave me a lot of great talking points this year,” he says. “I was even pulled aside by a recruiter and invited to meet with him informally the next day.”

A business representative and a student at Career Connection 2009.

Students made appointments for interviews and collected information and advice. (large image)

Matt Herkenhoff, also an industrial and systems engineering student, lined up several interviews at Career Connection for entry-level professional positions. He says this year’s career fair was different from previous years for him. “This time it’s for real,” he says. “It’s like getting married — you’re not dating anymore. You’re actually starting something.”

In addition to software companies, energy-related businesses made a strong showing at Career Connection. Companies including Vestas, Nexant, ExxonMobil and various utility companies were popular with students. Carl Christiansen from Integrys Energy Group says he was pleased with the turnout. “The UW-Madison engineering programs are well known, and several UW-Madison graduates are working with us,” he says. “We always come back because the cream of the crop is here.”

Overall, Archambault says there were plenty of opportunities for students, though it may take a few more months than usual for students to secure employment due to the economy. Christiansen agreed, adding that students should focus on polishing their resumes and networking both in person and online. “LinkedIn is a great way to network, since people who are hiring can look for you,” he says.

Herkenhoff is already heeding that advice and networks with industry contacts frequently through his involvement with student organizations and former internships.

Madden’s strategy is to stay positive while hunting for jobs. “No matter what, you just have to keep trying since giving up won’t lead to much,” he says. “Things can happen and come together when you least expect them to.”