Framing SWE Collegiate Experience to Corporate Recruiters

Sometimes we are unable to recognize the value of our own efforts. It helps to step back with the help of a trusted friend or colleague, and the prompts below, to see how to put those experiences in the proper context to convey their value when job hunting.

By Ambika Dubey, SWE Editorial Board

In my third year of undergrad, one of my friends lamented that she didn’t know how to talk about her SWE experience to recruiters at career fairs. I was shocked to hear her comment. She was the information director, a role that handled all of the communication to our massive section, in addition to co-leading the information and marketing committee alongside our marketing director.

As a committee director myself, I knew exactly how much work it was to run committee meetings, support all the committee chairs, and also execute the responsibilities of your own role. All these tasks were in addition to the commitments we had to the officer board, which included attending board meetings, managing your committee’s budget, and attending events from other committees. I started listing some of these things aloud to my friend, which led to a productive conversation about framing these experiences and responsibilities in such a way that both highlights the amount of work we put into SWE and relates to the potential internship or job that you are seeking.

My engineering classes made me laser focused on technical skills, so much so that I often forgot that the work I was doing with SWE was giving me the perfect opportunity to flex my soft skills and interpersonal skills. Now that I’ve worked for a few years and have had recruiting experience, I can promise any engineering student that these soft skills that you practice in organizations like SWE are equally, if not more, important than your actual technical ability.

To any collegian struggling with finding ways to market your SWE experience while job searching, I challenge you to find stories that illustrate any, or all, of the following skills:

  • Building credibility
  • Conflict management
  • Conflict de-escalation
  • Consensus building
  • Managing up
  • Mentoring
  • Providing constructive feedback
  • Public speaking
  • Team building

Oftentimes I have found it useful to use the words and phrases listed above directly, because it gives the person you are talking to some familiar terms to jot down if they are taking notes on your resume.

Here are some questions I like to ask myself when I’m having a hard time talking about my SWE involvement:

  • How many people saw what I did/made?
  • How many people attended an event I held?
  • How many entities did I need to coordinate between to get X done?
  • How many people would not have been able to do X if I hadn’t done Y?
  • Did I challenge the status quo of the tools and procedures that we use? Did I introduce a new tool to streamline a process?

I’ve seen this advice circulated in the context of writing bios or intros, but sometimes having a friend write a draft bio for you can give you an idea of the kind of impact you have that you may not be able to see for yourself.

Now that I’ve been a recruiter at career fairs, here is what I like to ask:

  • Can you tell me about what your organization does?
  • Can you tell me about your role in your organization?

Before attending a career fair or speaking to recruiters, I encourage you to take some time to consider how you would answer these questions. And if the questions are not raised in the interview, consider how you might interject the information into your conversation. It can make all the difference in how your volunteer efforts can translate into marketable skills.

Ambika Dubey, member of the SWE editorial board, is a software engineer at Microsoft, where she works on Project Bonsai. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018 with an undergraduate degree in computer science and a minor in the Hoeft Technology and Management Program. Dubey has been a SWE member since 2014, and has held local leadership positions and attended conferences.

Note: Please see the Reinvention article in this issue, “Leveraging Your SWE Experience to Gain a Company Board Seat,”   for a longer-term view on how SWE experience can lead to greater opportunities.