ZD: Why environmental engineering?
A: I graduated in 2011 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, and I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with it at that point, so I opted to continue my education for one more year in a Masters of Engineering program in the same field. During that year, I took some environment related classes, such as an introductory environmental engineering class, and a class on environmental economics. I seemed to enjoy what I was learning in class. Also, I realized that environmental engineering is often a subset of chemical engineering. For instance, one learns about separation processes in chemical engineering education. Well, environmental remediation is akin to the application of separation processes. In this case, one is trying to separate pollution from the environment, whether it be PCBs from the riverbed, or petroleum spills from the soil. At this point, I felt like I had more focus in what I wanted in a job, so I applied to environmentally related openings.
ZD: What was an interview question that you were asked most often? What was a memorable question?
A: I remember that a number of interviewers asked me about time management. Specifically, how does one manage the multitude of projects that have different objectives, deadlines, and schedules? I would respond that it is kind of like schoolwork, where I have a number of courses with various exams and coursework, all with varying deadlines and importance. If one was successful at navigating that in school, then it should be similar to what happens in the workplace. Of course, there would be differences, but they are similar in the grand scheme of things.
ZD: How did you land your job?
A: Well, I was applying to jobs in the private and public sector. I didn't really know which organization would reply favorably to me. However, to my surprise, the public sector had open positions, and they started interviewing me. I was actually in a career fair when one of the interviewers called me back to ask me whether I was still interested in the position, and I replied in the affirmative.
ZD: How would you describe your transition from college to career?
A: I think one of the major differences between what I do in my job and what I do in college is the time horizon in the assignments and projects. In college, projects and assignments are often constrained to a semester, or a year. In the job, the projects can span multiple years, maybe more than a decade. There are reasons why these projects can span many years. They are often very complicated and involved. Some of them are just placed in the back of the priority queue. Some of them have their slow phases and fast phases.
ZD: What was the biggest surprise in your new job?
A: I think one of the things that will take me a while to do well is exercising professional discretion. Yes, there are technical guidance documents and what not, but in the end, it is often just one's sound, professional judgment call. This takes time and experience to do well.
ZD: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
A: A lot could change in 5 years. I think back 5 years ago, my freshman year in college, and I feel like I have gone through and learned a lot since then. I don't think the 5 years younger me could have expected what I am doing as a job right now. If the past 5 years are any indication, I'll probably learn and experience just as much, or more, compared to the past 5 years.
ZD: What do you do in your spare time?
A: Well, I find myself cooking. Sometime I follow a recipe, sometimes I just wing it. It might not always look appetizing, but it is always edible.
ZD: Your résumé.
ZD: What you think shines in your résumé?
Although my formal degree is in Chemical Engineering, my résumé shows my other interests as well, such as economics, and policy making. The Environmental Economics class was a good intersection of economics and regulatory policy making. I thought that tied in well with jobs in the public sector, since they often deal with regulatory policy and enforcement. My résumé also showed my project experience, albeit, projects from coursework and not from employment. Nevertheless, I thought employers wanted to see project experience, in addition to regular coursework.
ZD: Two tips (Do's and Don'ts)?
A: Be prepared for the interview. Show that you've done your research for the position you are applying for. This should be natural for a position you are genuinely interested in anyway. Show how your previous experiences are relevant to the position you are applying for.
This became very apparent to me when I came to an interview and there were two interviewers for two different positions. I was only aware of one of the interviewers and the topic of the position he was interviewing on, so I came prepared for that one. I ended up getting that position. The other interview was for a position of another topic, and I did not prepare for that, and I did not have much specific to say about it. I ended up talking much more to the interviewer that I prepared for.
As for things to not do, don't turn around to look at the clock during the interview. If you like to know how much time went by (not that you should), have the foresight to sit at a spot where the clock is in front of you.