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Techconnect 2008: Opportunity is knocking

Whether you’re a freshman who’s only been on campus for a few weeks or a graduate student making final defense preparations, an important date – Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m. -- should be circled in bright red.

Why? There is a good possibility that a summer internship or a fulltime job is there to be had.

For the past seven years, representatives from a wide array of companies have rolled into the Fitzpatrick Center looking for Pratt students to fill openings. This year’s event will be the largest yet, with some of the companies attending being General Electric, Medtronic, Boeing, Microsoft, Northrup-Grumman and Skanska.

The event, called TechConnect, is geared primarily toward Pratt students; the campus-wide Career Fair is held the next day.

“The first TechConnect attracted about six companies, now we are up to 40,” said Kirsten Shaw, Pratt’s assistant director of corporate and industry relations and one of the events main organizers. “It is a good sign that despite the recent uncertain economic times, companies continue to recruit Pratt students. I’d encourage all students, especially freshmen, to attend. It’s a great time to network and learn more about what kinds of opportunities are out there for engineers. Many will come away with offers for internships and jobs.”

The event begins with a formal one-hour question-and-answer session in the Schiciano Auditorium, where students can question a panel of representatives from six companies. The next two hours are more informal. Students can visit different company networking aewas, talk to recruiters, or hand out resumes.

“Last year, more than 350 students attended -- all three levels of the atrium were packed with people,” said senior Willie Du, who will also be moderating the opening session this year. “This is my fourth TechConnect, and I would advise every student to attend. I got two summer internships – one at General Electric and the other at Lutron Electronics – from TechConnect.”

Du emphasizes that recruiters come specifically to recruit Pratt students for full-time positions and summer internships. Both Du and Shaw strongly recommend that freshmen start thinking about career opportunities from the outset, and avoid putting it off until the senior year.

“I know that jobs or internships may not be the first things on a freshman’s mind, but it can be extremely beneficial to start the networking process early, to see what’s out there, to find out what recruiters are looking for,” Shaw explained.

Du added that there is common misconception among his fellow students that only full-time jobs, and not summer internships, are available at fall recruiting trips. This is not true, he said -- both of his internships were lined up during the previous fall’s TechConnect.

Shaw and Du both agree that in order to make most of the event, students should do some advance preparation. That means choosing the companies or fields that are of the most interest, and then research them. Also, the adage about first impressions is especially true in this setting.

“Potential employers will look better on students who understand what their business is and what they are looking for,” Shaw said. “Showing an interest in the company is the key, whether it’s being able to talk knowledgeably about a new product or an emerging technology, or knowing the company’s management or stock performance.”

As for dress, the consensus is to err on the side of conservatism – it is always easier to remove a tie or jacket than to add something on the spot. Du also recommends bringing up-to-date resumes.

While TechConnect is arguably the most important single recruiting event of the season, Du also strongly recommends that student, including freshmen, should pay a visit to the Career Center.

Du, who also serves at the Career Center as a member of the Career Advisory Team, said that new online service is now available for students called Duke eRecruiting.

“There are many resources available, and I still see TechConnect as the biggest event of the year,” Du said.

While meetings with company representatives during TechConnect often leads to job interviews during the next day’s Career Fair, there are companies that only attend TechConnect. While no advance registration is required, Shaw and Du highly recommend coming prepared.