Senior Jessica Thompson is majoring in electrical engineering and will join a competitive program for young engineers after graduation.
By Kristen Mitchell
Senior Jessica Thompson said becoming a licensed pilot was one of the smartest things she’s ever done. Learning how to fly at age 17 helped her prepare for the stress of pursuing a challenging engineering degree and planning for the future.
“It teaches you a lot about keeping your head calm,” she said. “I’m a very emotional person but when it gets really high stress, I go into my pilot mode. It helped me realize I’m practical, in engineering if I put my mind to it, I can do it.”
When it was time to start job hunting, Ms. Thompson, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, made a plan. She started crafting her professional resume during her freshman year. She spends a few hours every month making changes and incorporating feedback from her sister, a GW alumna, and professors. She mastered the art of writing a cover letter, a process fine-tuned by discussing, writing and editing her work—about three hours a week on average. She typically writes about five versions of each cover letter, perfecting her prose and mission statement with each draft.
When she saw the application window for a potential dream job at General Electric was quickly closing, she didn’t panic— she prepared.
The job was a position in the Edison Engineering Development Program, a prestigious multi-year fellowship that would allow her to try out different sectors of the engineering field. She didn’t see the application until there were only two days left to apply. Ms. Thompson put together an application that would lead to multiple interviews and eventually a job.
Ms. Thompson worked full time the summer after her junior year doing research under School of Engineering and Applied Science Professor David Nagel, who researches low energy nuclear reactions and noise in solar cells. When her workday was done, she spent evenings scanning company websites for job postings and going over options with her dad, a mechanical engineer.
“I kind of treated it like school,” she said. “Like it was homework.”
Ms. Thompson knew she wanted to work for a large company, and her dad suggested she look into GE, where he got his start. Ms. Thompson’s father traveled the world for work and eventually was sent to Colombia, where he met Ms. Thompson’s mother.
“My dad kept talking about the Edison Engineers because when he was working for GE, he thought the company’s best engineers were the Edison Engineers,” she said.
After applying Ms. Thompson did a preliminary interview with pre-recorded questions and then completed five phone interviews over two weeks during fall semester. By October, she had accepted a position with Current, powered by GE based in Montreal.
Current works on projects that explore eco-friendly power alternatives, including the transition from traditional lightbulbs to LED lighting, Ms. Thompson said. She is passionate about energy and is excited to work abroad. As part of the program, she will rotate to a different project every few months.
Ms. Thompson is a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority and GW Catholics. She recently presented her work at the annual SEAS Student Research and Development Showcase.
Ms. Thompson said many students become overwhelmed applying for jobs their senior year leading up to graduation. She said starting the process her junior year and securing a job during fall semester senior year relieved a lot of her stress about school.
Ms. Thompson believes investing time into perfecting her cover letters helped her application stand out. Instead of telling an employer why she would be qualified for the job, she focused on her family’s history with GE, the importance of innovation in power and how the company’s values aligned with her own.
She is direct, but descriptive in her cover letters, she said, and attempts to hook the reader with a brief introduction to show them why she would be a valuable employee. Ms. Thompson compared cover letters to a short college application essay— a way to sell yourself in 400 words or less.
“If you stick with what you say in the cover letter in your interview, then it really makes you shine to them,” she said.
Ms. Thompson relied on SEAS faculty mentors like Dr. Nagel to look over her resume and improve her interview skills. Forming relationships with faculty was crucial to her success, she said.
Only about 15 percent of engineers in the United States are female, according to a report by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. The number of female engineering students is on the rise, but many of them don’t end up staying in the field. Ms. Thompson said she isn’t sure what she wants to do long term, but know she wants to “be constantly going somewhere new or trying something new.”
Looking for an internship or full-time job? Reach out to Career Services for help drafting a resume or cover letter, networking and interview practice.