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This is a bit rambling, so take it for what it's worth. The longest period of time that I've ever been out of work is 8 weeks. That happened in 2001, which was in many cases just as bad in terms of the job market as it is now. I've surprised a lot of people around me at just how quickly I can recover even if I was laid off without warning. Here is literally my methodology:

In the job market, you're going up against guys like me. I'm tough. I'm tenacious. I do not give up easily. There are jobs out there every day. I am going to find them, it's just a matter of time and effort. If I'm not locating at least a half dozen or more (preferably more like 10-15) new leads EVERY DAY, I'm not working hard enough, so I push on or try another strategy. I have a family to feed. If I'm out of work, I really don't have any reasonable fall back strategies. I can't depend on anyone but myself to get the job done. If you aren't going to work at least as hard as I do at finding a job, I'm going to steam roll you right over. You might get lucky but better plan on a very long fight, because there are a bunch more guys out there just like me, plus countless crybabies that only get ahead because there are so many of them out there.

Remember this, too. Whenever you enter the job market, you essentially just got stuck on a pure commission sales job. It's technical selling (for engineers) so at least it's not Avon or something like that. You get a lot of no's, and even more silent no's. You have a very limited stock to sell, though. So once you've sold out your inventory, you get a transfer into a much better paying position. It takes just one customer to make a sale, but there are so many potential customers that it is hard even with the targetted marketing strategy I'm outlining. Yes, sales is the crappiest job on the planet as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather be working in a sewage treatment plant, at least it's a respectable occupation rather than pandering myself to whoever will take me.

I have a couple basic ground rules: Nothing West of the Mississippi (so visiting family is not a major ordeal), no totally desolate areas (such as extreme Northern Minnesota), no coal mines, forestry businesses, metal mining, utilities, government jobs, defense contractors, plastics, food, or cosmetics plants. No R&D, IT, or sales. There are reasons for these criteria that I can elaborate on if anyone asks, and I've had the fortune of never having to even consider straying from my criteria. Outside of that, there is very little I won't do. I focus specifically on heavy industries (mining, steel/iron businesses, kilns, chemical plants, glass). The pay and perks is excellent, and the people are down to Earth. They see things in a very practical black-and-white view point at every level. There are fewer back stabbers and office politicians running around those kinds of companies. It takes a certain minimum level of competence to survive.

With that in mind, when I first hit the streets I go after my list of recruiter contacts and all my old friends again. I've detailed below what I consider recruiters that you should contact. The rest could be your worst nightmare, or at best useless to you.

Second, I begin trolling. It has only ever turned up something once but at least it keeps me occupied. I turn this into a full time job. I'm working on finding the next job at least 6 hours out of the day, maybe more. I keep an ongoing electronic notebook but you can use whatever you want to keep track of where and what you are doing. I have multiple resumes that target different specific types of jobs because I've worked in enough different businesses that I can make one for a maintenance job, one for a project engineer job, one for a process/production engineer job, and so forth. You need the notebook to keep track if nothing else of what resume you sent to who.

One thing I troll for is specific company names and places that I know I'd want to work. These names come from my own experience, those of current and former coworkers, friends, etc. Everywhere I can think of. Plus their competitors. Plus some investment ideas I've had (hey, I already know if it's a good company or not). I search for the company web site if they have one and check for job listings, if any. You might also find the company on a list. For instance I found a refinery I was interested in and then found a list of all the refineries close to where I lived via google. Then I took that list and systematically checked every one of their web sites for additional opportunities (and I found a few). That is precisely how one of my former coworkers actually landed the job he has now.

I also troll and, but these are a bit trickier to use. First, you want to try to identify what kind of poster is listing a job. If it's actually a company listing a job, by all means avail yourself of the opportunity. Same thing with newspapers and such. If the listing is more than 3-5 days old, forget it. They've probably got thousands of resumes already. If they have a web site, try going there. See if there are other postings that were NOT listed on monster. Few people try to look there. If it's not a company, you can very occasionally locate one of the types of recruiters that I described below. You might also find one that will at least send your resume to a potential employer and go no further with it (be sure you maintain control at all times where your personal information ends up!) It's not the best way to go. I've gotten interviews and offers for some low paying jobs this way but sometimes, a job is a job. But hey, even the interview practice with a live test is at least worth the time it takes to do it.

If you do this, along with rotating the criteria, and such, you'll have plenty to do for 6-8 hours per day. It's a lot of work to do all that searching. I also need to get up occasionally and do something around the house such as (in my case) getting it fixed up to sell if that becomes necessary (it was two out of the last 3 times). I actually tend to work on a different set of criteria each day, slowly progressing through the list. I usually find that I can manage to put out an application (resume, cover letter, etc.) to at least 6-8 hits per day, every day of the week, including weekends.

So don't get discouraged. Sales is tough. I'd rather be doing engineering any day. At least in engineering there are plenty of opportunities for consistently getting a feeling of accomplishment. In sales, you might go days or weeks without so much as a return call to make you feel like you are making any headway. Keeping track of your leads in your notebook is about the only way to pass the time and feel like you're moving forward. I even keep track of how many "we'll keep you on file" no's I get. At college it was actually a sport to see who could get the most.

Now as to your specific considerations...

You won't need to be sponsored by another PE even if you have an MS (which counts towards your 8 years for a PE) for several years. So forget about that. When the time comes, it's pretty easy to come by anyway to pass that part of the test. They try to scare you into the idea that you have to have a PE and that you have to work under another PE or you will never get a good paying job. The whole PE program is nothing more than the engineer's equivalent to a union shop and it's the old union shop mentality. Don't believe it for a second.

Second consideration. You said more hands-on and less computer screen. Unless you are working in an engineering firm or in some other capacity where you are directly interfacing with the public (and potentially, the courts), a PE is simply not needed. So unless the career choice is very focussed, ignore that. Again, it's a bid for a union job. There's a big world out there. Union hacks make it sound like their little tiny world is the only important place in the world, and they are dead wrong. Of course on a job interview, everyone either has a PE or is thinking about getting one (just so you don't tick off the wrong people).

Third consideration. These days, most companies are using recruiters. The trick is finding good ones. Many are out of work hacks. You don't want anyone who simply tries to paper the world with copies of your resume. You don't want a chump that will simply sell you out to make a buck, and any potential employer is also going to be looking carefully over time to identify the good ones, too. You want an executive recruiter. These are guys who make a business knowing everyone in their business and try to develop long term relationships in trading talent around their networks of contacts. To do what they do, they generally have the best interests of both parties in mind. They are a bit hard to come by. Although there is sometimes a very obscure source, they don't generally advertise. They don't troll on or unless someone asks for something particularly obscure that they know they can't fill. Anyone else who works in your chosen field and has moved around a bit in the business generally knows who they are, and has a rolodex or contact list somewhere with their names.

And the jobs that you can get through them...well lets just say the quality and the benefits beat the rat race crap hands down. I've done OK in other circumstances but every time I work with one of these guys, the job ends up being a career changing and life changing affair, in a good way. Right now one such individual has literally landed me what I consider the career opportunity of a lifetime. It's that good. I love my new job.

I got lucky when I first started out. I was referred to one of those sorts of recruiters very early on. I've turned over a couple more over time but I can count all of them on one hand.

Unfortunately, I move in different circles from most ME's. Sure my primary job right now is a project engineer and I'm doing some pretty substantial projects. But I wouldn't consider myself much of an ME. One thing that is certain about today's economy...anything related to "consumer durables", in other words anything requiring a loan, such as cars, construction, steel, etc., is at best faltering, and often in full fledged cardiac arrest. Anything related to "luxury" goods are also having serious financial difficulties. Consumer care products, oil, some chemical industries, pharmaceuticals, and food are all either muddling along or doing quite well. Basic materials industries are something of a crap shoot unless you know what you are doing. So when you are searching for jobs, consider this list of potential hopefuls and look under all those rocks. You just might be surprised at what you uncover.

With that in mind, best I can suggest is to go head long into manufacturing, especially maintenance. Don't believe all that BS about "low pay" or "leaving overseas". There are just as many U.S. factories that are taking jobs away from foreign companies. 22% of the U.S. GDP is manufacturing compared to the roughly 76% service industry. Consider though that "service" means low paying retail, warehousing, and such...places with lots of low paying jobs. Manufacturing is a much smaller piece of the pie but pays better and frequently requires better skills (thus, fewer positions available to the competition). It's rough, dirty, sometimes boring or aggravating, but you learn a lot of practical things about the world and it makes you a better person and a better engineer. If you have a choice, the crappier and dirtier or more "dangerous" the plant (mining, refineries, chemical plants, foundries, etc.), the higher the pay and the better the perks. You might not get to be a CAD jockey very often, and you might not get to do a lot of very cerebral design work very often, but you have a lot more freedom to determine what you want to do and how and where you do it. You get far more variety in just about everything, including OCCASIONALLY being a CAD jockey or design engineer. You don't do those every day, which is both a perk and a disadvantage (depending on how much you like that stuff). You can frequently rise in rank much faster than you could ever achieve in a design firm.

After coming out of these types of businesses, the resume material also frequently helps set up an even better position later. I can't tell you enough how much respect I can command when I sit down with engineering firms because of my heavy industrial background.
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