The end of the week has arrived, and that means it’s time for Letters to Doug, a weekly segment wherein you send letters to Doug and Doug grumpily replies to them.
If you enjoy reading the segment and you decide you want to participate, please feel free to send in your own letters, either via e-mail (Letters2Doug@gmail.com) or Twitter (@DougDeMuro). Please note that I won’t have time to reply to all letters, including e-mails from Nigerian spammers, which apparently do still exist with surprisingly regularity.
Anyway: today’s letter comes from a reader named William, who has asked a question about working in the automotive industry. Here it is:
Huge fan of your writing here! I’m currently a high school senior looking to make my way into the automotive industry some day. I applied to a bunch of schools for engineering and got in, but I will probably switch to economics when I get to college.
So, I was curious as to how you landed a spot in the auto industry with an econ degree, and what your job was at Porsche. Although I doubt many jobs could compare to being a writer for Jalopnik for a gear head, Porsche must have been a sweet gig.
I’ve decided to answer William’s question today because there is not a single question that I get more frequently. Not “How are you doing today?”, not “What time is it?”, not “When are you going to move this giant yellow piece of shit out of our neighborhood?” No, sirree. The question that I hear more than any other is: “How do I get a job in the auto industry?”
And the answer is this: fill out an online application, send in your resume, and wait to hear back.
Ha ha! I am just kidding. Even though there are dozens of online job application websites and form submission pages, no human being in the entire history of time has actually received a job this way, unless they were applying to work at McDonald’s and their salary demand was roughly $12 per week.
The simple truth is that in order to get a job in the auto industry, you have to be insanely diligent. Consider this: a college friend of mine actually e-mailed every single product planner, HR office, recruiter, department head, and lead automotive industry janitor he could find, for months on end, mercilessly, until he finally got a job.
And you know what? He’s currently a product planner at a major car company, and also he has a Sterling. So I’d say it worked out pretty well for him.
Another friend leveraged a connection with one of his college professors to get his foot in the door at Porsche. After e-mailing, and calling, and following up, and generally berating our HR department, he eventually received an internship, which led to a job offer. Now he works in product planning for a different automaker, and he gets to visit the auto shows every year and show prospective buyers where the door handles are located.
As for me: I got a job selling Saturns – yes, Saturns – during my senior year of college. Although I was lousy at this job – I lay blame primarily on the Saturn Astra for that – I got some important industry experience that helped my application go straight to the top of the pile when it came time for Porsche to hire some new interns. Six months later, I had a full-time job, a shiny new 911, and a cubicle with a desktop computer that featured all of the latest software as of 1997.
So how do you get into the auto industry? If it’s something you truly want to do, if it’s something you really think you’ll enjoy, if it’s a job you can’t shake the idea of not having, then what you have to do is annoy every person who could possibly help you get into the auto industry, and don’t stop until you’re hired.
I’m not kidding. Most car companies don’t have a program for young college graduates, and the vast majority don’t have a program for anyone, really, except for a few that actively recruit young engineers. Jobs come available quickly and often transmit through word of mouth, so it’s important to network – both online and in person. Simply put: an auto industry job won’t just happen. This is something you have to go out and do, like becoming a football announcer, or eating a zebra.
But there’s another component I always try and stress when people ask about working in the auto industry: you might not actually like it.
Consider this: although I worked for Porsche, undoubtedly one of the coolest companies in the industry, and although I had a cool company car and a cool manager title, I spent most of my days sitting at my desk eating Snickers, creating “=SUMIF” formulas in Microsoft Excel, and listening to my co-workers talk about college football.
After I did this for a while, I started to realize something: if you want to have real fun in the car world, you want to work in a dealership. Yes, sales isn’t always the most enjoyable — but the average Porsche salesperson earned twice what I did as a “manager,” and he got to hang out with cars all day, talk the customers, and generally walk around. Whereas I sat in my cubicle and tried to pretend I had some idea how many Cayman GTSs we’d sell in November 2076. And while sales can require long hours, don’t forget: anyone who has any hope of advancement in a corporate job is putting in just as much time each week in front of that computer.
So, my point here is this: if you want to work in the auto industry, you’d better be prepared to make a full-time job out of finding a job. And if you work hard, and you’re qualified, and you’re persistent, you’ll find one. But as you sit at your desk, typing away in Excel, lost in thought about the color of your upcoming Jeep Renegade company car, you might start to wonder if the grass is greener somewhere else. I know I did.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.