Dani’s Declassified Guide: Award Application Success and Resources

As someone who has been selected for several awards as both a student and now as an early career professional, I have learned a great deal about award applications. Below are six tips from my personal experience on individual award applications that I hope can help you!

1. Review Eligibility Criteria Requirements.

There are so many awards out there, one of the best tips I can give is to take the time to review the award packet/ call for applications thoroughly to check that you are eligible for this award. Unlike job descriptions, I would not recommend taking the time to submit to an award if you don’t meet the qualifications listed such as years of experience, society membership, or age requirement. For example, SWE includes the following “Nominee does not meet requirements listed in the Qualification section of the intended award will be disqualified.” Making sure you are eligible is important because it takes a lot of time to put together an excellent award application.

2. Prioritize securing letters of support and/or a nominator.

There are many parts to awards applications, but two of the most crucial parts are letters of recommendation and a nominator. Not all awards require these, so it is definitely important to read through the award instructions as given. If they require a letter or multiple letters, I recommend prioritizing this first to give your letter writers ample time to write these letters to be submitted on time! A good practice is to give at least 3 weeks of a heads up before it is due to respect the time of whomever you are asking. While some applications do allow you to self-nominate, I would highly recommend having someone nominate you whenever possible.

Also, don’t forget to send the person who took the time to write you a letter a thank you email, or a handwritten note after you receive the award!

2016 SWE Awards Reception receiving my award from the FY17 SWE President

3. Reach out to previous award recipients for advice.

As most places announce their award winners publicly, it is pretty easy to find out who has won a specific award in the past. The first award I ever applied to was SWE’s Outstanding Collegiate Member, so prior to the award submission deadline I reached out to a previous winner of this specific award with a few questions. She was super helpful and I would bet that most past award winners are more than willing to answer questions about their experience!

4. Keep past awards essays and applications in one place.

This tip boils down to working smart, not hard – I keep mine in a Google drive folder, but any central place is good as award applications tend to ask you to describe your professional society involvement. I have been able to reuse paragraphs of past award applications which helped me to save time.

Some questions I have seen:

  • Describe the nominee’s contributions to the profession.
  • Was there one particular individual or event that inspired you to become an engineer?

Also as someone who still struggles with imposter’s syndrome and talking about my accomplishments, this folder can also be used to hype yourself up after a long day!

5. Show the numbers.

When filling out the actual award application, the best advice I can give you is to quantify your impact whenever possible. This means taking “Created opportunities and provided resources for curriculum support and hands-on learning throughout the Philadelphia region about civil engineering” to “Created opportunities and provided resources for curriculum support and hands-on learning for over 1000 students at 9 different schools throughout the Philadelphia region about civil engineering”. As I am passionate about STEM Outreach, I have been tracking my Hours of Student Outreach Impact in an app called Notion since 2019. This has given me awesome metrics that I often use in my award applications where I can update “Since 2019, Danielle has frequently led and volunteered at STEM Outreach events.” to “Since 2019, Danielle has impacted over 3000 students in 2019, 1000 students in 2020, and over 1400 students in 2021 through her involvement with in-person and virtual STEM outreach events.”

Finding something outside of your work and tracking your impact quantitatively can really set your award application apart!

6. Don’t be afraid to apply again!

There are a few awards that I applied to like the SWE Local award which I didn’t receive the first year. The following year, I updated the application, got several folks to review the application (including a past award recipient), resubmitted it, and was awarded it then. If you don’t receive an award one year, don’t let that keep you from applying again the following year!

Feel free to reach out to me at DaniTheEngineer.Blog@gmail.com with any other questions.

Good luck with your future award applications!

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