Planes, trains, and job interviews: one student's story

When it comes to interviewing for that first job, even a Georgia Tech civil engineering degree is no guarantee that it’ll be easy.

Take it from Scott Helmes, who is graduating on May 4.

The 23-year-old Cedartown, Georgia native was one of three CEE candidates who was flown to Chicago for a day-long interview at CB&I, a Chicago-based engineering company, on April 17.

That was one day before his final exam in Concrete Reinforcement, but The Fates smiled upon him.

“My professor, Dr. Yang, offered to give me the exam a day later, on April 19, so I’d have time to interview and to travel,” says Helmes. “I thought that settled things, that I had this planned to a T. Boy, was I wrong.”

Flying out on April 16, Helmes was well-rested and well-prepared for multiple interviews during his visit to CBI the next day.

“He did a great job, he was a great fit,” says CB&I Nuclear Operations Manager, Wilson “Lee” Presley (CE ‘79), who recruited Helmes during an ASCE job fair at Georgia Tech a few weeks earlier. “We knew we were going to offer him the job.”

Helmes left the interview with high hopes, but no promises. Yet.

So, like any good engineer, he turned his attention the next problem before him: final exams back in Atlanta.

Helmes’s first flight out of O’Hare that night was canceled due to what Presley calls “the mother of all storms.” After running through the airport to catch another flight, Helmes was turned away at the gate. CBI put their top job candidate up in an airport hotel for a second night.

“I had only brought two changes of clothes, but that wasn’t the worst part,” says Helmes. “When the van came to pick me up from the hotel on the second day, it got stuck in some mud. So I had to get out and push.”

Covered in mud up to his knees, Helmes trudged into O’Hare for a second try. Once again, his flight was canceled.

“That was no fun, sitting in the airport, muddy and wet for four hours, waiting,” he said. “But CBI put me up again, so I went off to a hotel. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who was stuck at the airport that night so I had to wait for a long time before I got my room.”

Did we mention he only had two changes of clothes?

“The next day I woke up early and I saw it had started to snow, and I got really nervous, so I got to the airport early,” he said. “The plane was on the runway for an hour and a half while they de-iced it, but, eventually, they took off.”

Before he dropped off to sleep that night, Helmes showed the sort of finesse that makes Georgia Tech grads really stand out from the herd: he wrote Presley a ‘thank you’ note.

Presley laughed at the irony of this gesture, but added, “He had a helluva time when he was visiting us, but a good engineer is nothing if not resilient and persistent. He proved we had made the right choice.”

And that exam?

“It was a hassle, but once I explained to Dr. Yang what had happened, he re-scheduled me for the following Monday,” he said. "I calculated I spent 16 hours standing in lines at the airport between those three days."

Scott Helmes will begin working with Chicago Bridge & Iron in mid-June.