Engineers are instrumental in the improvement and advancement of our society. They solve our problems, make our lives more convenient, reduce our negative impact on the planet through improved efficiency, build our cities, and more. What they are often not so good at is taking the time to advance their own careers. Engineering requires a high level of technical knowledge and excellent skills in math, science, and computers, but personal improvement and employability skills can be neglected.
When your manager or a new employer is considering several engineers for a position, all of whom have the same level of education and similar experience, how do they choose who gets the opportunity to advance? Your qualifications may secure you an interview, but their decision will be heavily influenced by how you market yourself after that point. Employers will compare soft skills, personal qualities, how you communicate, and your commitment to your career. If you are not prepared and willing to rise above the crowd, you could be forgotten as just another engineer.
This article details steps an engineer can take to position themselves as a candidate for employment or promotion and the skills an ambitious engineer should be developing to maximize their chances of success.
Preparing for advancement
From the outset of your career, you should be taking action to maximize your chances of success. Being promoted or securing a high-level role is not something that happens to engineers who have not had their eyes set on advancement for some time and have taken steps to make it happen. Yes, your education and day-to-day experience are vitally important, but it is not enough simply to turn up every day and do the bare minimum. Here are some ways you can ensure you are in the right place at the right time when a promotion or job opening becomes available.
Have a clear plan for your career
If you do not know what you want to achieve in your career from the outset, you are unlikely to end up in a position of leadership. Everyone has different objectives and ambitions, and they all require different levels of education, experience, and skills. You may want to work for a particular company, to start your own engineering consultancy, or simply to progress to a management role where you are. Whatever your goals, write a career plan and work backward, set goals, and timeline what you should have achieved by achieving your ambition.
Build a professional portfolio
When you complete a project, record it in a portfolio. While you may know that you have achieved fantastic results and made a significant contribution to a project’s success, prospective employers will not know if you do not show them. You can communicate this verbally during an interview (if you get the opportunity) but having a physical record of your experience and achievements will be more powerful. When you finish a project, write a case study about it, how you worked, what you did, and the ultimate result. If you have a website and/or an online resume, you should update it as regularly as possible.
Stay on top of your education
The field of engineering and technology is evolving and shifting all the time, so you must stay on top of the latest trends, news, and developments. You should focus on your engineering field, of course, but it is also worth researching related fields that could support your work. Some numerous courses and certifications could expand your knowledge and skillset and webinars, blogs, and research, which may help increase your value to potential employers.
Learn from a mentor
A professional mentor is someone you admire, respect, and want to learn from in your industry. They may be more experienced colleagues or senior engineers in your organization, but they could also be an external contact. In fact, it is often better that your mentor is not affiliated with your employer if you have designs on moving on soon. You can meet with your mentor regularly for advice, guidance and to discuss your professional trajectory.
Network as much as possible
Networking is essential when trying to push your career forward and identify potential opportunities. A good starting point is to join a relevant professional organization to attend networking events and conferences. Still, you should also keep in touch with former classmates and colleagues. You should be proactive about keeping communication lines open and ready to offer support to your contacts when you can, as you do not want to be the person who only ever gets in touch when they need something.
Develop key business skills
Engineers who have an understanding of the challenges faced by businesses are often highly valued by employers. Suppose you appreciate all the different factors affecting a business’s decisions (e.g. operational deadlines, marketing strategy, budgets, and profitability). In that case, you will be able to consider this in your work and improve your performance. In fact, many engineers choose to study for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree to hone their skills in this area. Click here for more information about studying for an MBA.
Volunteer for/request extra responsibility
If you want your manager or potential employer to give you more responsibility, you need to show them that you can handle it. When a new project comes around, ask for extra responsibilities, and/or volunteer for extra work. Even if they cannot give you what you request, the act of asking shows that you are motivated and wish to develop your skillset.
Promote yourself in the industry
To further boost your profile as a professional engineer, promote yourself outside of your organization. This includes sharing updates to your portfolio on professional networking websites. Still, you might also want to set up a website or blog where you can share your experiences, expertise, and comment on industry news. Consider speaking at engineering events or offering yourself as a mentor to engineering undergraduates.
Develop your soft skills
Your education and technical skills will not be enough to push you to the top of the candidate list, but your soft skills just might. The term ‘soft skills’ is applied to communicating, negotiating, solving problems, working with others, accepting constructive criticism, and supporting your colleagues wherever possible.
Preparing for the interview
So, you have planned your career path, accrued experience, built a work portfolio, established a professional network, invested in your education, and applied for your dream engineering role, but are you ready for the interview? The soft skills you have been developing will now come into their own as you prepare to show your current value and future potential. Here are some key points to consider in your preparation.
Develop your communication skills
Stereotypically, engineers are not always great communicators. Of course, everyone is different, but they work with numbers, scientific theories, logic, and complex diagrams. Being able to explain their work in terms that can be generally understood is not easy. Some can struggle to establish and maintain professional relationships, which lead to greater collaboration and creativity. If you find communication difficult, you must work on these skills as part of your interview preparation.
Improve your presentation style
This is related to communication, but you should be able to present your work effectively. Presenting your past work is your opportunity to show your technical knowledge and skill, but it can get lost if drowned in too much jargon or complexity. Your presentation skills should be simple, engaging, and persuasive.
Show them your value
If you have been invited for the interview, you can assume that they are satisfied with your education and experience. To differentiate yourself from the competition, you need to show them that you would bring added value to the business. Asking the right questions and offering insight into how you have contributed to previous projects’ success is a great way to do this. Click here for four ways to prove your value in an interview.
Show your intent to progress
An ambitious engineer should not be shy about making their ambition clear to potential employers. Businesses are not looking to fill their senior positions with people who are only in it for the money or for people who are looking to use them as a stepping stone to a higher position. Show them that you want to become an essential member of the team in the short term and hope to progress and take on more responsibility in the future. There is no shame in making it clear that you understand your value, that you hope to progress within an organization, and they would benefit from making you part of the team.
This point is often easier said than done, but confidence is key in an interview. While you should avoid boasting or an arrogant attitude, it is not the time to minimize your accomplishments or be self-deprecating. Show your interviewer that you are more than competent in your field and can bring that energy to their business.