Tips to get ahead in engineering

When compared to many other careers, the role of engineers must surely be one of the most diverse and applicable to the widest range of industries.

The term ‘engineer’ is really just a loose umbrella title that encompasses many specific disciplines and can be used to describe a multitude of roles in different sectors. Today’s engineering jobs encompass areas as mixed as nuclear engineering, electrical engineering, engineering in construction, and chemical engineering.

Whether you’re hoping to get started in the industry and are trying to decide which type of engineering to study or have been in engineering for many years, below are some tips that will help you kickstart your career and supercharge your employment/promotion prospects.

Rule 101 of engineering – choose the right discipline

With engineers in demand in almost all sectors (at least to some degree), the first and most important thing you’ll need to decide before trying to enter the industry is which particular discipline is best for you. It’s generally accepted that humans perform better and work harder at subjects that interest them most and ones in which they have a greater natural aptitude. Consequently, when considering a career in engineering, you should first decide in which area you want to work – plus also think about the relative employment prospects and monetary recompense in each.

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Also, while the title ‘engineer’ is often loosely bandied around, there is a world of difference between the work performed by, say, an aeronautics engineer and a computer hardware engineer – despite there being a certain level of crossover in places. As a result, if you’re to avoid having to undertake additional training further down the line, it’s far better if you start on the right path by choosing the discipline that’s right for you.

Make sure your CV is up-to-date and promotes your key strengths

In most cases, your first opportunity to impress a prospective employer is going to be via your CV – so you must make sure it’s kept up to date and does a great job of extolling your unique strengths. Also, remember, all jobs are different, so you should create a single base CV which you can then tweak depending on the position you’re applying for (this can be as simple as reordering your list of qualifications to suit a particular role better).

Although the jury is out in terms of design, most employment experts suggest you should keep your CV to one page–or, at maximum, two – to avoid being overlooked in the selection process. Remember, managers and HR specialists will likely be inundated with applications for the same position, and the last thing they want to do is have to scour pages and pages of someone’s life story just to find the information they need – in fact, most won’t. Consequently, you should keep your CV short and try to limit the information to just your most important details. 

Rather than trying to cram everything into your CV, you could instead use your cover letter to expand on your skills – and, again, use the same idea of a base version that you can change to make it more specific to the vacancy in question.

Do research

If you’re applying for a new job with a company, ensure you do adequate research on what they do, where they operate, their Unique Selling Points (USPs), etc., before attending an interview. Alternatively, if you’re already working for a firm, spend some time learning about the company ethos, its areas of expertise, the company structure, etc.

In both cases, knowledge of these details will go down well when you’re speaking to superiors or trying to charm your way through an interview. They’ll help to show you care, have performed due diligence, and are taking an active interest in the fortunes of the firm.

Work at expanding your professional network

The old saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts,” still rings as true as ever today, and having a diverse range of contacts in your professional network can help open doors and give you an advantage when applying for work or seeking a promotion.

Remember, professionals tend to work and gather in similar-minded groups, so breaking into these networks will undoubtedly lead to better prospects. Clients, colleagues, suppliers, and employers are all worth getting to know on a personal level. If nothing else, it’ll give you a better ear to the ground and make you more knowledgeable in your field.

Keep your chin up and accept Rome wasn’t built in a day

It can be very easy to get defeatist and feel like doors are never going to open – particularly when you’re starting in engineering and are sending out application after application. Indeed, this can happen even if you’ve been in a job for a while and keep getting overlooked for promotion. However, rather than letting yourself get downbeat, try and remain positive and keep on persisting. Believing in yourself is vital if you’re to have any hope of convincing others to believe in you. 

Understand that the business side of engineering is vital to getting ahead

A great many engineers fall victim to just concentrating on the nuts and bolts technical aspects of the work without giving any time or thought to the business elements of projects. As an engineer, you could often find yourself working on ground-breaking, innovative projects that have no parallel to refer to – and hence have almost limitless options. However, while this creative freedom and sense of pushing boundaries can be exciting unless you know when to rein it in and think from a commercial perspective, you’ll likely find jobs never get completed or budgets spiral way out of control.

Successful engineers need to have an almost innate sense of business, accounting, time-keeping, and project management that extends far beyond just the rigors of producing the item or service you’ve been tasked to make.

While these skills might not come naturally to you, many courses could help hone your abilities. For example, studying a lean manufacturing degree online will help you understand management processes, accounting, quality assurance, the importance of meeting milestones, etc., and could significantly improve your employment and promotion options.

Remember too that you will frequently have to update and report to superiors and/or clients, so having this sense of business acumen will prove an invaluable aid when presenting.

Work on your literacy skills

Good communication in any workplace is vital for the smooth flow of production and keeping things on track – however, it is perhaps even more important in an engineering setting where instructions need to be passed, understood,and followed to the letter.

Remember, communication is very much a two-way street, and learning to listen well is almost as important as being able to put your points across.

If you find your communication skills are lacking – and you can take that to mean that you don’t write or speak or particularly well or have trouble listening and interpreting instructions – then you should consider taking some extra study to help improve your abilities.

Take extra training

Even if you’re educated to a degree level or above, there are always extra courses you could take that will help make you more employable. Remember, even seemingly unrelated skills can go a long way to helping your career progression.

For example, developing your marketing, management, accounting, or PR skills could work massively in your favor when it comes to displaying how well-rounded you are in your role. Having these extra talents will undoubtedly be seen as a huge bonus by the majority of employers – plus make you more rounded as a person.

Have at least a working knowledge of IT

It’s highly probable you already work with computers – even if you’re just studying at university. However, developing computer skills beyond simple emailing and web browsing will be a positive advantage further down the line.

Employment experts suggest we’re currently in the throes of a fourth industrial revolution – so-called Industry 4.0 – and there’s little doubting that computers are now starting to infiltrate every aspect of our personal, social, and work lives.

Having IT skills that go beyond the norm will only prove advantageous as the trend for tech in the workplace continues to increase.

At a base level, you should aim to have an in-depth knowledge of any software that’s used in your particular discipline of engineering but, over and above that, you should also look to developing other talents. For example, cloud technologies are currently revolutionizing how and where companies can operate. While it’s true that your firm will likely outsource the real technical aspects of their cloud services to a cloud computing provider, having someone on-site that’s versed in at least the basics of cloud tech will stand you head and shoulders above your peers. 

Few would argue against the notion that computers and tech are transforming the landscape of modern work, and having these additional skills onside could help propel you higher up the career ladder. 

About Author
Osho is Tech blogger. He contributes to the Blogging, Gadgets, Social Media and Tech News section on TecheHow.

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