Go to a top-ranked engineering school? Check.
Get a graduate degree? Check
Achieve several highly recognized licenses? Check.
You did everything that you’re supposed to do. So why aren’t you moving up the ladder or getting the job opportunities you really desire?
The honest truth is that all these achievements do is get your foot in the door. I have known many engineering coworkers who were brilliant engineers, but they never really succeeded OR never had a chance of succeeding. If you want the freedom to start your own firm or move up to the top of a larger firm, you need the skills that make you a complete engineer. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you can begin to gain the skills required to reach that next level.
When I attended graduate school, there were few specific course requirements. The primary requirement was that there was some cohesion to your course selections (and that you could convince your adviser of the cohesion). I took advantage of this opportunity and took several business/marketing courses to help me understand the full product life-cycle. It is one thing to know how to design a product, but it is a completely different beast to design one with the marketing and customer experience in mind. This was my first foray into what I now call the “complete engineer”.
What makes the complete engineer and why is this desirable?
Someone who is a complete engineer will have the technical basis to understand the engineering work, but can choose to delegate to other engineers. Their skills go beyond the base engineering knowledge that allow him or her the opportunity to work in business development or managerial roles. Having these skills will open doors that are simply not open to those with limited skills beyond their engineering knowledge. In short, the complete engineer has several core skills that allow him to reach greater heights, or to have greater flexibility in choosing their roles.
So what skills do I consider essential in becoming a complete engineer?
· Writing – If you write the way you would talk to your friend or if you ramble on endlessly, then your reports will lose the interest of the client (whether internal or external). If you have misspellings, I am not going to take your writing seriously. Your writing must be focused and to the point, professionally organized, and at the proper technical level for the intended reader.
· Networking – To most non-marketing people, networking is something you do when you are looking for a job. Many people do not think about networking when they are happy in their current situation. However, this is a short-sighted mentality that may hurt you in the future.
If you got fired tomorrow, would you be able to find a job in your field (without settling) in a few days? Several years ago, I decided to work predominantly on a remote basis. In under 24 hours, I had two meetings set up through contacts I had developed and nurtured over the years. Both of those meetings led to significant revenue for my consulting business. I still perform a substantial amount of work for one of the clients seven years later. Bottom line, networking should be an active process in which you engage on a regular basis so that it can be ready at a moment’s notice.
· Continuously expanding your knowledge base – Read, go to classes, attend lectures, take an online course, or listen to podcasts. The method doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you are continuously learning valuable knowledge that can be applicable to your current or future business.
· Public speaking & positive communication – One of the best college classes I took was in public speaking. It really helped me gain a skill that has served me well over the years. You may never give a speech to hundreds of people, but you will have to present your projects to your team and client. If you don’t have the ability to push your ideas forward and gain buy-in from others, then you are setting yourself up to be a team member and never a team leader. Being able to publicly convey your ideas is one of the most powerful ways to gain that buy-in and flourish in your career.
Does all of this mean that I wasted my time and effort getting those degrees and licenses? Absolutely not. Those were the building blocks that helped me get the opportunities. However, once I landed the job, it was all of the peripheral skills that make me a “complete engineer”, and have allowed me to reach greater success.
Next Steps . . .
Worried about your engineering internship/job prospects?
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Are you lacking the communication/soft skills to really excel as an engineer?
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