There’s more to being a successful engineer than being good at math and science. Regardless of whether you graduated in May or 20 years ago, there are tips and strategies you can employ to increase your chances of career advancement, some of which might be surprising. So let’s take a look at some of these tips that all engineers can use to assure themselves that their careers remain on the right path.
1. Think like a businessman. This one might surprise many of you, but the reality is that engineering firms are increasingly seeking out engineers who can think like businesspeople. They want engineers who have been involved with strategy and planning and know their way around a balance sheet and income statements. All engineers need to understand how the total costs to produce your company’s products affect business decisions.
2. Think outside the box. In this case, the “box” is your respective discipline. You might have gone to college to study mechanical engineering, but many of today’s complex products contain software and embedded electronics so there will be times when design issues will confront you that fall outside of your technical discipline. Learn the basics of other relevant disciplines, such as electronic and software design.
3. Be a team player. Collaborative design is a part of reality for today’s product development efforts and design teams have now been expanded to include more and more people, many of which are outside of engineering. All these disciplines must come together to resolve complex issues and formulate solutions to bring products to market. As a result, communication and other “soft” skills are as important as technical expertise.
4. Be an innovator. Innovation in new products is what sets successful companies apart from their competitors. Always be open to new ideas, even if they come from sources outside your group. Beware of the “Not-Invented-Here” bias that exists at some companies. Companies will reward engineers who encourage innovative ideas, regardless of where they originated.
5. Be an active alum. Keep in touch with your alma mater by offering to participate in technical societies to increase your networking reach and writing technical papers and/or organizing technical sessions at association conferences to enhance both your experience and your company’s reputation.
6. Keep learning. This is crucial as the tools used to do product design and analysis are constantly changing and improving. Stay ahead of the curve and seek out new assignments and opportunities to learn new technologies, sign up for training programs and make the most of company-paid educational benefits. Also, if possible, attend events put on by professional organizations, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
7. Work on your “soft” skills. All forms of communication–written and verbal–are critical to advancement in engineering. If you’re an engineer who wants to eventually advance into a management role, you’ll need to be comfortable talking to customers, giving presentations and working with outside suppliers, agencies, etc. So developing these “soft” skills is vital. Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization, is a great place to get your feet wet in public speaking.