Engineering is a promising career, and jobs in the sector usually pay very well. It often allows you to invent the future and work with cutting-edge technology. This is a great career path if you want to combine design and technical knowledge.
However, you can end up getting stuck in a dead-end job, or not working in the industries or with the technology that attracted you to the profession in the first place. Some people might feel like they’re stagnating and looking for something new. However, there are always ways that you can turn your career around and find satisfaction. Here are a few pointers on how to build a fulfilling career as an engineer.
Start with the Right Specialization
One of the best ways to increase the chance that you’ll be satisfied with your career is to start with the right specialization in the first place. You don’t only want to go in a field based on perception, or even interest, as the work might not be a good fit with your natural skills, interests, and abilities.
Here are some of the factors you’ll need to consider when choosing a specialization:
- Job outlook
- Salary potential
- Your technical skill set
- Advice from practicing engineers
One of the best things you can do is try to find internships related to the fields you’re interested in. But first, you should consider taking a career test to get a clearer sense of what your interests are in the first place. For instance, if you find out that you have a particular interest in all things green, then you could consider specializing in environmental engineering. If you love gaming, then software engineering might be a better option. You’ll then be able to reach your college’s career services to see if there are any openings.
But you also have to make sure that your degree will get you a job, and one that pays well too. No matter how much you like the field, you won’t get much fulfillment from being unemployed or having to compete for a handful of jobs.
You also need to have enough self-awareness to know your strengths and weaknesses. If you have poor spatial awareness, then you’ll have difficulty working as a civil engineer, no matter how passionate you are about building and designing structures. And don’t assume that there isn’t a place for you because you’re lacking a seemingly essential skill like computer skills, for instance.
If you’re not great with computers or don’t see yourself working with them all the time, there are still some fields where you could work. Chemical and biomedical engineering come to mind. You’ll certainly get a better chance at succeeding than something like IT engineering.
You also have flexible engineering programs that teach you a whole variety of different skills. “There is an understanding that the challenges engineers face today need a lot more flexibility,” said American Society for Engineering Education executive director, Norman Fortenberry. “Engineers need a broader set of skills than those taught in traditional programs.” This is why you should consider enrolling in hybrid programs that will not only allow you to be qualifiable for more positions but make you perfect candidates for specific fields as well.
Ask Someone Who’s Been There
It’s also important that you try to get a second opinion from someone who’s either studying in the specialization you were thinking about, or working in the field. Only they will be able to tell you what it’s really like, and how much satisfaction they’re getting.
They’ll be able to give you more information on the sorts of tasks and duties you’ll have to fulfill, what the work atmosphere is, if there’s more or less teamwork involved than what you may have imagined, and some of the surprises – good and bad – that they experienced. If you can’t find one, at least talk with your university’s advisor.
If you decided to go for an internship, this is the perfect chance to talk with some senior managers on what you can expect. You can also try to make connections with other workers there. Who knows – you might be able to make some valuable connections as a result!
Another thing you could do is try to get in touch with the teacher in the specialization you were targeting during their office hours. They will be able to give you more information about the coursework, the challenges that come with it, and whether it would be a good fit for you. They’ll also be able to teach you about the various positions in the field and might open you up to possibilities you didn’t consider.
A lot of people don’t appreciate the importance of this. When they say “be here at 9”, they don’t mean “show up some time between 9 and 10”. They mean be ready to work at 9, even if that means arriving at 8:30. Furthermore, you will learn a lot from being around the technology you’re working with. This means walking around the construction site or factory floor, not hiding in your cubicle.
This will give you a better understanding of the challenges at hand and will allow you to make observations. It will also show that you care, and it could make you a prime candidate for advancement. This may be the boost your career needed.
You should also consider working on the business side. Engineers often focus on the technology and ignore this aspect of engineering. Consider learning about:
- Getting buy-in
If you have this knowledge, you’ll be better able to convince managers and non-technical professionals why your proposals are sound or why your design is better.
Promise and Deliver
You may get the contract or job based on promises, but you’ll lose it later if you can’t deliver. However, we’re not going to tell you to follow the old advice “under-promise and over-deliver”. You’re competing in a connected, international market, and under-promising probably causes people to look elsewhere.
Over-delivering may impress them, but they may wonder why you were not honest regarding your capabilities. That’s why it is better to promise what you can deliver and then deliver it.
Do Your Research
Many engineers are reading technical and scientific journals out of curiosity. It would be a good idea to read industry publications to keep up to date with trends. More importantly, you need to do your research when there is a specific problem in front of you. Understand what others have done that didn’t work, and if possible, understand why it failed. There’s no value in repeating other people’s mistakes.
The advice to do your research applies to other aspects of your career. For example, you should do research about a company before you go for an interview. Learn about the technologies they are trying to develop, and be able to explain how you can help them build it.
There are several variations of this advice. One is to extend yourself at work. If you’re the one taking on challenging assignments, you’ll be given challenging work and won’t get stuck in a rut. Try to experiment at work, whether testing new business methods or designs. If you can determine the root cause of a mechanical failure, you’ll be that much closer to solving it and getting credit for doing so. Just make sure you still have a life outside of work.
Go Back to School
Another option is challenging yourself academically. You may want to return to school to learn about the new technologies and tools being developed, and you can choose a degree that prepares you to move into an exciting field. For example, if you like vehicles, Kettering has an MS Engineering-ECE-Advanced Mobility. This covers everything from the hardware to the software to the analytics used to develop autonomous vehicles. It also teaches you the fundamentals required to develop working drones and robots. For example, the program covers:
- Modeling of dynamic systems
- Digital signal processing
- Artificial intelligence
- Machine drives for electric vehicles
- Mobile robotics
That is just the start of what it covers. If you want to learn more about Kettering and what they have to offer, you can click here to learn more about the program.
Communicate and Connect
Engineers need to network. You can start by joining industry and professional associations. Take the time to talk to other people. Ask them about their industry, their profession, and their employer. Also, take the time to talk to your manager. Ask what you could be doing better, and ask for their insight as to what you’re doing right. If you want to be promoted or move into a particular area, ask them what you could do to earn it. Most engineers need to improve their writing skills.
Engineering is a broad field, but too many people land in a niche and coast. Take control of your career, and take action to move in the direction you want to go, whatever that may be.