In our profession, we are fortunate to work with engineers through the entire career spectrum – from those still in school and beginning to think about future career opportunities, to seasoned engineering managers/directors/vice presidents either seeking their next career challenge or searching for talent to grow their current engineering team. With this more senior group of engineers, we sometimes discuss the state of the entry-level engineer candidate pool, and traits they would like to see in new engineers. Here are four suggestions to consider while you are still in school:
- Participate in projects. Take every reasonable opportunity to be involved in hands-on, practical experiments in which you have a genuine interest. As a project team member, you’ll apply the knowledge you’re gaining in the classroom to real-world situations. Because you’re an active participant, chances are you’ll retain the lessons learned in these projects longer than the same lessons read about in a textbook. An added benefit: You’ll have interesting experiences to refer to when interviewing for your first job…and your enthusiasm will be apparent!
- Ask for and accept constructive criticism. This is an important step for growth – personal and professional. Identify your weaknesses early, and work hard to improve. Be proactive, seek feedback from professors, project leads, teammates and others with whom you interact. Resist the common initial temptation to become defensive and instead ask clarifying questions and ask for specifics so you can fully understand the criticism. Remember to say thank you for the feedback.
- Work in teams as often as possible. Regardless of your specific career path, chances are at least a portion of your professional life will be spent working on teams. More and more, engineers routinely work with diverse groups of other engineers, sales / applications staff, customers, and many others. Learn early how to interact in a team environment, how to influence people and results…even if you’re not the designated leader.
- Make a commitment to a lifetime of learning. Now, when you’re still in school, embrace the concept of continuous learning. Commit to remain curious, to seek out intellectual stimulation. Don’t be content with this degree, or your next. Understand that learning doesn’t have to take place in a formal, academic setting, but rather you can expand your mind simply by stepping outside of your comfort zone. Maybe learn about the business, not only the engineering, aspect of your firm. Perhaps learn how to sell your firm’s product or service – this can be as simple as assuming some client-facing responsibilities.
In engineering, you’ve chosen a challenging, rewarding profession! Get your career off to a great start by making the most of your remaining time in school and considering advice from those who have come before you.