Engineering education focuses on the technical details and the science of how to build systems. The problem with a four, five or six-year degree is that they don’t teach engineers the soft skills required to have a successful career. Here are seven skills that every engineering graduate needs to be successful.
Skill #1 – Networking
In order to have a successful career, engineers need to be able to network. Networks help an engineer find internships, that first elusive job and every job that follows. Career advancement does come through great performance but more often than not it’s all about who you know and not what you know.
There are many ways an engineer can network and one of the easiest is to use Linkedin. Linkedin can be used to connect with hiring managers, engineers in the dream job and even groups of people with similar interests. Just being on Linkedin though isn’t sufficient. Graduates need to be active in the conversation and actively seek out people of interest.
Skill #2 – Resume Writing
Networking can get engineers connected to the right people but without a great resume they aren’t going to get far. A resume is a self marketing tool designed to quickly show companies and hiring managers the experience, skills and most importantly the value that an engineer is bringing to the table. A simple one pager is often the recommendation but that’s also a great way to become part of the crowd. See my article “10 Tips for a successful engineering resume” for a few ideas on how to make your resume shine.
Skill #3 – Cover Letter Writing
Cover letters need to be tailored to the specific career opportunity being offered at a company. General themes of a cover letter can remain the same but effort has to be put in to show the prospective company that time was taken tailor the letter to their opportunity. A cover letter needs to catch the attention of the reader and make them want to continue on to read the resume. A cover letter should highlight accomplishment and experiences that highlight why the engineer would be a good candidate for the job. Don’t write a book but write a concise letter that glues the reader to the page.
Skill #4 – Interviewing
Interviewing skills are gained only through practice and experience. It’s the only way to get comfortable in the hot seat. During the interview process engineers need to show that they are the right candidate. One of the tricks I’ve always found goes a long way is to show up to an interview with a self started project. Being able to talk through the though process of developing something, showing schematics, PCB layout and even software can show a potential employer that you love what you do, can think critically and are the right candidate among many other tells. With the right mix of show and tell an engineer can pull off a successful job offer even in shorts, sandals and a Hawaiian shirt (I successfully pulled this off once before I became a consultant but I always recommend a clean, professional look).
Skill #5 – Salary Negotiation
People are always uncomfortable talking about money especially recent engineering graduates. How much is the right amount? After all, most graduates just want to get their foot in the door and start getting invaluable experience. A great tool that I used before I became a consultant was an online engineering salary calculator located at http://www.engineersalary.com/. The calculator allows an engineer to enter their degrees, experience, specialties and locations to get a baseline salary.
Keep in mind that the salary calculator can provide an engineer with a ball park idea of an average salary. There is much more to consider than just money. For example, I always would negotiate a slightly lower salary for more vacation time. Free-time is true wealth and it’s important to make sure that you get enough down time to not burn-out and stay fresh. Stock options, medical and other fringe benefits are a few more ideas that engineers may want to keep in mind.
Skill #6 – Communication
Engineers need to be good communicators of issues, challenges but most importantly all of the good things that they are accomplishing. Early in my career I focused on issues and problems I was facing and didn’t ever voice successes. The start of my career was slow going until I learned to communicate all the great things I was doing for the companies I worked with. Showing accomplishments, solutions and successes can be done in such a way that they are subtle and don’t come off as bragging. If an engineer doesn’t mention all the great little things they are doing, then no one will!
Skill #7 – Entrepreneurship
We live in a society that is always growing, moving and changing with very few things staying the same (minus maybe the C programming language). Engineers that can accept change, think innovatively and motivate themselves to go above and beyond will quickly excel in their chosen profession. Many companies are facing shortages of resources such as talent, time to develop products and project budget. In order for companies to be successful, they need engineers who can roll up their sleeves and dig into more than just the technical details. Engineers that can learn entrepreneurial attitudes and skills will appear more desirable and in the long run have more successes.
Very few engineers will remain in a single role let a lone at a single company for the duration of their career. The days of being a “company man” or “company woman” are over. In order to have a successful and sustainable career, engineers will need to learn these seven soft skills that are rarely taught at the university. Now is the perfect time to get self motivated and start learning these skills.