To work in an engineering field is to specialize. While you might benefit from some general engineering knowledge, your goal is generally to drill deeper and learn more about your subject. Depth benefits you and your organization more than breadth. That doesn’t mean you only need engineering knowledge to succeed – in fact, having keen business acumen and sharp social skills are vital to landing upper-tier positions – but your specialized knowledge is the bedrock on which your career is built.
Whether you’re a recent graduate, working an entry-level job in your field, or eyeing a C-level executive position, maintain your technical competence. From the moment you start a new project or get hired on with a company, establish your process for continuing your education. That might be through graduate and post-graduate coursework, certification programs, industry journals, conferences, or some combination of these. Develop an insatiable appetite for knowledge and indulge it as often as you can. Make your ongoing education focused by looking for areas of study that complement your core knowledge. That might include management courses to help you manage staff as you move up the ladder or study in a closely related field.
Earn Your Credentials
Gaining the knowledge you need to go from good to great only matters if you have evidence to back it up, at least as far as employers are concerned. Make sure your efforts pay off by choosing programs that give you the necessary credentials to demonstrate your expanding skill-set. Having your bona fides become a matter of record is more than just adding a line or two to your resume; it’s a direct line to advancement whether you stay with your current place of business or move on to new opportunities.
Find a Mentor
To become the best, you want to learn from the best. Who has knowledge that would benefit you? Who has the most in-depth understanding of your field? If you’re really lucky, your mentor’s working alongside you, giving you the opportunity to watch and learn daily. You might have to go farther afield to find a mentor, but with email and phones, you’re still not too far away to seek a teacher.
Be a Mentor
On the other side of the equation, you also learn a great deal from acting as a mentor yourself. In explaining challenging concepts or understanding new developments in your field, you’ll grow almost as much as anyone you’re mentoring. Work with prospective engineers who are still in school or newer hires who still have plenty to learn from you, and you’ll enhance your own understanding.
Become a Part of the Engineering Scene
All industries have their in-crowds, and it’s important to be a part of them. Joining professional organizations and engineering societies that connect you to others in your field will give you a place to talk shop. Professional associations create an informal mentor/mentee relationship between its members, help you forge social connections with other engineers, and immerse yourself in the industry. These organizations are a means to develop personally as well as professionally by linking you with some of the best and brightest in your field.