Theoretically, new engineers graduate with all the tools they need to succeed in their chosen field. In practice, though, plenty of students don’t feel fully prepared to walk into an office and work alongside people who have been in the business for years. Even if you’re a few years past graduation, you might feel you still have some skills you could sharpen. Talking to senior engineers revealed a few key points they wish they’d known when they were starting; benefit from their insights with these tips.
Look for a Mentor
Getting guidance is much easier when you have a respected source of information who’s willing to take the extra time you might need. An experienced role model will help you navigate office politics, choose the optimal career path for your goals and help you push yourself to do better. In return, you bring new perspectives and fresh knowledge. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, and it’s one you should welcome. One caveat: Your work, with all its responsibilities and rewards, should be all yours. It’s all too easy to ask a senior engineer to show you the ropes and miss out on the experience of climbing those ropes yourself.
Get Familiar with Managing
Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, you don’t start off in a managerial position. One day, though, you might be the one with the plush office. Pay attention to how your managers manage and store those lessons for a future at the top. Managing people isn’t usually a focus skill for STEM fields; there just isn’t room to learn all the essentials of your industry plus a pile of business and communication electives. Make the real world your classroom and learn from your current managers so you can one day be the model for the next generation of recent graduates.
Plenty of people, particularly recent graduates who want to show they know their jobs, are reticent to ask questions. Don’t fall into that trap; it’s almost always better to ask senior personnel instead of making a potentially costly or embarrassing mistake. Why only “almost?” There’s one time when asking is not your best bet, and that’s when the information is readily available to you. If you’ve just been handed your employee handbook in the morning and spend your afternoon asking the basic questions a quick look in the manual could answer, you aren’t winning any points. Engineers aren’t known for reading manuals and tend to want to figure things out on their own, but sometimes it’s safer to do some exploration before you ask.
Keep Up with Your Education
Graduation doesn’t mean you stop learning. Your sheepskin is only the initial step in a career that takes continual education throughout a lifetime, especially if you’re in a field that frequently evolves. Your education was learning, but it was also preparation; with it, you now have the tools to keep learning. When given the chance to gain a new skill or audit a new course, take it.
Specialization may be the rule in the workplace today, but generalists thrive when there’s a major shift. Make yourself versatile by staying informed about disciplines that border yours. Engineering spheres of knowledge are heavily interdependent; what a chemical engineer develops today could have an effect on everything from aerospace to HVAC technology within a few years. When you stay up to date on technology and engineering as a whole, you’re positioned well to take advantage of industry-wide changes.
Engineers who have been in the profession for a few decades have had to learn the hard way about how important it is to stay informed, find a good mentor and pick up some business acumen as they go. For graduates, starting their professional careers with this sage advice can make a difference for a lifetime.