While many engineers regard their problem solving ability as that which best defines the importance of their role, few spend enough time on solving the core question of “how do I manage my career most effectively?”. HRM’s recent talent survey of professional engineers highlights that Reward remains a core concern for practitioners. Yet improved pay is intrinsically linked to career progression and building out personal capability.
Failure to get organised around career management steps is the most common obstacle to career growth. It is also true that many engineers are simply not driven by career ladders, but more by addressing complex challenges. Setting aside the matter of technical competence, we can identify three important elements that, irrespective of personal motivation or engineering discipline, are key career management steps for all engineers who wish to grow their scope of influence, level of responsibility and income.
1. The capacity to communicate often complex concepts to non-technical colleagues or suppliers is an essential competency. This applies to verbal and written communication and directly underpins an engineer’s effectiveness, influence and persuasiveness. Good communicators often get noticed, poor ones get ignored. The ability to convince others around a concept or solution is as dependent on communication skills as it is the technical viability. Plan formal and informal communications by thinking like those to whom you are speaking. What are the aspects to your proposition that will appeal to each and how can you convey those effectively?
2. Get organised around personal career needs. Set clearly defined career goals that recognise where you are now and what you would like to be doing in the future. Make sure that your personal values are aligned with this direction to make it sustainable. Setting goals is hard and many struggle with the process. But either you take ownership for your career direction or you must be prepared to end up wherever life takes you. Setting career goals is simply a rational process of identifying what is important to you professionally, how you might make that happen and what challenges you may need to address to achieve your objectives.
3. Be the leader. Whether a reluctant or motivated leader, engineers cannot escape having to take leadership positions at many points in their careers. November 2014’s edition of the Harvard Business Review reports that of The 100 Best Performing CEO’s in the World, 24% were engineers. Leadership does not always mean heading up a corporate. For engineers, leadership is a daily event. It’s about taking ownership and action. It means planning effectively, engaging well with other stakeholders, setting objectives, prioritising, influencing and making decisions. Leadership is applying the talent that engineers possess for critical thinking and analysis to the work of others for project success.
Managing your engineering career means setting clear objectives and seeking out opportunities that help to achieve them. The best leadership teams today are blurred at the professional edges. Finance understands marketing, while HR easily relates to supply chain challenges. Develop your professional engineering career by being business oriented and capable of understanding commercial impact. Use your analytical and reasoning skills to understand non-technical data and help your team or colleagues reach decisions. Work well in teams, be open to new ideas and be the stand-up person in the face of a tough technical challenge, irrespective of the discipline.
Aisling Clements is an Engineering Selection Lead in HRM’s Science and Technology practice.