What I Wish I had Known Back When: 10 Things Graduating Engineers Need to Know at the Start of Their Careers


resumeOne of my college classmates, who’s now a hoity-toity lawyer in California, recently sent out an email asking some of his friends to help him with ideas for a talk he’s preparing to present soon to a group of graduating engineering students. He was wondering what we would have liked to have known when we were graduating and starting our new careers. I thought you might be interested in what I came up with. Please share these with any new grads you know because they are important. And I would also love to hear any thoughts you could add.

I wish I had known:

1) In selecting a college or graduate school, it’s important to consider how much help the professors will be in seeing that you land your first job(s). Some professors feel like they’ve done their job just be teaching their material. Others feel it’s important to also support their students in finding jobs because it reflects well on the university. Avoid schools with the former attitude. Choose those who’ll take an active interest in their student’s job searches. I have been impressed with the importance of this just recently in working with some recent grads who need contacts/leads to get their feet in the doors. Recruiters generally don’t work with young grads so networking is their main source of finding jobs. Professors usually know people in their particular field and this can be a huge help.

2) To plan out my career, not just take the first or highest-paying job that came along. Don’t just let things happen. Have a plan.

3) That that first job can define your career so be very careful in your choice. If you don’t like it, you can be in for a rough go trying to switch to something else, especially if you wait too many years. It can be done (I finally managed it after 20+ years) but it can be a challenge to make it happen.

4) That we weren’t taught the really practical stuff in school – the real schooling begins after you graduate and get to work. For example, I don’t recall ever learning how to design a pump or relief valve in school (or maybe I slept through those classes – always a possibility!) but that’s the kind of practical stuff we do every day now, in design and especially in plant situations.

5) That your GPA doesn’t matter any more after you get that first job. Within the first few days/weeks, you have to show you can do the work. If you can’t, it won’t matter how well you did in school. That can be discouraging to those who have the high GPAs but should be very encouraging to vast majority whose grades were more average.

6) That self-confidence (NOT arrogance) can make up for a lot of inexperience. Just because you are young or new to the field doesn’t mean you can’t contribute greatly or that you can’t have great ideas. Wimpy doesn’t cut it!

7) That people skills count as much or more than technical skills in almost all areas of engineering. You must gain a certain level of competence in working with people if you want to advance.

8) To treat everyone as if they are significant (actually, I think we knew this one going in but so many people today don’t seem to get it), including admins, receptionists, cleaning staff, and of course other engineers. I’ve seen too many people be nice to those they think can help them (like bosses) but treat everyone else like underlings. What goes around, comes around, and the Golden Rule will never go out of style.

9) To keep your resume up-to-date always. The world of engineering can turn on a dime. No matter how good you are at your job, you could still find yourself looking for a new job at any time. Or you could choose to change jobs for reasons of your own. It’s much easier to keep a resume updated than to try to remember what you’ve done after time has passed.

10) Stay/get connected on LinkedIn and through membership in professional organizations. Personal networks will help you throughout your career and improve your life in general. And networking is about developing mutually supportive relationships, not about using other people just when you need a job.

This was my list. What else could I have included?


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