The field of engineering is highly diverse, and presents a great deal of opportunity to well-qualified individuals. However, it’s also a very competitive field, and what you do in the early years of your career can have a lasting impact on how fast and how far you climb the ladder. Even if you are comfortable where you are now, eventually you will want to move forward, and there are a few proven strategies that will help you do just that.
1. Earn an Advanced Degree
Going after a master’s degree can help you in virtually any career, but in engineering, it’s practically a requirement if you ever want to move past entry-level work. In fact, the National Academy of Engineering calls a bachelor’s degree a “pre-engineering degree,” and a master’s as the professional degree in the field. Therefore, if you want a long and successful career in engineering, consider earning an online engineering master’s while you build experience in your first job.
2. Develop an Understanding of Finance
Technical proficiency is only the beginning of a successful engineering career. Engineering leaders must also have business acumen, and a solid understanding of finances. Understand how your projects are funded and financed, how to read financial documents, how to budget projects, and the potential financial impacts of changes or delays to your projects. Most importantly, you will be able to understand what your managers and accountants are saying, and be able to intelligently participate in those conversations.
3. Build Business Skills
Leadership isn’t only about finances. As you’re considered for promotions, you will also be evaluated on your management and leadership abilities, your ability to negotiate, your communication skills, and more. By taking some business courses, you can establish the foundation that, when combined with your technical abilities, will put you into position for more responsibility.
4. Know Your Weaknesses — And Work on Them
The people who tend to be the most successful in their career development are those who have a realistic view of their abilities, understand their greatest weaknesses, and take steps to correct them. Regularly ask your team and leaders for feedback, and act based on their criticisms. Not only will you get a better idea of what you can do to improve, but you’ll also learn how to provide constructive feedback to others, a key skill for leaders.
5. Expand Your Customer Service Skills
A lack of customer knowledge is one of the major reasons that engineers never progress – or progress slowly – in their careers. Regardless of who your customers are, they have options, and just because they are working with you now doesn’t mean they will continue to do so. You need to develop a customer-centric approach to all your work, and not only understand who they are and what they need and want, but why they are working with you and what you can offer them that no one else can. Building strong relationships with your customers not only allows you to provide a better product for them, but also ensures that they will remain loyal to you and your firm on an ongoing basis, which is an important aspect of career success.
6. Find Mentors
Finally, mentors are an invaluable asset to your career. Working with someone who has a solid understanding not only of technical principles, but of your organization and how to navigate its complexities can help raise your profile within the company, and provide you with advice, insights, and support when you need it.
The important thing here is to build a real relationship, and to not only ask for guidance and advice, but to listen and actually follow their advice. Don’t limit yourself to a single mentor, either. Some career experts recommend putting together an “advisory board” of sorts, made up of people who can give you advice and help when you need it, and help you move through your career.
Of course, there is no “magic formula” for career success, and sometimes, the reasons you aren’t advancing have less to do with you and more to do with your company or the general industry climate. However, if you commit yourself to excellence and put the time and effort into building your skills and your profile, you will most likely find yourself enjoying increasing levels of responsibility.