12 Skills You Need to Advance an Engineering Career: Part 2

Apr 16, 2018

by Agam Shah Associate Editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine

The importance communications, presentation, and negotiation skills were covered in Part One of this story. Here are six more tips that will help you advance your engineering career.

7) Humility: Overconfidence could sink an engineer. Acting like a know-it-all could strike the wrong chord during negotiations or an interview. Humility is important. It shows the ability to connect and drive conversations in different directions.

8) Create a brand identity: Figuring out a personal identity and creating a brand around it could pay off big time. Don’t be just an engineer. "People ask me 'what do you do, who are you?' I tell them 'I am an engineer, designer, maker. That's my personal brand,” Graham says. “That's a differentiator in how you create value.”

9) Resilience: Don't give in when something negative happens. Be resilient. Correct it and continue pursuing your near-term and future goals with vigor. "Face life difficulties with courage and patience," Salloum says. There's no point spilling bad blood on social media or lashing out like a jilted lover against old bosses or companies. It will only show you in negative light.

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Any club where you can be a leader and show leadership skills is important. Paige Balcom, University of California, Berkeley

Resilience is key. If you make a mistake, own up to it, correct it, and move on with confidence.

10) Empathize: Empathy in engineering refers to being in tune with a customers’ needs and understanding what they want. For example, development engineering to solve the world's health and sanitation problems is a hot field, but engineers need to be sensitive to local policy and feelings. People won't say no to a project that improves society. The answer is to work with a local, reliable contact on understanding the problem and implementing a solution. Similarly, a product design needs to be tuned with the customer in mind and the problem they are trying to solve, Graham says. Top technology companies like Google and Microsoft are implementing empathy in design thinking. That extends into engineering.

11) Start early: Paige Balcom, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley, began chasing engineering excellence early in life. At 18, she was featured on Shark Tank trying to get funding for a smart wheel product. While an undergrad at the University of New Hampshire, she had internships and was president of the university’s Engineers Without Borders chapter.

Clubs provide opportunities to manage projects, communicate, organize people, and fundraise. "Any club where you can be a leader and show leadership skills is important,” Balcom says. “There's so much more to doing a job than crunching numbers and [solving problems]. Fundraising and working with people is actually the hardest part in the real world."

12) Internships and networking: Networking and internships are especially important for engineering students to get some real-life experience. "I'm really glad I did my bachelors at UNH. It gave me a really solid engineering education and opportunities to lead clubs, start initiatives, meet inspiring people, and do service projects and research abroad," Balcom says. "Now I'm thankful to do my graduate studies at UC Berkeley where there are many opportunities to connect with alumni, visiting speakers, and the San Francisco tech and startup ecosystem."