The skills to fill an engineering job are simple: sound technical skills; demonstrated experience in the profession; registration or a certification. These are all measurable and definable (or at least documented) skills that a firm can easily assess and verify and serve as objective measures of performance. Although these skills are important to a hiring official’s decision-making, these aren’t the only elements that are important. In fact, these elements are only the price of admission for consideration.
When looking to hire an engineer in the past, I’ve started with the basics – education, registration, documented experience – but quickly moved to the more subjective skills sets that define each of us as individuals. It’s these skills, more than the objective technical skills, which illuminate if someone will truly excel in a particular position. The skills that define someone’s potential to excel in a job include:
Willingness to Learn. Are you interested in learning new skills, processes and procedures? If so, how do you show this in your resume, or the list of projects you’ve worked or led? Most likely any position you’re hired into will require you to learn continuously.
Communication Skills. I’ve hired engineers solely on the basis of their technical prowess and lived to regret it. I didn’t look to their ability to listen, write, and speak. Communications skills are one of the most powerful skills to embody. If you can listen, write, and speak effectively, you’ll catapult past everyone.
Leadership Potential. How has your leadership responsibility increased over your career? Have you led in any capacity – work teams, project teams, professional organizations? Most firms want individuals with the capacity to take charge of project teams and guide them towards a shared end goal. At a minimum, they want their members to be strong self-leaders who chose initiative over passive involvement.
Emotional Intelligence. How well do you read others, network, and interact in the world around you? If you can up your EI-quotient, you’ll excel in any position you take simply because you’ll be able to assemble the team to deliver success on every project.
Commitment. Do you do what you’ll say you’ll do? Do you take action in accomplishing the professional items you need to stay relevant and current? Can you show this in the projects you’ve worked or programs in which you’ve participated?
Integrity. Integrity to most means, “trust”. It certainly does, but it encompasses more than this. It also means “truth”. Being true to you and to others. Hiring-on with a firm simply because the position pays well – or it’s a job – isn’t being true to you and to others. You’re filling the square. You may be able to mask this for a period of time, but eventually it will become evident and you won’t be excelling.
Creativity. A most elusive skill yet one that every person has in abundance. This doesn’t necessarily mean your skills at playing the piano, dance or watercolors. Creativity shows up in your designs, your ability to piece together networks and relationships, your knack for identifying the best leads for additional business, your skills at reducing overhead and maximizing billings. You don’t need to be Monet to be creative, you simply need to do you what you do best.
What do all of these skills have in common? They aren’t taught in a class and they are different for each of us. Unlike our engineering educations that cover the same theories and fundamentals, these skills are developed, shaped, and integrated into each of us differently. Each requires time, experience, and application and don’t rely directly on learning something from a book. Develop these skills, however, and you will excel in any job.
“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” Larry Bird
Christian Knutson, P.E., PMP is a leader, civil engineer, and author. He’s an accomplished professional specializing in A/E/C work internationally and author of The Engineer Leader, a recognized blog on leadership and life success for engineers and professionals.