The Number 1 Way to Get Ahead – Ask!

Pat Sweet | Comments | October 15, 2012

Engineering and LeadershipEvery engineer wants to get ahead in their career. We want more interesting work, more responsibility, prestige, better pay and benefits, and the corner office. That’s fine and good. I’m with you. The challenge, then, is how do you actually make it happen? How do you go from wanting to achieving? In my experience, the best way to get what you want is simply to ask for it.

Ask and you Shall Receive

I know it sounds crazy, but think about it for a minute – how are you going to get what you’re looking for if the people who can make it happen don’t know what you want? When you go to a restaurant, do you sit at an open table and just hope that the waiter will bring you the right meal? Heck, no! So why would you expect to get any kind of promotion or special assignment at the office if you don’t show interest in them?

Some Examples

In my career, I’ve had a few instances where simply asking for a certain role has resulted in great things for me. During undergrad, I had a co-op gig with a circuit board manufacturing company. One day, the president held a meeting for all staff to announce that the company had won a grant to start a spin-off business to design LED streetlights. I thought that was pretty cool, so I went up to the president afterwords to chat about the new project and to see if he needed help with it. As it happens, they did! I ended up being the first full-time engineer on staff and was even offered stock options to stick with the company in it’s early days. All because I just asked about it! Now, I ended up turning down the offer to follow a girl across the country, but that’s another story….

I had a similar experience recently with my current employer during my annual performance review. I told my boss I was interested in getting into project management and to be more involved in the leadership of engineering teams as I move forward in my career. His response was to tell me he would support me in my getting my MBA in support of those goals. It’s amazing how willing people are to help you towards your goals if you make it known what those goals are.

Some Steps to Get You Started

    1. Decide what you want from your career – This is simple enough, right? How can you ask for support in developing yourself if you don’t know what you need help achieving? This may be easier said that done, though. Maybe you’re still in the early throws of your career, and you’re still learning about everything an engineer can do in the fist place. That’s OK, because you can ask for help figuring this out too! In my experience, if you demonstrate drive, people are very willing to help you with direction. People tend to enjoy guiding the motivated.


    1. Decide who to ask – Think about who’s job it is to help develop you in your career. In most organizations, this is probably your direct supervisor. Think about it this way: your boss’ goal should be to promote all of their employees up to his or her level. If they can do that, then they demonstrate their abilities as a leader in their own right, and can earn themselves a promotion. Make no mistake about it, part of your boss’ job is to make you better at what you do, and they’re looking for ways to do that. Help them out, and good things can happen.


  1. Decide when to ask – It might not be a fantastic idea to waltz into your manager’s office randomly and proclaim “I want to be your boss some day!” If you have some kind of performance review on an annual or semi-annual basis, that would be a perfect opportunity to bring up where you’d like to go. You’re already talking about where you’ve been in the past, why not talk about where you see yourself in the future?

Moving Forward

Have you ever asked for something at work and were surprised that things worked out in your favour? Do you have any tips for other readers looking to do the same? Share your experience with us in the comments section below!

About the Author

Pat Sweet is an Electrical Engineer in Training in Ontario, Canada. He’s a full-time designer of all-electric trains and the author behind the Engineering and Leadership blog, where he shares his thoughts and experiences on leadership, productivity, and career advice for young engineers. Get a free copy of Pat’s engineering career guide “The 7 Habits of Disastrously Ineffective Engineers“. 

Photo Credit: milos milosevic