There’s more to being a successful mechanical engineer than being good at math and science. Whether you’re a recent engineering graduate or have been working as an mechanical engineering manager for many years, there are tips and strategies that can help you advance in your profession. Let’s take a look at some of these tips that can take your engineering career to the next level.
1. Think like a businessman. OK, I realize this sounds counter intuitive, but the reality is that engineering firms are looking to hire engineers who think like business people. They want engineers who have been involved with strategy and planning and know their way around a balance sheet and income statements. Young engineers need to understand how the total costs to produce your company’s products affect decisions.
2. Think outside your discipline. You might have gone to college to study mechanical engineering, but today’s complex products often contain software and related electronic components so there will be times when design issues will confront you that fall outside of your technical discipline. Learn the basics of relevant specialties.
3. Be a team player. Professional engineering involves collaboration among many different disciplines that must come together to resolve complex issues and formulate solutions to bring products to market. As a result, communication skills are as important as technical expertise.
4. Follow the rules. Academia often rewards those who think freely. Industry does too, but within the confines of established design procedures and best practices. Learn to live by your employers’ values and codes of conduct or move on.
5. Be part of the innovation pipeline. Always be open to new ideas, even if they come from sources outside your group. Beware of the Not-Invented-Here bias that exists at some companies. Companies will reward engineers who encourage innovative ideas, regardless of where they originated.
6. Make your boss look good. This is sometimes hard because engineers are often intimated by managers who are given the power to hire, fire and promote. A good manager, however, wants their employees to be successful so be on their side and your career’s future will benefit.
7. Stay connected to your university. Keep in touch with your alma mater. Participate in technical societies to increase your networking reach. Writing technical papers and/or organizing technical sessions at association conferences will enhance both your experience and your company’s reputation.
8. Keep learning. This is crucial as the tools used to do product design and analysis are constantly changing and improving. Stay ahead of the curve and seek out new assignments and opportunities to learn new technologies, sign up for training programs and make the most of company-paid educational benefits.
9. Be involved. It’s important for engineers to network and build relationships when attending professional events. Good networking opportunities are events put on by professional organizations, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
10. Find a mentor. If you’re a young professional engineer, look for an older, more established engineer at your company who might be interested in mentoring you. Inquire if your employer has a mentoring program though its HR department. Many engineering societies also have programs that will assign you a career mentor. Or post something on LinkedIn that indicates you’re looking for a mentor.
11. Beef up your communication skills. Many engineers prefer to stick to the technical design track, while others will want to branch off into management roles, which means you’ll need to be comfortable talking to customers, giving presentations and working with outside suppliers, agencies, etc. Developing these “soft” skills is vital for engineers who aspire to be managers one day. Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization, is a great place to get your feet wet in public speaking.
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