So, you want to be a mechanical engineer. Of course you’ll need to go to university and take calculus, thermodynamics, mechanics, etc. Just like everyone else who wants to break into the field. But if you want to stand out when you start looking for work, you may want a few extra bullet points on your resume.
To land your mechanical engineering career, you may need to go beyond getting a college degree.
A few years ago, we posted 11 Career Tips for Mechanical Engineers, and today, it’s still one of the most popular reads on this blog. And today, it’s still a great starting point.
That said, times change, and new data, technologies, and insights have come along that we think could enhance that original list. So without further ado, consider these 5 new career tips, especially for aspiring mechanical engineers:
1. Get experience. Employers prefer even entry-level candidates with real-world experience, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. In surveys, the Chronicle found that students significantly underestimate their ability to apply knowledge in the real world, analyze and solve complex problems, and critical thinking skills. They even fall short on locating and evaluating information.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that internships and college work experience are the two biggest considerations employers look at when hiring graduates. Fortunately, if you’re a student, you’ll probably have some chances to get experience before hitting the job market (i.e., internships). It pays to take advantage of these opportunities.
What if you didn’t get an internship? Why not start designing projects in your garage? Joe Graney, Director of Engineering for Santa Cruz Bicycles told PTC that in job interviews, “It’s not enough to simply say you’re passionate about cycling to get the job. I want to see the bike you kluged together in high school.” Maybe you had an idea that you could go higher with an air foil on the back of a Huffy you found in the backyard shed. Follow that passion!
2. Think more about manufacturability. To be invaluable as an engineer, you need to have a good understanding of how your designs are going to be manufactured. Ask questions about how manufacturing works (or doesn't work) within the company. Find out if you can spend a little time shadowing someone on the assembly line.
Graney recommends getting some time in a machine shop. “If you want to prove your ideas, understand how a milling machine and lathe work.” Graney says that he doesn’t expect his new engineers to be Creo Parametric whizzes or design savants, but understanding how parts get made helps.
Mechanical engineers who understand manufacturing processes can create product designs that move through production more easily.
3. Know something about the Internet of Things and big data. With the adoption of smart-connected products, the internet of things and big data are quickly becoming integral to product development. And mechanical engineers should be aware of how data can now inform designs.
Industry analyst Oleg Shilovitsky says, “The internet of things (IoT) is going to change the scale of data that modern product development and manufacturing companies are consuming. A tremendous amount of data will be collected from connected devices and this can be transformed into consumable information assets.”
Others agree. “With IoT, mechanical engineers have the opportunity for product insights that were never possible before,” says Michelle Boucher, Vice President of Research and Engineering Software for Tech-Clarity. “With an IoT-enabled product or device, products can stream usage data back to engineers. By applying analytics to this big data, engineers can see how products are used in the field, where customers tend to have problems, and what functions are not used,”
4. Do more with social media. You probably already know that you can use LinkedIn to collect contacts, join groups, read and contribute cool content, post your resume, and write recommendations. But, you can also get pretty creative and use LinkedIn to connect with interesting people in the industry. One successful engineering job seeker looked for articles published on LinkedIn from engineering managers, commented, and started conversations with them. And that led to interviews. Want to know how others found their first entry level job? Or how a guy from a public university can ever land a job at SpaceX? Follow the conversations on Reddit and Quora.
5. Keep learning. All right, all right, this tip also appeared on the original list. But, with the availability of online, on-demand learning, this tip is worth mentioning again. This engineer, and these ones mention that mechanical engineers benefit from learning programming. And fortunately, there are several free online sites that teach you to code. Who knows, learning a bit of programming might even increase your starting salary.
Beyond coding, the web has tons of MOOCs. You can check out topics like manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, IoT, design thinking, languages, or even business skills (like finance).
[Ed. We’re especially fond of this Internet of Things series for anyone getting started with the IoT.]