So, now what do I do with my degree?
You went through numerous exams, papers and group projects in college. You knew how to live with the bare minimum, juggle part-time jobs with full-time student status, and to get up after so many mistakes. You paid the price, both financially and mentally, to achieve a milestone in your life, acquiring a bachelor’s in engineering. But are you ready to work, and what does the real world expect from you?
Experience, experience and experience. This word kept appearing on every job description when I applied for positions, despite the fact that each appeared in the entry-level category. Internship experience did make me feel a little more secure and confident. However, once I started submitting my resume, I realized the applicant pool was extremely competitive based on LinkedIn job analysis.
After completing 150 job applications, I got two job offers. Luckily, the job I took was exactly what I was passionate about. It was mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering design.
You might or will have a different story than mine, but as a young engineer who just gets a professional job out of college, pretty soon you will be asking, “Now what do I do?”
Push your limit
You must have grit. Though a cliché, I really value the saying, “There is no wrong question.” Being upfront with what you don’t know and what you are curious about is a good start. As excited as you are expecting an inspiring response, a typical answer oftentimes is “we always do it this way.” Make this an opportunity for both sides to learn. Turn you question into a conversation to exchange wisdom. Keep in mind a company hires a freshly graduated engineer to seek changes or differences in old ways of doing things, so you’d better live up to that expectation.
Another common, awkward situation is a business meeting. Everybody talks about management, operations, proposals and procurement, while you are unfamiliar with those big words. Take a deep breath and share with confidence what you have been learning or working on. More than likely, the managers will be impressed with your thirst for knowledge and award an interesting project for you to work on. You worked hard to earn a job. Now it’s time to let everybody treat you as a coworker, not as a student. Humility and respect help get your foot in the door, but grit is what spreads your wings.
Education opportunities are not low-hanging fruit; you need to pursue them with some courage. I was afraid to sit for the fundamentals of engineering exam. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made in my last semester. If you decide to pursue a career in the MEP industry, earning an engineer in training certificate by passing the FE exam is the very first step to build your credential. Employers are happy to financially support your passion to learn if you share your goal with them, but you have to put effort in studying.
There are many other accreditations or certifications to achieve. Certifications I have considered are Certified in Plumbing Design and LEED Accredited Professional. Early 20s is the best time to earn the alphabet soup of accreditations after your name because your brain is still very sharp and other priorities like family haven’t taken over all your time.
Patience leads to success
Patience is another key. As a young engineer, I tried to dive into as many projects as possible. Then I realized more than half of them never got built. My astounding system design just stayed on paper. Thus, spending some time to understand the scope of the project before raising your hand to volunteer will help you pursue the project that you can actually finish.
Speed is a poor substitution for accuracy. You are going to design a building or structure that lasts a long time, so take time to ensure it stands on a strong foundation. Before handing your drawings or design to your teammates or principals to review, patiently go through and pay attention to the details. Your mistakes could cost time, money and lives. Basis of design includes calculations, spreadsheets and correspondence — meeting minutes should be organized carefully.
Finally, you should not run away from critics, and you should work collaboratively. A patient listener will make you a powerful speaker in no time. It is not easy to convert the theoretical knowledge of school into practical high-performance building design. You have a lot to learn. Your job nature requires you to work collaboratively with all disciplines. You need to be a good integrated team member with an open mind.
Engineering is a career, not a job. Every day will be different — it may be loaded with mistakes or filled with success. Otherwise, you would be bored looking at blueprint all day. You chose engineering because of the excitement burning inside you when tackling challenges and solving problems.