Starting your career as an engineer can be both exciting and daunting. There are so many things to learn, and it can be challenging to know where to start. The first few years of your career are when you get your foot in the door and figure out what direction you want to head in.
You don't have to have it all figured out yet, but it can be helpful to put a few things in place at the start of your career to make the next 10-15 years of your life much easier. But you also need to use this time to find balance in your life. If you work too hard initially, you might find you burn out and get tired of your sector far too quickly. This could lead to a great deal of resentment about your chosen career path.
Striking a balance between being keen and being mindful of your mental and physical capacity is essential. So, if you’re at the start of your engineering career and wondering what you need to be focusing on, here are ten tips to help you get started on the right foot.
This is a great way to network and learn from more experienced engineers. It's also an excellent way to keep up with the latest trends in your field. Your employer might be willing to send you to conferences and events, so always check with them first.
You might also have a training and development budget as part of your role, so speak to your line manager about how you can put this to work. If you’re feeling particularly bold, you could consider speaking at a conference. They are often conference tracks aimed at students and recent graduates and you might be able to offer some unique insight.
A mentor can be a great sounding board and offer advice and support as you navigate your career. It’s a good idea to formalise a mentorship agreement so that both parties know what to expect and what is expected of them.
For example, you might agree to meet once a month or more to discuss your career path. You should also determine how long you can expect to wait for an answer if you email for support during this time.
Remember that you have responsibilities as a mentee, too. So, if they recommend courses or additional training, you should make an effort to follow their advice. If they keep offering advice and you regularly ignore it, they may start to wonder if they are wasting their time.
The engineering field is constantly changing, so it's important to stay on top of developments. You might feel like you’re at the cutting edge since you’re new to the sector, but you’ll be surprised how quickly things can change. If you take a proactive approach to learn new skills, you’re less likely to fall behind your counterparts.
While you might stay in your first job for a while, you might also be considering moving on earlier than you think, so you want to make sure your skills are still fresh. Volunteering to go on courses to learn new systems in your current workplace is a surefire way to set yourself apart, as these are tasks that more senior members of staff will typically try to avoid.
Keep up with what’s going on in your field, and you’ll be able to discuss current events with your colleagues. It can also help when you start to think about moving on to your next opportunity, as you’ll be up to date with the wider industry, not just the company you’ve been working for. You can follow these publications online using social media, or you can subscribe to print publications.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is your career. It takes time to gain the experience and knowledge you need to succeed. You don’t have to do it all at once, and there is some benefit to taking your time and enjoying the early stages of your career.
This is the time you will learn the most about your chosen career path and about yourself, so don’t be too wrapped up in making progress to enjoy the good times. If you’re feeling stuck in your career and want things to move faster, just take a moment to remember how far you’ve come. This should help to put things into perspective and encourage you to slow down.
There will always be more work to be done than there is time to do it. Learn how to prioritise and focus on the most important tasks. You should also make sure you don’t burn out by taking on too much at once.
It can be tempting to say yes to everything, but this can be a bad strategy in the long term. Learn to put your time, focus and energy into the extra projects that are more closely aligned with your long-term goals. Don’t be afraid to say no to extra work, because setting boundaries in the early days of your career will help you in the long-term.
The best engineers are always learning. Whether taking courses, reading books, or attending conferences, make sure you're continuing to grow and develop your skills. Your company may offer a development budget for you to use every year, so find out how you can make the most of this.
You could also find free opportunities to add to your skills by volunteering. Volunteer opportunities in the engineering sector are an excellent way to boost your CV while also give you a chance to put your skills into practice in a low-pressure environment.
Whether leading a project team or starting a new initiative, being a leader will help you stand out and advance your career. It can be daunting to apply for leadership positions when you are at the start of your career, but it’s without a doubt the best way to grow and develop.
If you don’t feel confident in a leadership role yet, ask yourself what skills you lack and then actively work on those. You could also take on a leadership role in a different capacity, which could help to prepare you for a workplace leadership role. For example, taking on a leadership role in a less daunting area of your life such as a recreational sports team could help you hone your skills.
Giving back to the community is a great way to build relationships and make a difference. There are so many ways to give back to your community, including working with STEM projects to encourage young people into the sector. Talking about your experiences and how you chose your career path can help you to understand what brought you to this point and also help you to decide where you want to go next.
Other volunteering opportunities could include speaking at your old high school or college or offering mentorship support to young students thinking about choosing engineering at university. You could also help university students who need extra support. There are so many options available to you, all you need to do is be open to helping.
Engineering can be challenging, but it can also be enjoyable. Remember to take time for yourself and do things you enjoy outside of work. Your work shouldn’t take over your life, and you also need to make sure you are finding joy inside and outside of your job. If you’re struggling with things in those early days of your career, speak to those around you to find out how they have overcome their struggles.
A good work/life balance will also ensure that you have a good mixture of work, leisure time and rest time to be able to function properly in every corner of your life.
You don’t have to do it all at once. Remember this as you start your career. It can take years to really start to feel comfortable in your role, so don’t get too disheartened if you feel like you aren’t progressing as quickly as you should.
Use regular catch-ups with your line manager as an opportunity to check that you are progressing as they would like you to progress, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback outside of these meetings. As long as you aren’t constantly looking for validation, you should have no issues seeking feedback from your superiors.
And finally, be ready to give back generously. Try to remember how daunting it was as a young student trying to figure out what you want to study. If you can help these students to feel a little less confused about their choices, you will have done a very good deed.