How to be Successful in your Civil Engineering Career?

Achieving Effectiveness as a Young Civil Engineer

Civil engineers spend four or more years in the institution being persuaded that if they solve the technical problems properly they will be rewarded with high grades.

Not surprisingly, when they get to work, many civil engineers still expect that all they have to do to succeed is to apply effectively the technical and analytical skills they have been taught to the engineering assignments given to them. This is necessary, but not sufficient.

Successful Civil Engineers learn to manage their careers with the same skill and care they apply to their technical assignments, and with a sufficient priority.

Get Off to A Right Start

In Civil Engineering education, you have to work hard to survive a demanding curriculum and to build an academic record you can be proud of. The chances are that you landed your first job because the employer came looking for you.

Although, more or less than 10% of university graduates are engineers, they receive about half of all on-campus job offers. Civil Engineering employment has traditionally been reasonably secure, and most industries were less likely to lay off engineers than other workers.

However, nowadays, jobs held by civil engineers are growing increasingly vulnerable due to structural changes in economic situation which affect the work environment that confront engineers resulting in corporate downsizing, reduced long-term research expenditures, automation and globalization.

A perverse consequence of the increase in productivity of individual civil engineers using computer-aided design (CAD) is the elimination of the jobs of other civil engineers!

Regard Your Work

Since having a secure job is not satisfying for most professional civil engineers, you must begin to build for yourself a personal reputation on which your future career success will depend. Several decades later, you may come to reflect on the actions and decisions in your early career that made you successful, or that might have made you more successful: perhaps then you will be willing to share your hard-earned wisdom with young civil engineers who are following in your footsteps.

The new graduate usually makes his or her mark within the first few years in the organization depending on his or her technical ability which is complemented by his managerial ability to command, plan, organize and control people.

You will be judged not on what you know but on what you do and the engineer accomplishes but little without other people’s assistance. This makes it essential to give your best efforts to your early assignments, regardless of how trivial they may appear.

Doing an exceptional job on a minor assignment is the best way to be recognized and assigned more important, more challenging, more satisfying work since executives are continually searching for competent people to move up into more responsible positions.

Don’t wait for others – Get Things Done

Just because you have asked a foreman, a vendor, or a colleague to provide something you need does not mean that it’s going to happen in a timely fashion. Keep a tickler file and call (and call again if need be) to check on progress. Find another way to get it done or work two techniques in parallel if necessary.

Go the Extra Miles – and Hours

Reputations are not made on a 40-hour week, and to be an effective professional you will at least have to do your professional studies largely on your own time; as you increase in responsibility you will also find that you need uninterrupted blocks of time that never seem to be available during the day for planning and thinking problems through.

The fastest promotions generally go to those who put forth the extra effort and meet deadlines. This must be balanced against other values – time spent raising our families, recreation time to keep us whole and renewed, service to our community and other time invested on things that are important to us.

These balances can be particularly difficult for married female professionals, unless they are fortunate enough to marry someone who truly does his share in home and family choices.

Look for Visibility

You can do a good job every day, but you need to be seen to be recognized as a “rising star”. Look for opportunities to make a presentation, to take leadership role in a professional society chapter, to give a talk in a symposium or to organize a seminar for skill empowerment.

Learning the dividing line between making your capabilities visible and “brown nosing” takes maturity, but it is maturity that leads to greater responsibility.

Learn the Corporate Culture

Keep your eyes and ears open. Notice how successful civil engineers dress, and do likewise (but perhaps with a touch of style); save your expressions of independence for more important things. Notice how your colleagues interact and how they get things accomplished. If you cannot be comfortable and effective in your company’s culture, perhaps you’d better go somewhere else!

Regard Your Boss

Long before the days of universities and textbooks, craftsmen in all the arts absorbed their skills by apprenticeship to master craftsmen. By observing the master engineer, you can learn much more quickly the art of being an effective civil engineering professional.

Understand the boss to the point that the decisions you make are the same ones he or she would make. Strive to become his or her alter ego because not only will you learn the art, but you will become so trusted and valuable that when this paragon is promoted, he or she will not want to tackle a bigger job without taking you along to help. If, on the other hand, your boss is not of this caliber, you still owe him or her your best while you are looking for a transfer.

Keep up the “Old School” ties

Always stay in touch with your past school friends, professors, old colleagues and bosses. Someday, you may need help in finding a new job, getting a recommendation or some other venture. Also, you may need outside sources of information on people and business or some other vital resources needed to solve a problem.

You will be measured not just by what you know but by what you can find out when needed. Networking is the modern term for such a web of mutually supportive relationships.

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