I graduated in 2015. And when I talk to the graduating classes behind me, the number one question is, “What do I do now”?
Trust me, you’re not alone.
Throughout your coursework, you were faced with several hurdles that you had to overcome to reach your end goal. Now that your degree hangs on your wall, you can’t help but wonder, what’s next? How will this transition be, from the classroom to a career?
I remember the monumental pressure you’re feeling. And while I’m not that far ahead of you on this road, I’ve found it helpful to get specific about the challenges that you can expect after graduating.
Define your career interests
At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, a first step is to figure out what your interest are. What excites you and what are you good at? Even within your field of study, there’s a lot of room to explore. I’m a Mechanical Engineering major, I was specifically intrigued by problem-solving, math, and science. So, I knew that I would enjoy a career in a field that frequently required me to flex those muscles. Not every engineer looks for this sort of work in his or her day-to-day though – nothing wrong with that.
But insights like this will be your North Star in the transition to come.
Build your work experience
A common follow-up is to hoard as much experience as possible. In our industry (and in similar fields) we do this through co-ops and internships opportunities. Theory’s one thing, but there’s no better way to understand what career path you would like to explore other than getting out and gaining that hands-on experience. Even the opportunities that don’t pan out will tell you volumes about what you are and are not looking for.
Personally, I’m a big fan of how these programs work at McKenney’s. I went through an internship program that had me working on real projects in just weeks, and in 12 months I was engineering solutions on my own.
One revelation I had was when I realized was that my new career isn’t that different than the classroom.
What I mean by that is, there will always be continuous learning. It’s overly simplistic to think we get to compartmentalize education into four years, close the book on that chapter, and coast through a career until retirement. You may think, well, I just graduated, so shouldn’t I have learned all that I need to have a successful career? The answer is yes!
College will teach you how to become an excellent problem solver, critical thinker, continuous learner, and great communicator: all of which are skills I’ve found to be invaluable to success as an engineer. I think you’ll find they’re must-haves in any career path that you choose to pursue, too.
Speaking from experience, here are a few career tips for becoming a successful engineer:
Thinking outside of the box
A lot of times, the answer to this problem is going to require a different approach than the last problem. Try new things. Invent your own solution.
You have the foundation from your degree program, now do something that is outside of the “norm”. Tap into your creativity and continuously learn new things.
Utilize your resources
Collaboration is a huge part of what I do. I had to become comfortable with asking questions, understanding that I did not always know the answer.
The key, it turns out, has been less about knowing facts cold, but knowing who to ask. Use the resources around you to figure out the best solution.
Enhance your communication skills
You will need to be comfortable effectively talking to customers (and I’m talking both internal and external) to deliver a top-notch product.
It’s important to note that your customer rarely has the depth of knowledge that you have in your specific field. Keep that context in mind: at times you will need to explain to non-engineers your intentions so that you set clear expectations.
Many of my peers at McKenney’s have depth that I don’t yet have. But when it comes to the pivot from college to career, I have some fresh experience I hope can serve as a template for your own transition.
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