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Make the Most of Life after College: Tips from a Rising Engineer
Make the Most of Life after College: Tips from a Rising Engineer

The summer is upon us, which means a large influx of new graduates and interns are entering the workforce and likewise entering into uncharted territory. I am confident that a vast majority of young professionals have the basic knowledge on proper workplace etiquette: show up on time, dress appropriately, expect to put in long hours and ideally spend far less time on Facebook and Twitter than they are used to.

However, in addition to the basics, there are a few things that many professional development and leadership training programs won’t address as you navigate life after college. I joined the working world four years ago and found that there are some things I wish someone would have told me early on. Therefore, I hope to make Dale Carnegie proud and provide some insight to the newest class of working professionals on how to make the most of the post-college lifestyle.

Get out of your cubicle!

The first year after college is a large adjustment. You have to follow a more regimented schedule, you are actually held accountable for what you do (being that someone is paying you now), naps are non-existent during the day, bedtime calls before midnight and a handful of additional responsibilities that come with growing up will greet you. At times you’ll think you’re going crazy, and you will long for some semblance of your former self. The reality is it’s not that bad, and it’s important to know that you’re not alone. In my search for some likeminded individuals, I became involved with Rotaract (Rotary for young professionals) and Young Engineers of ASHRAE, and this proved to be one of the better decisions of my early professional life. What I discovered was an opportunity to decompress after work and be surrounded by people who understood what I was going through, like paying bills and rent, living in run-down apartments and trying to balance a social life with my new professional career.

You’ll find you have a lot of support transitioning to the new lifestyle when you start interacting with young professionals, regardless of the industry. None of this is to give the impression that the transition is miserable. On the contrary, it’s an exciting time in your life. You have the chance to break out into the world on your own, but just know that you don’t have to do it alone. Make time to step outside of your office and meet new people.

Surround Yourself with the Right People

As you step out and meet new people, know that the future CEOs, entrepreneurs and researchers of the architecture and engineering industry are among your peers. Don’t be afraid to set high goals for your career early on. There are also CEOs, entrepreneurs, and researchers ahead of you that have all stood where you are and can help show you what it takes to get where they are.  Any good leader understands the importance of this transition, and I have found they are always looking for young professionals to get involved.

As you start to get involved in your company and various professional organizations, you will be surrounded by peers who have similar ambitions. You will find inspiration from these interactions, see the different opportunities that exist and begin to define your own career goals. In addition, these early interactions will help foster meaningful relationships that prove beneficial later in life. It has been my experience that if you are ever caught in a bind, professional or personal, these people will be available to provide support.

Sweat the Small Stuff

This is a good thing. In your first few years, it is unlikely you will be leading the design and construction of the next Burj Khalifa. More often than not, you’ll be given tasks that are relatively simple and sometimes mind-numbing. Take these opportunities to master your craft. The small tasks will give you the opportunity to prove what you’re capable of. As you begin to excel at these projects, people will take notice and challenge you with larger projects. Additionally, in the initial years, you may also find you have some downtime. Take advantage of this time to become a better engineer. Brush up on the basics (do you remember your static fan calculations?), read a journal or learn about new technologies. Use your time wisely.

Ask Questions Often

Here’s a familiar conversation:

Project Manager: “We need someone to create an Energy Model. Can you take care of it?”
New Engineer: “Of course I can. We did one for my senior design.”
Project Manager: “Great.” Subsequently drops a 500-page document set on the desk of New Engineer.
New Engineer, thinking to him or herself: “Why is this building a sphere?”
Panic ensues.

It can be intimidating in a new job to go to your superior to ask a question that seems like everyone knows the answer to except for you. We all list “self-starter” or something similar on our resume and we don’t want to create a perception that this isn’t true. While people have been known to exaggerate their qualifications on a resume, this won’t be the case for you.

The truth is if you don’ ask questions you are wasting opportunities to learn and grow. It is likely you will also waste time and money doing rework as you try to solve every problem on your own. You don’t even have to go directly to your group manager. In fact, it is better to work your way up the hierarchy until you find your answer. By the time you reach your manager they’ll be appreciative of the effort you invested in getting the right answers and be glad to help. Additionally, if you’ve gotten involved and met people, you will have a pool of peers and resources to rely on. Seek out a fellow engineer with more experience. They may offer some really great insight to make the work easier. You may even find your question was one that needed to be addressed for many, which may ultimately save time and money for the project. While it’s important to learn to solve problems on your own, there is great benefit in asking questions when you don’t understand something.

Create Your Own Opportunities and Make an Impact

Now that you have a support system in place, developed a keen sense of self and have some technical knowledge under your belt (or at the very least know where to find the information), you’ve developed a pretty great toolbox. Use these new strengths to build your reputation as a professional and then look for an opportunity to shine. It took me by surprise early on that people were open and willing to listen to what my peers and I had to say. The workplace is changing and young engineers aren’t always just chugging away at CAD all day. Be prepared to stand out. The opportunity can present itself in many different ways. It may be project-related, professional or even personal. Whether you develop a spreadsheet that streamlines your calculations, start a new young professionals group or get your company involved with a charity that is important to you, create an opportunity to better yourself, your firm and your career.

Good leadership knows the value in investing in entry-level talent. You are the future of our industry. Your employer is willing to invest in your success, and you need to be equally willing to invest in that success. Seize the opportunities to make a solid impact early on, and you’ll see your career really begin to make waves. This is an exciting time in your life, heed the advice of someone that has already been there and take control of what lies ahead. After all, you may just be the next CEO.

Make the Most of Life after College: Tips from a Rising Engineer

Solid advice for younger engineers!