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Career Advice

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Career Advice

Posted by Finn Cormack on Dec 6, 2018 6:54 am

Hi everyone, 
I seem to be stuck at a bit of a dead end. I graduated from university two summers ago and since then have been working for a small company. While at university I suffered a number of set backs but eventually graduated with a 2:2 in Electronic Engineering, however this was after specialising as my course was a general engineering course. At the time this seemed like a wise idea as I didn't know which strand of engineering was right for me. 
I now work as an electronic engineer,  frequently designing hardware as well as developing embedded systems skills. My problem is that the company aren't investing in me or my future and I want one that will.
So far I've had 3 interviews with other companies and the feedback has always been disappointing: I don't have enough technical experience for the role. There are always positives too but these often relate to myself as an individual. I'm applying for junior level jobs and yet constantly appear to be under qualified. 
Besides trawling through my university books to relearn everything I have no idea how to develop what I'm lacking. 
Can anyone recommend any kind of online course that might be able to help fill in the blanks? 

Re: Career Advice

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 6, 2018 8:48 am

Finn Cormack:
....I didn't know which strand of engineering was right for me. 

Can anyone recommend any kind of online course that might be able to help fill in the blanks? 

Finn,
Rather than get bombarded with suggestions for all sorts of different online courses, perhaps you need to take a step back and think about just what direction you want your career to go. Do you want to stay in electronic engineering or do you plan to move to another strand? If you stay in electronic engineering, which area are you going to specialise in? (e.g. AV systems, control and monitoring, etc.)
Once you have decided what really interests you, that will be the time to start considering courses. Not only will you perform better if you are interested in the work, it also makes for a better life, as being stuck in a job you dislike is soul destroying.
I look forward to a question soon saying "Can anyone recommend a good online course in ......?"
Alasdair

Re: Career Advice

Posted by Andy Millar on Dec 6, 2018 11:38 am

100% support Alasdair's post. Many years ago I found myself in a similar position to yours, so I went on loads of courses / seminars etc, gained some certificates and a (low level) extra qualification or two, and it made no difference at all to recruiters attitude. Because, as you say, what they're looking for is actual experience. 

HOWEVER, there WILL be an employer who is happy to take you with your level of experience, because it's very very hard to recruit decent engineers. Most engineering teams are so small that that they can only afford to take on engineers that can drop in straight away with no further training, but there are still larger organisations who can take you as you are and train you up - but it is hard to find them, I do feel for you.

Keep plugging away, try everything (it sounds as if you are already doing that), and do of course use any friendly engineers you know to give you an honest opinion of how you come across in case there's anything you can change there.

One hint: Under no circumstances say during the recruitment process "My problem is that the company aren't investing in me or my future and I want one that will." Companies don't want to employ you to invest in your future, they want to employ you to invest in their future. Everything has to be about what you can do for them. Otherwise you risk coming across as someone who just wants to get trained up and will then leave again! (Trust me, this the recruiter's nightmare.) However, saying "I'd really like to work in your field, however I do realise that I'll need to develop my skills in the areas of xyz to do so. I'm keen to put the time and effort into learning about these so I can do a better job, will there be opportunities to do this?" comes over as honestly understanding your weaknesses, and being willing to put the effort into strengthening them for everybody's benefit. 

Good luck!

Andy
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: Career Advice

Posted by Andy Millar on Dec 6, 2018 12:02 pm

Two final thoughts:

It's worth getting and checking a clear list of the skills and experience you do have that are transferable. Very few engineering applicants get this right, most "undersell" themselves, a few "oversell" themselves. One common mistake is to try to sell skills which are not relevant to the new employer, and in the worst (but very common) case are only actually of value to your present employer - such as knowledge of their specific internal systems or software. It's really useful if you possibly can getting an experienced engineer from outside your company to review this list and work out what isn't on there which should be, and what is on there but shouldn't. Just going through this process, if done well, can make yourself feel much more positive yet honest about yourself as an applicant, which is of massive benefit when it comes to interviews. Positive yet honest is what all recruiters are looking for.

And on that note, you might want to try the IET's Mentoring service, it'll put you in touch with someone who can give you honest and independent advice on how to move on from where you are now.

Really good question, you won't be alone in this so it's an excellent point to raise on these forums.

Cheers,

Andy
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: Career Advice

Posted by Ron Nombri on Dec 6, 2018 12:42 pm

Hi Finn,

I was in a similar situation last year with my current employer, work was becoming boring with the same stuff day in day out. After reading on career advancement in journals and on web sites, I realized that I needed to reassess myself and see how I can contribute more to the organisation. So I did "Discovering Your Strenghts" and "Organisational Learning and Development" online courses on Linkedin. After completing the courses, I was able to work on my areas of improvement, channel my strenghts in the best interest of the organisation, expanding my perspective and shaped my skills contributing effectively, creating more work to further sustain the organisations operations.

Try the online courses on LinkedIn and see if they will assist in anyway.

Cheers,
Ron Nombri
Electrical Engineer
Papua New Guinea

Re: Career Advice

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Dec 6, 2018 1:29 pm

Finn

First and foremost you need self-belief and determination , three knock backs is nothing, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and keep pushing. If you are earning reasonably well and establishing yourself in your career after two years then that is a success.  There are always positives too but these often relate to myself as an individual  is a promising statement, provided that this feedback doesn’t consist of just polite words of consolation.  

Only two years into career your skills are bound to be limited, but if you are being out-competed by people of similar experience, whoever is choosing probably just “likes someone else better”. There can be all sorts of reasons in the mix, including likely fit within their team, but relevant experience i.e. relevant track-record is most important as Andy highlighted. The phrase “under qualified” is often used in recruitment situations, but it shouldn’t be taken literally, only rarely does this have anything to do with academic qualifications. So going back over your textbooks isn’t the best response.  From what you describe, you have already demonstrated to yourself and others that you have the ability to grasp sufficient theory and basic “textbook” techniques. Unless it is an academic or research and development career that you seek, this will rapidly decline in importance to most employers.

There never can really be any satisfactory answer to a question like yours, but Alasdair’s advice is key and is perhaps a variation on the oft quoted; “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.  This is a forum for Engineering and Technology Professionals and most of them are specialised. The technical area in which you are currently specialised has evolved and changed greatly over the average working lifetime, others are more mature and have changed less. In large parts of the UK 50 years ago, becoming an Engineer in Coal and related industries was a ticket to a successful career and good pension! The fortunes of Rail Infrastructure work have fluctuated. We can only speculate on what will happen for the next 50 years of your career.     
 
I empathise with your situation as I’m sure would many others. I think I may have given some of my own story in similar threads before, so I won’t repeat it here. I don’t know what your personal motivators are, whether you have translated these into any medium and long-term goals and how well these align with your talents. For example, I would categorise myself as something of an “all-rounder”, I have been quite specialist focussed, during various phases of my career, some “pure” engineering, but other completely different and others a mixture.  I couldn’t have foreseen what hand fate would deal me, so I played the hand that came my way, but always with a strong mindset of self-improvement and intellectual curiosity.
Without those last two attributes, you may be incredibly successful if you manage to find an optimal path and stay on it, but if you fall off, a bit lost.  

Have you considered buying, or buying into, the company that you currently work for, or another entrepreneurial option? When I was two years into career (as an apprentice aged 18) a close friend, who had set himself up as a painting and decorating business, won his first significant contract for 100 local authority properties. He later moved into other similar business ventures and with some fluctuations of fortune over the years did fairly OK. His father was self-employed so it seemed “normal”  both my parents had “reliable” public sector jobs.  

 

Re: Career Advice

Posted by Finn Cormack on Dec 6, 2018 6:19 pm

Thank you all for your support and advice. Much like Roy, I feel that I am an "all-rounder": a jack of all trades, however this of course comes with the pitfall that I am the master of very little. I have the ambition to become a manager at some point in my life and possibly even start my own company (perhaps a pipe-dream, but you need something to aim for). However I feel that I need to make the rounds in various rolls before I move up the chain of command. 
In terms of my next move I think I'd like to specialise further in embedded systems, but in my current role I'm limited in what I can learn within the field. Having rewritten this sentence now 5 times I think my conclusion is that all in all I am lost. I don't understand enough about the broad range of roles out there and what I'm best suited for. Looking inwards at my strengths I think of myself as very charismatic with good social skills, which is why I believe I could have success as a manager. However I don't know how to apply myself to get to that point. I have seen that the IET offer courses that might suit, but will they be suitable considering how early I am in my career?
Apologies for my ramblings and thank you all once more.

Re: Career Advice

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Dec 7, 2018 11:39 am

Finn,

I expect that you know some age group peers, who picked up a blue-chip organisation graduate training place. These are highly contested, so lots of good applicants miss out. It might be fairly typical for someone at your stage (2 years) to have had some development training and placements in different sections or departments. The next phase might be appointment to a challenging responsible role. It is common for this to lead to a Chartered Engineer assessment in due course, where  Professional Engineering Institutions are influential.

Most of the larger organisation are also quick to identify personality aptitude and potential, steering people where possible towards appropriate roles. Some people are likely to love being technically specialised, others might be better suited to technically informed management, such as project management or commercial.  I sense from your first post that you envy those with such opportunities, since your current situation, irrespective of your employer’s attitude, just doesn’t offer the scope.  Your dilemma as I see it, is that you don’t want to make a “wrong move”, into something that won’t really satisfy you once you have built up further expertise. If someone is recruiting for a specialist role, they are looking for enthusiasm. I don’t have direct experience of “embedded systems”, but if I were recruiting in that domain, I would want an enthusiast, not a lukewarm uncertain person.

As with anyone seeking another role, I would advise them to build understanding of different employers propositions and prospects, personal contacts and social capital. For example, impressing a senior engineering manager in person, may be worth many more numerous communications, with people who don’t make the decision. Recruiters and HR can be valuable friends so cultivate them, don’t disrespect them, but their role is often to filter-out. It seems like you can sell yourself, so just do so, to the right people. You can’t buy experience that you haven’t got, but enthusiasm and a strong work ethic will take you a long way. Many organisation managers got there by being reliable and trusted. If you have a “can do” attitude and are willing to travel. I see no reason why you couldn’t get offered a number of different roles, both technically specialist and technically informed. The latter direction is probably less likely to lead to CEng and although I won’t be popular for saying it here, this hasn’t held a lot of people back.  Good if you can get it, but not a reason to make choices that are less than optimal for you.

Further training/education should be part of the mix as you move forward, but get the role first and focus on what will grow you into that. Unfocussed development is likely to be poor value.  

Stepping away from “advice” and seeking to use your question to inform anyone interested in the issues that arise here, I’m posting a link that I have used in these forums before. I am not of course advocating the services of this organisation, although I’m grateful that they placed it on the internet because it does illustrate a frame of reference that I have found very helpful.  The first two pages explain the concept, later going on in more detail to what is being offered to help an organisational customer apply the model, as part of what is often referred to nowadays as “Talent Management”.  http://www.edacen.com/portfolio/MCPA_Handout_Feb_2013.pdf  

The curves at the bottom of page 1 represent simplified career paths. Anything that reaches level 4 is a seriously “high flying” career, engineering takes place in levels 1-3, although some very managerial engineers may be at level 4 or beyond.  The technique being advocated attempts to predict "what curve you are on”. You might be on the lowest one, or once you get your “break” fly higher. The lowest one may represent an excellent well-paid specialist career , but not one that makes more “strategic” decisions. If you look at page 2, you may have slipped out of “flow”, or at least the growth path that you are following is “too shallow” doesn’t match your ambition.    

 

Re: Career Advice

Posted by Andy Millar on Dec 11, 2018 5:19 pm

Finn Cormack:
Looking inwards at my strengths I think of myself as very charismatic with good social skills, which is why I believe I could have success as a manager. 

Hi Finn,

Just a thought on this point: there is a big difference between being a "manager" and being a "leader" - very, very roughly equivalent to the difference between "implementation" engineering and "creative design" engineering. The vast majority of engineering (or any) management is about managing the figures: dates, costs, quantities, hours. Many highly successful engineering managers are relatively incompetent at "soft" people skills. But other engineering management roles, typically with a more "leadership" bias, exactly need those soft interpersonal skills. I mention this as I know only too well from personal experience that it can happen that you take up a management role (or have one thrust upon you!) only to have a first impression that actually it wasn't what you expected at all. Once again, it's important to realise that even if one role doesn't fit, another role with the same job title (but actually a completely different role profile) could do. So what I'm basically saying is: whatever happens, keep that thought about what you're good at, it will come in useful in the end. And some of the things you're less good at you can learn to be at least adequate at. And the things you're appalling at you can get other people to do - none of us is good at everything!

In most organisations getting management jobs is easy: if you act like the sort of person who will just go off and sort things, and you look a bit keen, you'll be given those roles a) whether you want them or not and b) often much to the annoyance of your peers with years more experience and "seniority"! (It's called the "accidental manager", there's been lots written about this recently.) Most engineers don't want to take management responsibility, so those that do are in high demand. Particularly if they are junior i.e. - to use the technical term - "cheap" smiley. The challenge then is to persuade your employers to give you training to give you half a chance of doing the job you've now been landed in!

"Engineer" and "manager" are both job titles that are so imprecise and broad as to be almost useless...

Once again, good luck,

Andy
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

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