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Advice to candidates - keep it brief and to the point!

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Advice to candidates - keep it brief and to the point!

Posted by Andy Millar on Dec 19, 2019 11:58 am

Hi,

The biggest challenge I find candidates face is actually getting around to writing their applications, and very often when I see their draft applications I can see why it took them so long - they have written FAR FAR too much! (Ok, some write too little, but that can be for another post.)

The guidance says:

The requirement is not to exceed a total of 12 pages for the whole application when printed.
Detail your main responsibilities and personal contributions rather than a bland job description. You should aim to provide roughly 3000 characters as it is unlikely that less will adequately demonstrate your relevant experience.

https://www.theiet.org/media/4251/cengieng-guidance.pdf

Trust me, "roughly 3000 characters" is plenty of room to describe what you are responsible for and what knowledge you use for your role.  A few hints for keeping it under control, these are common across many applications I've seen recently:
  • Don't tell a story. As soon as you find you are writing "this happened...and then this happened...and then this happened..." you need to reign it in. It can be useful to use projects as examples, but keep it to the form "For example, on this project I was responsible for specification / design / signoff of this technology, which required me to develop this solution, which required me to gain an understanding of yyy which I did through..." And a very brief description to show the level of commercial and/or technical risk involved only if it isn't obvious from the project name.
  • Don't describe other people's roles unless absolutely strictly necessary, and even then keep it very brief. You may need to describe those who work for you, or who you report to, to put your position in context, but this can be as brief as "I supervise the installation team of 6 staff at EngTech level and a team leader at IEng level" or "my reports are approved by the Technical Director for the division, however I hold full responsibility for the content and accuracy of those reports".
  • Don't describe what other people did before you arrived. Definitely don't say "the equipment needed replacing because of previous bad decisions", a) that's nothing to do with how good your engineering is and b) it's not showing respect to other engineers. I can't really think of a case offhand where it adds value to your application to say why the projects you are working on needed doing.
  • Similarly don't say "I was worried about...so I..." Mostly just say what you do. If you feel you really need to justify why you do what you do the best way is to show an outcome.
  • And definitely don't say (I've seen a few of these recently) "I disagreed with the decision so I recorded my disagreement even though I had to implement the decision". That's an internal confidential matter for your organisation which you shouldn't be making "public". (And in any case, you might have been the one who got the judgement wrong!) What you actually want to show is that where you have access to company confidential information (including this) you keep it confidential.  
  • Don't say "managing the project budget is important to keep costs under control", "installing equipment to the Wiring regulations is necessary to maintain electrical safety" or any other sentence that looks like that. The panels know that already! To show that you are competent say "I manage costs on my projects by...", "I manage safety on my projects by..." 
  • And also on saying the obvious, don't say (for example) "I compiled a spreadsheet using Excel" - of course you used Excel! Ok, other tools are available, the point is more about what value your spreadsheet added to the organisation, not how you did it. So "I identified an opportunity for improvement for the logging and tracking of failure data, and developed a process and spreadsheet solution which now ensures all failures can be effectively analysed on a quarterly basis" (and ideally "...resulting in x% reduction in failures") - that's far more interesting.
  • To sum up the above two points: assume that you are at the same level as the panels assessing your application. So you only need to explain engineering "life" if there is something specific about your organisation or industry that is strictly relevant to your competence. 
  • Don't waste words describing technology. You may need to do it briefly to put your work into context, particularly if you are explaining how your work is novel, but keep it really, really, really brief. It takes more engineering excellence to design a better pencil sharpener* than it does to fit a 13amp plug onto a supercomputer - it's not the complexity of the technology you are working on that will impress in your application, it's the complexity of the tasks you had to carry out and the amount of your own judgement you had to make.
  • A simple (and very common) one to save unnecessary words: if you find you've written "I looked at solutions...I identified xxx as the best solution...so I implemented xxx" actually only the middle bit is useful. If you've identified a best solution then we can assume you had looked at solutions and that you implemented the best one.
  • Also on this, and again this is where it is common to put in far, far too much detail, it doesn't matter why xxx was technically the best solution or what the alternatives were, what is interesting is how you knew it was the best one. Where did your knowledge and judgement come from. How did you check it was the right decision.
  • In general, don't treat the panels as university lecturers spending a long rainy day marking coursework. Treat them as very busy engineers who just want to be able to make a judgement, as quickly as possible, as to where you fit into the scale of engineering professionals. And one thing they'll judge you on is how well you can keep your application brief and to the point! 
As usual, I'd greatly appreciate any comments and other advice (especially if it contradicts the above 😊 ) from PRIs / PRAs.

Cheers,

Andy

* It really does. It is extremely rare that I come across an excellent pencil sharpener!
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: Advice to candidates - keep it brief and to the point!

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 19, 2019 1:24 pm

Andy Millar:

  • And definitely don't say (I've seen a few of these recently) "I disagreed with the decision so I recorded my disagreement even though I had to implement the decision". That's an internal confidential matter for your organisation which you shouldn't be making "public". (And in any case, you might have been the one who got the judgement wrong!) What you actually want to show is that where you have access to company confidential information (including this) you keep it confidential.  
...and that one comes up against the Code of Conduct items 11 and 9. Regarding 11, raising a concern about danger/risk/malpractice or wrongdoing is the correct action, but if you then implement it you have probably just failed. (9 is confidentiality to save anyone looking it up).
Very good set of bullet points, Andy. One other thing to mention is, as alluded to in one of your points, the outcome is what is going to be of most interest, but additionally if the description includes what was learnt in the process this shows professional development, and the easiest way to think about it is often 'If I was doing this again, what would I do differently?' or 'What advice would I give to someone else doing a similar project?'  The advice may be as simple as "Whatever you do, don't do it like this because......"  This will show that you are still learning (and learning from your mistakes).
Another one I have seen is an applicant very proud of having thought of something and unaware it is standard in industry so presenting it as innovation. It is very difficult to convince them that the Assessors/Interviewers will not see it in the same way.
Alasdair

Re: Advice to candidates - keep it brief and to the point!

Posted by EdFisher on Dec 20, 2019 3:38 pm

I have a related question.
I am using approx. 11 years of work within my competencies. I have however noticed that it is extremely difficult to highlight the breadth and depth of a competency without using a reasonable word count. Although this is not part of the form.

For example, for competency D2, the themes discuss i) leading meetings, ii) preparing technical documentation, and iii) providing robust advice. But one also needs to address why they feel justified as to an "expert" or "high-practitioner" competency level. Needing to take each of the themes and explain a) strategic matters, b) wide personal autonomy and c) application over a wide set of unpredictable contexts, will just take time.

It would seem that the alternative is to pick and choose experience, but by definition that would lead the reader to see a very narrow view of the person's competency in that area and less able to justify a high competency score. In my case, no one example would provide all justification for an "expert" or "high-practitioner" score, but when viewed holistically they would.

I guess the real question is what the reviewer is looking for?
Are they wanting an example that ticks most boxes, or are they looking for justification of a high score? How, for example, should I include pastoral advice to a student (i.e. an interpersonal skill, hence D2), if there is only space for a technical example.

I do however see your point as to word overload for the person that reads the application.

Re: Advice to candidates - keep it brief and to the point!

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 23, 2019 9:16 am

Ed,
I think you are falling into a common trap. The way that UK Spec is written gives the competence, then potential ways it can be demonstrated and alongside it gives suggested evidence for these examples. Taking the one you mention, D2, this is a sub-competence of D Demonstrate effective interpersonal skills and is D2 Present and discuss proposals. It is not prepare and deliver presentations on strategic matters, nor is it lead and sustain debates with audiences, nor feed the results back to improve the proposals, though if you do these things then they can be put forward as examples. If you are writing about a project you were involved in and there was a point where you developed a design (or a project plan or a suggestion for using a different widget) and went to the project manager and discussed your idea with him/her and it was accepted, then this meets the Present and discuss proposals. Also note it is not necessary for the proposal to be accepted to show this competence, but if it wasn't accepted you will have a harder job convincing that you presented and discussed the proposal in a competent manner.
Look at the other competences in the same way - read  the headline as the requirement and the bullet points as merely suggested examples.
Alasdair

Re: Advice to candidates - keep it brief and to the point!

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Dec 23, 2019 2:28 pm

The first thing that comes to my mind, is that evaluating competence is carried out by peer (i.e. equal) review. This is carried out by experienced registered members, of other as yet unregistered members. Therefore your aim is to explain simply and reasonably succinctly your achievements, with UK-SPEC as the common point of reference.

Some people (like me) want to see the “bigger picture” and are more comfortable inferring that the detail is there, subject to validation during interview. However, others are naturally “detail focussed”. Many engineers and students who went on to be engineers, were trained in this way. Much of academic practice tends towards breaking everything down and the art of passing an exam or assignment, is often to read carefully the exam question and answer every sub-clause. I mostly advise engineers to focus on the second column “examples”, not as a prescriptive list, but as ideas of the sort of things that could be helpful.

Some IET assessors (peer reviewers) might be a “better expert” than you in your specialist area, but this is not a competition, it is simply an evaluation of whether you meet the minimum threshold standard in all areas. Most IET assessors are simply experienced registrants , who are trained to recognise competence, including often that the person seeking registration is more expert than them. I always assume that the member seeking registration is more expert than I am, because they are doing their job and I’m not. Therefore, I like someone to just explain through their own eyes, some of their best work.

If you are fortunate enough to have, “ideal” academic qualifications and a career of growing leadership responsibility, then a simple description of this should suffice.  Some people think that "simple" means just a few bullet points, but like newspaper headlines they only grab attention, there needs to be a “story” of examples of achievement to flesh this out.

So how long is too long?  Think of the reader! An IET volunteer assessor may have over 20 applications to read through as part of the initial assessment. Some might be adept at skipping through or “speed reading” in search of the most relevant information, others go line by line. Clear presentation and white space helps, but you don’t want to fatigue and therefore lose the sympathy of the reviewer.

What about people without “ideal” academic qualifications?

The situation can be clouded by history and by the practice of other institutions who hold an Engineering Council license. Until about 10 years ago the emphasis of all institutions was on “meeting academic requirements” followed by a “training period”, followed by “responsible experience”.  The IET evolved a policy that academic qualifications, training and experience are all important examples of development. So it is possible to follow an accredited pathway with accredited qualifications and professional development, which place you in an advantageous position.  

Accredited qualifications are listed here  https://www.engc.org.uk/acad  The IET treats any accreditation by another Engineering Council body as equally valid.
Employers schemes are here https://www.theiet.org/career/accreditation/company-accreditation/.
There are also some specially mapped schemes for the armed forces  https://www.theiet.org/career/professional-registration/professional-registration-for-the-armed-forces/

A common question is - does the IET accept my qualification? The IET takes into account any relevant qualification worldwide that can be independently verified and compared to UK qualifications.  Some degrees that are not formally accredited are still well understood and respected. In the case of post graduate degrees it is impractical to accredit every programme, especially those of an individual bespoke nature such as “Gateways” MSc and others with bespoke work-based learning.   

If IET reviewers consider that the evidence of  qualifications and professional achievement does not clearly illustrate a level of knowledge and understanding appropriate to the category of registration, then they may seek additional evidence. This may include where appropriate, conducting a knowledge assessment based on a work sample or report. This is only used where a good case for competent practice is being made, but some doubt remains. Engineering Council describes this a the “Technical Report Route”. This is not an alternative to an academic qualification, but a pathway to recognition for experienced engineers.

The most difficult challenge for advisors and assessors is in my experience, dividing experienced engineers into those best aligned to IEng and those best aligned to CEng. Academic qualifications offer apparent certainty, but by the time many people apply for registration some years later, they rarely create a reliable division. The problem is magnified by the perceived difference in value between the two in many circumstances and some inappropriate prejudice.         

My final observations are;

The advantage I often see in those with a strong academic background, is the ability to express ideas and arguments, based in evidence and scientific method.  https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/engineering-design-process/engineering-design-compare-scientific-method


The often extremely able engineers who haven’t been exposed to these methods, such as through formal learning of a post-graduate nature, often don’t present quite as well “on paper”,  although they often impress “face to face”.  Deploying more complex forms of mathematics has historically been used as an differentiator,  but this has limited validity in most workplace situations now.  

Compliments of the season!  
  

 

Re: Advice to candidates - keep it brief and to the point!

Posted by Richard Meadows on Dec 24, 2019 8:20 am

Roy,  I completely agree with your points.

The issue about white space and layout is common and my heart sinks when I see candidates writing a full page or more with no paragraph breaks and little punctuation.  This brings up an interesting point.  As PRAs we advise on both content and style of the application, but bearing in mind that the application itself is a measure of D competencies, I feel there is a quite difficult line to tread when advising on corrections.  Over the years, I have received several applications that were riddled with typos, grammatical errors and so on.  As a diverse profession, we must, of course, accept that we will often get applications from those whose first language is not English, but we have to also bear in mind the UK-SPEC requirements for communicating in English (D1). In a profession where clear and concise communication is essential for safety, this issue presents us with a dilemma.  If there are just a few minor errors, I tend to suggest corrections, but clearly, as PRAs, we can't wade in and correct the entire script as it is then not the candidate's own work.  In some of these cases, I have advised the candidates to go back and put the script into Word or their favourite word processing application but results have been mixed.  I'd be interested to hear how other PRAs deal with this problem.

Back to the discussion and the key issue I find with application content is CEng applicants effectively drafting what equates to a "gold-plated" IEng application.  They fail to make sufficient distinction between the skills and competency requirements at CEng level and those for IEng and fail to draw out the essential differences between the two.  When I am reviewing a CEng application, in particular, I am looking for at least some of the following differentiators:
IEng / CEng
Tactical / Strategic
Management / Leadership
Responsibility / Accountability
Works in existing technologies and methodologies / Works in new technologies and methodologies (e.g. change advocate, innovation).
A relatively lower level of risk / Higher level of risk & more complex systems

I realise that some of these can be somewhat subjective to apply and there are no strict benchmarks but when I view the evidence, I am looking for evidence that is telling me that the candidate is tending toward one end of the spectrum or the other, not a binary decision.  All too often, I am finding that CEng candidates with significant relevant experience are tending to focus on task-related project content, rather than more strategic, innovative or change-related qualities. 

As pointed out to several candidates, a CEng applicant does not necessarily need academic qualifications, nor does one need to be an inventor or a contributor to patents, papers, etc., but the candidate must demonstrate qualities consistent with the professional registration category being applied for.  If a CEng application consists mainly of applying existing methodologies, standards, etc., to reasonably well-defined problems on existing products, then this rings the alarm bells for me.

Unfortunately, once this is pointed out, it often results in a substantial re-write and a somewhat demoralised candidate - though in most cases, they have eventually come up with a really good application and I have many emails of thanks from successful candidates as testimony.

I wonder if other PRAs are experiencing this and if so, does this indicate that we perhaps need a minor modification to the guidance notes, so that it is made clear to candidates (who read them - that's another thread!) that they need to focus on differentiating their skills and competencies?

Best wishes for the festive season and a happy New Year to all.

Re: Advice to candidates - keep it brief and to the point!

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 24, 2019 9:25 am

Richard,
I read your post with a sinking heart as it is so close to my experience that you could have been dealing with many of the same candidates.
Starting with the point about typos, grammatical errors, etc. I can only say if there are a mere handful (say one per page on average) then I will point them out, especially if it is a valid but wrong word that a spellchecker will not pick up. However if it is more prevalent then I will highlight those on a page or so and suggest the whole document needs to be checked (citing the appropriate competence if necessary). Similarly if there is a better way to describe what has been done I will make suggestions for a small section and suggest the rest of the document be similarly treated. The problem here is if you (as PRA) rewrite what has been presented there is a danger that, not knowing first hand what the candidate did, you will put down something that is not true. I also think that the application needs to be in the candidates own words, as far as possible, since if the application beautifully describes a project but at interview the candidate describes it in his/her own words completely differently then the interviewers may doubt that they are being told the truth.
With regard to CEng/IEng differentiators, where candidates present a 'gold plated' IEng application I highlight the table of competences in UK SPEC and ask the candidates to look at both the IEng and CEng descriptors and to justify why each of their evidences is CEng rather than just IEng. Often the candidate can justify why it is but that justification is not reflected in what is written.
Very best wishes for Christmas and a happy and successful 2020 to all,
Alasdair
 

Re: Advice to candidates - keep it brief and to the point!

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Dec 24, 2019 12:11 pm

I won’t pursue it here, but for various reasons many engineers are not drawn towards registration until mid-career. At this point they are more experienced, more responsible and broadly “knowledgeable”.  I have posted this elsewhere, but I think that these comments made to me by a Professor who was one of the key contributors to IET thinking about UK-SPEC. The comments were not intended for publication.

An Incorporated Engineer I would expect to be knowledgeable about specific engineering products or services, processes and machinery and able to explain things about them to people within his or her engineering organisation; I would expect them to be “streetwise” and able to supervise others confidently. An engineering or ICT technician I would expect to be a proficient user of particular tools, have patience and be thoroughly knowledgeable about the operation of a particular process or machine. A Chartered Engineer should have to be able at justifying engineering decisions to anyone especially themselves, be prepared to deliberate and research, set out an argument and work confidently in unfamiliar situations.   

It is the case that intellectual skills of deliberation and argumentation of a Chartered Engineer demand a longer time than the intellectual skills of an Engineering technician, however the technician has to develop “know how” for which an academic setting is not necessarily appropriate. And it is the case that there are some commonalities in the intellectual skill development of all categories but at some point they each go in a different direction to develop different portfolios.

I wouldn’t suggest that this is “the last word” on describing differences, but importantly the comments refer to developing “different portfolios”. Not “lower or higher” but “different”.  So for example, the application process for recognition as a Technician is less demanding in terms of “constructing an argument”, relying primarily on qualifications and vocational training with some supplementary questions.  The focus for an engineer is on being able to organise evidence, evaluate it and draw persuasive conclusions. Those conclusions don’t have to be a “written report” , they may be expressed, through designs, plans or even practical realisation. Relatively few engineers have control of an engineering “life cycle” from concept through delivery and ultimately destruction.  The UK-SPEC model has tended to value design or consultancy work as chartered, with realisation, project management, commissioning, operation, life cycle maintenance etc, being more aligned to IEng.  To a younger group who aspire to chartered recognition, academic qualifications are the primary frame of reference, but to an older cohort responsibility tends to be more relevant.

I have debated at length (often with myself) in these forums, how we engage more people as early as in practical within their career, support them and recognise continuing competence and commitment to professionalism.

I agree with the thrust of earlier comments that someone who cannot present “a case” and explain it, has no place as a Chartered Engineer.  I would see this as a “graduate attribute”,  although the capability can be acquired outside a university environment.  However, since 1999 our benchmark for Chartered Engineer has been set at “post- graduate” level, although once again such capability can be acquired without academic participation.  It seems likely that these benchmarks will remain similar following the UK-SPEC review?  

Rather than give an academic description of the differences between undergraduate and post-graduate programmes, I prefer the following crude and simplistic observation. You will gain a bachelors if you are able to assimilate and  regurgitate what you have been taught in assignments and examinations.  A masters should require you to develop ideas of your own, informed by the existing body of knowledge in your field, which you may need to research and evaluate. There are often not “right or wrong” or “black and white” answers, although many taught masters degrees tend to offer a preferred model or even be in effect be extended bachelors degrees.

Based on quite a bit of experience supporting modular masters programmes for experienced professionals (and having done one myself 25 years ago), some key elements, such as “research methods” are often easily grasped by experienced professionals and many do very well without having been teenage undergraduates.  I think our model of “just put yourself forward” for registration assessment, without necessarily more structured preparation and support over a longer period, sometimes manages expectations poorly and places an unrealistic demand on volunteer advisors. They do sterling work in helping people to choose the right category and to “get over the line”, but I think that we can do better.  

Even if we are able in the future to become fully respectful of the different types of professional contributions made by Engineers and Technicians. It seems unlikely that the situation where Chartered Engineer is dominant in the marketplace for recognition will change. In this context, I see the duty of The IET as enabling those members who aspire to achieve that benchmark to do so, if they are able to. Others may disagree and see our role as “weeding out” the majority who should not be part of the “elite” group.  

Half of all young people in the UK now engage in higher education and probably only those with specific problems, including being failed by the public education system, lack the talent to reach our benchmarks with the right opportunities. Such people may of course choose to pursue “more practical” options because that is what they enjoy and/or the market needs, doing “different but equally valuable” work.      



 

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