The make-your-own-way approach

May 2014 » Columns » Engineering Our Future
Chad Clinehens, P.E.

Traditional career development is dead. We are making a notable transition from a generation that worked for one company for decades to a generation that is all about change.

When I started my career as an engineer 17 years ago, I remember wanting the world right away. As I got settled into my first job, I grew frustrated with the lack of a “plan” for me. I decided to find a mentor who would hopefully champion me when the time was right. One of the first things my mentor told me was, “Make your own way.” At first, I thought the statement was a cop-out, and maybe it was, but it certainly described what had to be done in our company to accelerate a career. It is now the way to advance a career at any company.

Traditional approaches to career development are less effective as the job market, economy, and climate in which we are building our firms changes daily. If you are interested in developing a career faster than the slow evolution that is typical in design firms, then take charge and make it happen.

For you aspiring engineers, take note of the following pointers and start moving ahead:

· Stop waiting on your company to develop a career advancement program for you. Most people in design firms are busy with jobs and do not take the time to stay on top of employee advancement. Furthermore, many firms focus too much on utilization as an individual performance metric and that greatly reduces motivation for non-billable projects. Even if your company has an updated, easy-to-understand org chart accompanied by a great career development program, that will only work for the candidate type it was designed around. Most engineers need a custom plan, and you have to figure out what that plan looks like for you.

· Build your personal brand. You need to decide what you want to do in your career and then sketch out everything that comes with that role. The experience, skills, education — even the clothes, car, and overall look — all contribute to that role. When I decided I wanted to go from projects to business development, I went out and bought new clothes that were more appropriate for interacting with potential clients. Build your personal brand to reflect what you want to be in the future. 

· Invest in others, then yourself. Great leadership is required of those hoping to accomplish great things. As you develop a plan for advancing your career, plan for how to fill the roles you will vacate along your way to the top. Developing others is about making those around you perform to their highest potential and promoting them as you do yourself. Just as finding a champion benefits you, you need to champion others.

The make-your-own-way approach is all about taking control of your career. Let’s face it, few companies have a career development plan that is going to be a perfect fit for you. As an ambitious engineer, you need to design your career path just like you design your projects. That design requires education, skills, and an image that fits the job requirements. Stop being frustrated by that lack of a plan and make it yourself. Go now.

Chad Clinehens, P.E., is ZweigWhite’s executive vice president. Contact him at cclinehens@zweigwhite.com.


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