In the engineering field, being able to communicate and build relationships with colleagues and clients, manage projects, research, write, and prepare presentations is equally as important as your technical skills.
A typical day – when there is one – includes a combination of field work, office work, and client communication. College is a great time to build these skills and qualities inside and outside of the classroom – through lab work, extracurricular experiences, and internships – and was key to the conversations at the Engineering Industry Showcase held on February 20th during Columbia’s E-Week.
The event, co-hosted and moderated by the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers, drew 90+ students and 10 employers, and included a panel of alumni and other employers from Shawmut Design & Construction, Kulite Semiconductor, ExxonMobil, Arcadis, and TEG Energy Group.
Companies in attendance for networking after the panel were:
- Infinite Consulting Corp
- Kulite Semiconductors
- Procter & Gamble
- Red Balloon Security
- Shawmut Design & Construction
- TEG Energy Group
STAND OUT BY BEING PREPARED, CONNECTING YOUR GENUINE INTERESTS TO THE COMPANY, AND SHOWING UP EVERY DAY
Standing Out at Career Fairs & NEtworking events
Carolina Zapata, Project Manager at Shawmut Design & Construction shared a story about a student who came up to her at the start of the showcase, introduced himself, conveyed his passion, and clearly demonstrated his research about the company and what he wanted to do there. She said she immediately gave him her card and asked him to be in touch. Carolina reminded students that it’s important to “be that prepared.”
JP Hilton (SEAS ‘12), Director of Advanced Development at Kulite Semiconductors, agreed, saying it impresses him when a student walks up to him and already knows something about the company. He also encouraged students to be authentic and be able to express the things that interest them, to explore whether there’s a match with the company.
“Don’t just express interest in any job, know what you want to do.”
Hilton shared that he left graduate school interested in research and development, but quickly realized he wanted something different.
A similar message came from Jane Wu (SEAS ’17), Environmental & Water Engineer at Arcadis, who first connected to the company at last year’s Engineering Showcase. Wu shared tips from her success story. She said what the company appreciated most was her enthusiasm for topics she was interested in that were also aligned with the company’s work. At last year’s Showcase, she got a business card and followed up, at which point she was invited to an employee lunch. When people at the company started to talk about topics that interested her, she found places to jump in and share her knowledge. Following the meeting, she kept in touch and passed along relevant news articles, which helped to show she was already invested in the field. “That’s what won them over.”
Standing Out DURING Interviews
Peter Morice (SEAS ’12), Chief Operating Officer of TEG Energy Group – who interned at the company during college and then rejoined later in his career – said that one of his recent hires did a great job on the interview of showing how his natural interests would fit well with the company. Because of this, he could see the candidate would enjoy working at the company and growing with them.
“It’s your career, so you should pick something you are really interested in and pursue it.”
Morice recommended that students consider building a website where they can showcase a project or examples of their work with a blurb and visual. It helps employers see the things that you’re excited about and that interest you, which you can share more about in an interview.
Standing Out on the Job
Zapata encouraged budding engineers to be eager, respectful, and not to take anything for granted. She said that her employees that “show up” every day are those she’s excited to mentor and help grow. Brian Moreno (SEAS ’09), Planning Advisor, ExxonMobil, shared that the best engineers have great technical knowledge, but also are comfortable admitting when they don’t know something. He said it’s important to be inquisitive and have a real desire to want to understand and talk through technical issues to help bring a project to its next stage.
Zapata recommended that students who are interested in management should get involved in difficult projects early in their career. She said that on challenging jobs you will have to be a technical expert. Tough jobs taught Zapata how to protect her company, document work, and react quickly to manage problems, all skills she brings to her managerial role now. She said that one of the most important skills in management is to help others develop and progress in their careers.
USE YOUR COLLEGE EXPERIENCE TO BUILD YOUR TECHNICAL SKILLS & SOCIAL COMPETENCIES
When asked what they did in college to prepare for a career in engineering, panelists encouraged engaging with coursework and also tying in extracurricular activities, research, or work experiences to learn as much as possible. Hilton said that students should “follow the things you like and keep doing them.” Moreno said that while his classroom experience was influential, an internship at BASF and a research project he worked on made him feel most prepared for life after graduation. Zapata, who “loves being in the field” encouraged students to “balance school and an internship” at some point in their education. Wu, who worked while taking classes, agreed.
Wu shared that the technical skills she learned in the classroom – like AutoCAD and GIS – were valuable, along with internship experience and project work. However, she emphasized that equally important in the field is social competency. She referenced classes she took that required her to present in front of groups, which helped to ground her and build her skills as a communicator and consultant.
THE ENGINEERING INDUSTRY IS CONSTANTLY EVOLVING
…WHEN IT COMES TO DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
Zapata is involved in female led Coffee Talks at Shawmut and was recently admitted to the company’s Diversity and Inclusion committee. She said that at Shawmut, diversity and inclusion is so important to the company, and that’s a huge part of why she wanted to work there.
Wu shared that one of her favorite things about Arcadis is that it has a large representation of women on staff and in the field. She said her company also recently started a “people first” initiative to focus on work/life balance, which can includes initiatives like staff being able to work from home one time per week to be with family.
Moreno shared that he sees a lot of effort put into building employee affinity groups, which helps to bring together people across different levels in the organization. He also shared that he sees a shift in inclusion in the way people advance more quickly in his organization – bringing diversity in thought, identity, and experience to managerial levels faster than ever before.
…WHEN IT COMES TO MANAGING GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN THE WORKPLACE
Moreno said that he noticed a shift in hiring that is bringing in a lot of younger people to the field, working alongside the more experienced generation of employees that have been with the company or in the industry for a long time. He shared that a lot of engineering companies are working to bridge some of the natural divide between these staff members, and help managers learn new skills for working with newer staff.
…WHEN IT COMES TO THE INFLUENCE OF DATA & ANALYTICS
Wu shared that she sees the industry shifting by focusing more on data and analytics, and the ways this information can make engineering better and faster. She shared that Arcadis recently hired three data analysts for the first time, and predicted that this shift will be the wave of the future.
Visit CCE’s Engineering Industry Pages to learn more about the field!