Civil engineers go through rigorous science and math classes while they are in college. They learn all of the technical skills they will need to be successful in their expertise, and many take on internships that allow them to put these skills into practice. What typically isn’t stressed for engineers are business, communication, and networking skills.
Networking is a key part of any business, no matter what the industry. In the consulting engineering field, networking can lead to a new job, experience, or new business for your firm. You never know when a connection will be able to provide you with a project lead or teaming opportunity.
1. Join a professional organization – The engineering field includes diverse disciplines, and there are equally diverse professional organizations available to provide networking, advocacy, and educational opportunities. Firms will often pay its employees’ dues to an organization to keep them professionally engaged. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is a great organization that advocates for individuals in the industry, but there are many more specialized organizations that may speak to your interests or professional or personal background, like ACEC, ASHE, NSPE, NSBE, WTS, SWE, SASE, and more. Attend seminars and conferences offered by these organizations and stay in touch with those you meet at these events. Also consider joining the local chapter of your alumni association to get to know others from your alma mater. Once you are involved, consider taking on a board position for additional experience and recognition.
2. Attend events – Any given month, there are several industry events going on, such as awards dinners, non-profit benefits, and happy hours. These are a great way to meet people in the industry and those adjacent to it. Keep an eye out for a shared “Events Calendar” your firm keeps, and ask to attend an event that is of interest to you. Many firms end up sponsoring events and are given a table or complimentary tickets to attend. Senior staff may get offered the tickets first, but let whoever is coordinating the sponsorship for your firm know that you are willing to take a ticket if a spot opens up. Always bring a $20 bill with you, just in case the event is not an open bar. This should leave you with enough to buy a drink for yourself, as well as a new connection who wrongfully assumed the drinks would be free.* Also consider attending a college career fair on your firm’s behalf. It is a great way to prove you can be a strong representative of the firm.
3. Keep in contact with your coworkers – Like many industries, employees tend to move among different consulting engineering firms. Connections you make early in your career may pay off later, as someone starting on the consulting side could move to the public sector, or vice versa. Try to keep as many personal relationships as you can with coworkers, and connect with everyone you have a working relationship with on LinkedIn to help keep tabs. Avoid connecting with people on LinkedIn you do not have a working relationship with though, as that tends to turn people off.
4. Attend a company ‘Meet & Greet’ – Consulting firms will often organize ‘Meet & Greets’ to find areas where business overlaps. Two firms who may compete on projects may realize each possesses strength in a discipline the other is lacking and agree that teaming could lead to a strong opportunity on a future pursuit. These meetings tend to happen between business development staff and practice leaders, but are generally casual and happen over coffee or lunch. Ask to attend a meeting if you hear about one happening with your firm and another. You can tag along and observe. Be sure to take a business card from everyone you meet, and follow up afterward with them saying how you appreciate meeting them. Even if no business is developed, it will make you more comfortable for these types of meetings in the future.
5. Find a mentor in your firm – As you begin your career, look at the senior staff in your firm and figure out whose career you would like to have. Do you want to eventually get into management? Are you interested in sticking with project work? Or maybe finding a balance between the two? Is there a specific type of project work you would like to specialize in? Ask a senior employee out to lunch, coffee, or a drink after work, and pick their brain on their career path. If they are busy, schedule some time to sit with them in their office. They will likely be able to give you advice you can learn from, or connect you with someone else who may be a better fit.
6. Leverage social media – Recruiters often use social media platforms to probe potential candidates, as well as to learn about you your skills and experience. Social media is also a great way to enhance in-person networking. Alone, social media networking can be hollow, but it can be an easy way to make an introduction with someone who works for a firm you are interested in, or may be a future potential client. Request a connection along with a follow-up action item to meet for lunch or coffee, so you can get to know each other offline. Be sure that your online profile is up-to-date, and if you are using it for professional use, make sure it looks professional.
7. Give advice, even when it doesn’t benefit you – When you give advice without expecting anything in return, it might not benefit you immediately, but people remember favors. You never know when someone will return the favor. It is a great way to connect with people, and they are likely to either return with helpful insight or advice later, or let other people know your character, giving you a more positive image amongst your peers.
8. Avoid the hard sell – When networking with prospective clients or employers, avoid a “hard sell” approach. Try to build trust and foster a relationship that can be long-term. Reach out to connections just to say ‘Hi!’ or congratulate them on a recent accomplishment. When you only reach out to people when you are looking for something, they are likely to recognize that and are more likely to ignore it. People want to work with genuine people, so be sure to build connections on more than just business, and perhaps find commonalities that can provide a bond outside of work.
9. Volunteer – There are many mentoring programs that link up with the engineering industry. By participating in these programs – on top of helping guide younger people looking for a STEM career – you will be interacting with others in the field, both your age and above. These connections will be valuable in the future. Organizations like the ACE Mentor Program, the Spark Program, MATHCOUNTS, and the Future City Competition are in need of volunteers with the skillsets most engineers possess, so these are obvious choices. Teachers often reach out to firms looking for guest speakers to educate their classes, so consider presenting at a high school! You never know who you will meet volunteering for a local charity though, so work for one that interests you.
10. Get published – A great way to get your name out there is to write a bylined article. The innovative projects engineers work on, as well as new techniques they develop, can work great as an article or research paper. You can submit your writing to industry magazines, trade journals, society newsletters, or to your company’s internal or external newsletter. Work with your firm’s marketing group, if needed, to help you find the right vehicle. When in doubt, you can always start your own blog or post it on LinkedIn. Articles often receive feedback from readers, so by putting your work out for others to see, you may attract the attention of professional connections that will benefit you later in your career. If writing is not your thing, consider submitting project work for an award! Many publications have their own awards program, so by getting a project recognized, you will be shining a light on your career.
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