So you just graduated from an engineering school, and you had a couple interviews with a company that went pretty well. With a sigh of relief, you’ve managed to convince them that you know stuff about things. You may have even convinced yourself of the same. For a time.
But now, you are sitting at your cubicle and your new boss has given you a project with what seems like the vaguest directions possible. That one day training seminar from corporate is also not really doing much to make you feel at ease seeing as how none of the conversation about properly filing expense reports seems to be assisting you on designing this magical part; a redesigned part that is somehow supposed to add stability, rigidity, aesthetics, AND cut costs.
For some reason, that 400 level calculus class you took to get a mathematics minor doesn’t appear to be solving the riddle either, and you definitely don’t remember the “improve aesthetics” equation in statics class…
But don’t fret. We’ve all been there. Even the most senior engineers have had NO CLUE what’s going on at some point in their career.
In fact, most companies don’t really expect an employee to fully turn a profit until six months into the position. There’s a good chance your manager has partly forgotten what it’s like to be fresh out of college, or possibly the exercise is purposely crafted to see how you think and what you already know. Don’t worry. The company wants to help you, and before long, you’ll be a fully functioning engineer!
So what are the steps to achieve engineering greatness? Below are four recommendations to help you settle into your new role and become a key part of the team.
1. Ask Questions
One of the biggest tips for new engineers boils down to asking questions. If you aren’t sure about something, don’t be afraid to ask. If you think it might be something the person you are asking doesn’t know either (like which design is “best”), then provide that person with options. Think through some things first like material and machining time. Look up the costs of components and maybe find a couple suppliers. Being proactive is always beneficial.
2. Find a Mentor
Even though everyone appears busy there are plenty of people who thrive on passing along their knowledge. Not only will you learn a lot about engineering, but by observing, you can learn a lot about business in general. Don’t be afraid to ask for a mentor if one is not assigned to you. It may be a formal or an informal relationship. Mentors in any capacity are invaluable in the work place!
3. Connect With Others
Take time to connect with your peers and co-workers. Work is about more than just engineering. It’s important to build relationships at all levels. Some of these folks will stay with you your entire life. Find someone who is successful and emulate their behavior. Do they have more face-to-face interactions than email interactions? How do they deal with conflict? How much flexibility do they ask for in the workplace? Be a sponge and learn from them both technically and socially. Your behavior in the workplace is just as important as your technical skills.
4. External Resources
Sometimes the best solution is just finding an expert to help you out. If your company seems to be spending a lot of time working on a particular process, then talk to people who improve efficiency of other companies. If you have friends in other industries, don’t be afraid to talk to them as well. Sometimes an outside viewpoint can keep things fresh and creative. Take inspiration from a variety places.
As a new engineer, starting your first job can be intimidating. Just remember, everyone has been there, and it does get less overwhelming. Simply ask questions, make connections, work hard, and emulate those who are successful. Someday you might be the manager assigning a project to a new grad who looks just a little nervous.
Still looking for your first engineering career? Check out our list of openings.
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