5 Things Every Junior Engineering Consultant Should Know
Engineer consulting is a common career path for new graduates. Anything from residential construction projects to industrial product design, you can be certain that a consultant firm exists to sell their time and expertise. This is great for engineers starting out because engineering consultant firms offer learning opportunities through a wide range of projects.
Beginner’s Guide to Engineering Consulting
The path of a junior engineering consultant is pretty straightforward. Depending on the field, you could start off as a designer, analyst, technologist, or engineer. In this role, you will hone your skills as an engineering consultant. Once you master the basic technical skills and familiarize yourself with the project procedures, you will soon find yourself in the position of a project manager. From there, you will choose to branch off into either the technical or management track, something we will discuss in this article.
1. Soft skills are your greatest asset
As the name suggests, engineering consultants juggle between two types of work, engineering and consulting. Engineering applies technical expertise to complex problems. Consulting handles the planning to make solutions come to life. That’s where soft skills come in. In the consulting world, you’ll be interacting with all sorts of people. This could be your client, marketing team, project manager, multidisciplinary engineering team, or anyone else in between. Strong communication, teamwork, and problem solving skills is what separates a good consultant from a great consultant.
As you work your way up the consulting career ladder, you’ll find increasingly more emphasis on soft skills. This is especially true for those who go down the management road. By the time you’re a project manager or principal consultant, business development will be one of your main area of focus. Growing the business relies heavily on building strong connections with clients and partners. Technical skills garner respect, but ultimately interpersonal skills is what wins people over.
2. Importance of appearing older and mature
If you’re a new engineering graduate, you’re likely in your early- to mid-20s. As a young engineering consultant, you’ll find yourself giving directions to clients or contractors who may be older and more senior. This can be intimidating for consultants starting out. To make matters worse, young engineers may fall victim to ageism in the workplace and be treated with less respect compared to their older counterparts.
We all like to believe that honest work speaks for itself, but it simply isn’t the case. Consulting is a field that places heavy importance on looks and composure. Clients prefer experienced and knowledgeable consultants and may feel skeptical about a young-looking consultant. If you suspect that you’re a victim of ageism, try making some changes to your overall appearance. How you carry yourself can make a huge difference. Simple things like good posture, a genuine smile, well-fitted clothing, heels for ladies, and a well-groomed beard for gentlemen can add a level of maturity to your look.
3. Management track provides more growth opportunities
In general, management track offers higher pay. In consulting, going down the management track can lead to middle or upper management positions such as Principal Consultant, Vice President, or Director. In private companies, upper management typically have opportunities to hold shares.
Management track consultants enjoy higher pay scale, but at the expense of work life balance and security. They tend to take on more responsibility and ownership for the company, which means working outside of regular hours. Management is also at a higher risk of being made redundant during economic downturns or company reorganization. They also don’t have the support of a union and thus miss out benefits such as job security.
Management track isn’t for everyone, as it can be quite demanding and stressful. They also focus less on technical problems and put more time into business development. Depending on the sacrifices you’re willing to make and the potential rewards, it could be the right choice for you. It’s best to decide which track you will go down early on so you can direct your career accordingly.
4. Technical track provides job security
Some engineers follow the technical track by choice, and others fall into it by accident. It usually starts with a niche project assignment or two. These experiences will help you develop specific skills, which will give you chances to work on other similar projects. Next thing you know, you’re a specialist in this particular niche and you’ve become the go-to engineer for this specific area of expertise.
A subject matter expert is very valuable to the company, and this translates into job stability. Depending on the company, technical employees sometimes also have the support of a union which reinforces job security.
Technical work can be extremely rewarding for research enthusiasts, however there are a couple of downsides. First and foremost, technical track pay does not scale nearly as high as it does in management. Additionally, fully committing to a technical career usually requires additional education investments. While some companies will reimburse school fees, you will still lose out on your regular salary for a good chunk of time. Becoming a subject matter expert may also limit your future opportunities in other fields as many of your skills may not be very transferable.
Like all career choices, the technical track comes with opportunity cost and sacrifice. Depending on your interests and risk tolerance, this could be the right choice for you.
5. Switch it up every few years
In your early consulting career, you should consider changing companies every few years. This gives you the opportunity to learn about various lines of work. Additionally, hopping companies is one of the best ways to get a raise. A general rule of thumb would be to change companies every 2 to 4 years. Of course once you climb up high enough on the career ladder, you will probably change jobs less often, if at all.