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Civil Engineering: Taking a Hard Line on Soft Skills

Successful real estate investor Barbara Corcoran once said:

So as we leap into 2017 with both feet, make the development of your soft skills a priority.  Here are a few reasons why your soft skills are so important:

Business Development:  Your track record and resume of successfully completed projects may look stunning on glossy marketing pieces, well-written proposals, or a high-end website.  You may have delivered all of your projects ahead of schedule and under budget while maintaining impeccable quality.  Your current and past clients will even vouch for you.  BUT, in developing new clients, if you are unable to connect with them on a personal level and build a trusting and GENUINE relationship where the client actually LIKES you, the odds of landing a new client are slim.

Career Advancement:  Taking the concept beyond just winning new clients, the development of soft skills and relationship building skills are CRUCIAL to the advancement of your career whether you are an EIT just starting out, or Project Manager fighting to break out of the chains of middle management.   In these cases, let’s look at applying the soft skills to the people you surround yourself with.  Assuming that your engineering skills are stellar, company leaders are more inclined to promote and hire professionals they like (or can envision) working with and enjoy being around.  You may be the most creative, on-point, civil engineering design expert, but if you are unable to communicate, or if you ride around on a high horse because you know you have mad skills, you will find yourself treading water for a long time.

Team Building:  Let’s face it, you are only as good as the team you are leading.  As a leader, you need to build trust with and really get to know your team members…both as professionals and as individuals.  Take the time to learn what motivates them, what drives them, what they enjoy doing outside of work, where they want to take their careers, and then build bridges accordingly.   Sitting behind a closed office door all day may allow YOU to get things done, but that short-term success/instant gratification will ultimately force your team to crumble beneath you.  Yes, it takes work, and time, and you may have to work more hours than you would prefer to get your own stuff done, but the payoff will be ten-fold.

In a 2015 Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives, 92% indicated that soft skills were equally important, if not more important than, technical skills.  Your ability to develop your soft skills and build quality, legitimate relationships will help differentiate you from the pack and will lead to a rewarding and fruitful career in civil engineering.

Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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January 24, 2017 at 1:05 pm Leave a comment

2017: Plan Your Work & Work Your Plan

plan-your-work

I am not a professional coach in any way shape or form, but I have used one on a few occasions in the past, and in 2016 I went through an invaluable exercise in goal setting, as encouraged and outlined by my coach.  I’ve never been one to set firm goals in any areas of my life; I always knew what I wanted to achieve financially, personally, physically, and spiritually, but I never physically came up with a plan…until last year.  Without getting into too much detail, I developed a list of lifelong goals, annual goals, quarterly goals, monthly goals, and weekly goals, but I did not tuck them away in a journal, or just post the list on the frame of my computer monitor.    I worked them into a spreadsheet, and then tracked on a daily basis those tasks that would lead to my goals, and I did this for an entire calendar year.

What an eye opening process this was.  I’m 42 years old and I’m left shaking my head wondering why I did not take the time to do this earlier on in life!

At the conclusion of 2016, I was able to celebrate my successes and understand what I needed to do to continue forward momentum, and I was able to evaluate my shortcomings and understand what I needed to do differently in order to meet or exceed my goals for 2017.   I give credit to the life/professional coach who taught me this process, but I also learned quite a lot from Jeff Olson’s book, The Slight Edge.  If you have not read it, I highly recommend it.

So as you kick off the new year, I challenge you to not just “plan your work,” but “work your plan!”

Wishing you all the best in 2017!

Matt

Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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January 18, 2017 at 11:45 am Leave a comment

Civil Engineering Ethics: Leaving Your Employer & Telling Your Clients

leavingA candidate of mine was given a 60 day notice that he will be laid off from his employer, due to financial conditions of the engineering consulting firm. This engineer is well-respected in his community and known as an expert in the city and county he resides. His employer asked him to not tell the firm’s clients or employees in other offices that he is leaving. He leads a small office of this national consulting firm. Assuming this engineer has no employment agreement, does he have an obligation to his firm? Does he have a professional responsibility to inform his clients?

Whether you are laid off or choose to leave your current employer, how and should you tell your clients?

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Code Of Ethics should be understood and always in the mind of its members. Engineers face situations that often put them in ethical dilemmas with their employers. Let’s look at our situations above while referencing ASCE canons.

*ASCE canon (professional responsibility) #4  states in part that one acknowledges that “clients should have the autonomy to seek professional services from the engineer of their choice. To do so, however, they must have knowledge of circumstances that might affect their selection, and they must be apprised of the options available to them.” If you are the client manager, project manager or technical leader on a project with client interaction, canon #4 suggests that you let the client know you are leaving. If you are the proposed lead of a proposed project and the client is reviewing other firms as well as yours, you are obligated under this canon to inform them.

*But, one must keep in mind canon #3. Canon #3 tells us that engineers must “issue true statements.” In upholding this responsibility, the engineer must keep in mind that he/she “will avoid any act tending to promote their own interests at the expense of the integrity, honor and dignity of the profession.” One must be careful to not speak badly of their current employer to intentionally cause them to be knocked out of contract consideration. The engineer must speak truthfully while not disparaging another engineer unfairly.

*As canon #5 informs “Engineers shall not maliciously or falsely, directly or indirectly, injure the professional reputation, prospects, practice or employment of another engineer or indiscriminately criticize another’s work.” An exiting employee/engineer must be honest in their assessment of the firm’s ability to continue the client’s work without him/her.  What does one say if the engineer assigned to take over the project is incapable of the role? Canon #5 could be viewed as walking a fine line.

Why is it important for your client to know you are leaving your firm? APQC asked executives to “prioritize what they value when hiring a consultant.” Of top and equal importance to these leaders, they place “firm’s experience” and “project team’s experience” with the client’s issue as top reasons to hire a specific consulting firm. Engineers and their employers have a responsibility to their clients to tell them what has happened or will happen with their project and the team. Clients understand business decisions, they make them everyday. They may not agree with the decisions, but they understand them. If they hired the engineering firm for a specific person’s political connection, the engineering firm has now directly impacted their client’s ability to perform.

Informing your clients of your departure is an ethical as well as professional responsibility. Here’s how to make that transition smoother:

  • Work with your supervisor to inform your client. You employer will want to minimize the client’s concerns.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute or your final day of employment to tell clients.
  • Inform client’s in person or by phone if an in person meeting is not possible. Follow up with an email.
  • It is also good practice to introduce your project successor and offer to help with a project transition plan.

Keep in mind that while these are your employer’s clients- as described above, the client may be there because of YOU! Always be professional!

Let us know what you think!

Carol new profile

Carol Metzner President, The MetznerGroup Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

January 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

What is the ASCE Grand Challenge?

asce_logo_horizontal

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has initiated a “Grand Challenge.” The Grand Challenge asks for a commitment from civil engineers to be innovative in all phases of project planning, design, and implementation. The Grand Challenge’s goal is to reduce infrastructure lifespan costs by 50% by 2025 and to encourage innovation and design for infrastructure sustainability. The ASCE Grand Challenge asks civil engineers from all backgrounds and at every career stage to “implement performance-based standards, resilience, innovation, and life cycle cost analysis in all projects.”

The ASCE Report Card for America’s Infrastructure estimates the investment needed for our infrastructure by 2020 is $3.6 trillion, of which $1.6 trillion is unfunded. With each passing year our bridges decay, water mains leak and our foundations crumble. Band-aids are applied and wounds stitched until the next disaster. The new administration assures us that America’s infrastructure- airports, transit/rail, etc- will lead the world. Where will that $1.6 trillion come from if we are not selling our infrastructure to other countries?   ASCE summons its members to become leaders in creating solutions to, at the least, reduce the insufficiency.

What do you think? Can this work? Why not at least try?

Download your “Outreach Toolkit” here: https://ascegrandchallenge.com/toolkit/

Let’s us know what you think!

Carol new profile

Carol Metzner President, The MetznerGroup Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

View Carol’s profile & connect with her on LinkedIn

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

December 8, 2016 at 11:32 am Leave a comment

A/E Leaders Make Changes: Staff Should Take Note!

self knowledge
When I began recruiting within the A/E industry in 1986, consulting firms purported the ability for staff to choose between a technical track or a management track. In reality, if you were a competent engineer and personable, then you would be pushed up the management track (whether you wanted to or not).

If you weren’t as outgoing as your employer desired, then you were encouraged to follow a technical career path. Consequently, I witnessed many staff rise to positions in firms that they neither wanted nor were really good at doing. They followed the course as many of us were taught that the goal is to be a manager, a leader.

Over the past two years, a trend has developed with senior level architects and engineers. They have reached a specific level in their careers and realized, “I don’t need to prove my capabilities to myself or anyone else.”

Towards the last third of their career, many desire to take on roles that they love. For many, this is focusing only on client management or large programs. For others, the desire is to mentor staff and/or overseeing technical competences.

I’ll provide an example. I recently found a leader who was excited to leave their role managing 500 staff, across multiple offices and states, to grow a small office for a much smaller company. He wanted to “have fun at work again.” And, after working for a large public engineering firm, he wanted to “practice engineering again” and not feel like he was working for an accounting firm. These sentiments are becoming the norm not the exception.

Fortunately, I realized in my late 20’s that I was an average department manager. Convinced that my goal was to manage people, I didn’t feel the “fit” in the job. Armed with that realization and the confidence that I was a good recruiter, I founded The Metzner Group, LLC. Twenty-seven years later, here I am.

Hopefully, the trend of those in the last third of their careers will motivate those architects and engineers who are in the early stages of their jobs. Do what you LOVE, not what you think you are supposed to do!

Freedom that self-knowledge brings is enjoyable!

Carol new profile

Carol Metzner President, The MetznerGroup Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

View Carol’s profile & connect with her on LinkedIn

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

August 17, 2016 at 2:18 pm 1 comment

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Refreshing Lemonade

With much success comes a certain amount of failure.  Over the course of my career recruiting civil engineers I have not only had to turn lemons into lemonade myself, but I have been fortunate enough to coach candidates to do the same.  Here are some tips from two decades of recruiting civil engineers on how you can turn lemons into some freshly squeezed, refreshing lemonade:

Bruised LemonLooks Do Matter.  When you are at the grocery store hand selecting the right lemon to buy, you pick it up, give it a little squeeze, look at the color, look for soft spots, bruising, etc, all before you put it in the cart.  The same concept should apply to your resume before sending it out.  I have talked to some great candidates over the years who were having difficulty generating any interest from any firms.  After evaluating their resume, I understood why.  It has been documented that hiring managers view resumes in seven seconds or less; so no matter how great your experience is, if your resume is sloppy, dis-organized, and generally unappealing to the eye, it may end up in the big stack, and not the short one, if you know what I’m saying.  So take your lemon of a resume and organize it well; be consistent with your font and font sizes; use a mix of bold, italics, underline, and bullet points (but don’t go overboard), and turn it into a tall glass of cool lemonade that anyone would enjoy picking up and sipping on.  Taking the time to do so shows you care.

Lemonade Taste TestThe Results of the Taste Test Matter.  Unfortunately, not every interview will lead to an offer; on those occasions where they do not, one should ask for honest feedback from the hiring manager, or if you use the services of a recruiter, from the recruiter.  Informing a candidate they did not make the “cut” is never an enjoyable experience, but I try to provide honest feedback so they can improve their interview skills and learn how they fell short.  It could be simple items like not making eye contact or seeming dis-interested; it could be lack of energy; it could be failing to do the necessary due diligence on the firm prior to the meeting; it could be failing to sit down the night before your meeting to reflect over your career, projects, roles, etc in order to properly prepare yourself to answer all questions that come your way.  In the end, you just did not come out on top in the “taste test.” Whatever the case may be,  reflect on your experience and gather all the information you can to turn that sour tasting cup into some sweet lemonade which will take first prize in the next “taste test.”

Dropping a LemonDon’t Just Drop The Ball (or Lemon).  I recently had a really strong candidate who was a finalist for a position to lead a new office that my client was opening.  Part of the final evaluation between the final two candidates was to have them develop a business plan that would show what the first, third, and fifth years would look like.  One particular candidate spent a good twenty hours doing research and reaching out to peers and business contacts, only to end up taking second place…and it was a strong plan.  Now that’s a lemon.  But lemonade could easily be made over time by proactively reaching out to other like firms who may have an interest in opening an office in that particular market, and actually marketing your plan and ideas to them.  If one takes the time to put a plan like that together, it is safe to say that their level of excitement is pretty high.  The detailed plan, along with the passion that would likely come through in presenting that plan to different organizations is bound to appeal to at least a few organizations.

Garbage can

Toss the Sour Lemons.  Chances are you will encounter some “sour lemons” over the course of your career, and no one likes sour lemonade.  Inept managers, unethical firms, stagnant or toxic work environments, inflexible employers,  brutal commutes, old-fashioned or uncreative cultures…all are viable examples of “sour lemons.” Everyone’s palate is a little different, but don’t be afraid to toss those sour lemons and move on.  As you progress in your career, you will be able to refine what you believe to be the best lemons to generate the perfect glass of lemonade, and hopefully you find that recipe sooner than later. The sooner you create that recipe the longer you will be able to enjoy it.

 

 

 

I love hearing and sharing stories, so if you have a story to share about how you turned a lemon into lemonade, please let us know below in the comment section!

Barcus headshotMatt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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June 1, 2016 at 8:13 am Leave a comment

Self Belief & Embracing Your Inner Badass

“The moment you have the audacity to start believing in the not-yet seen, your reality will begin to shift…you have to change your thinking first, and then the evidence appears.  Our big mistake is that we do it the other way around.  We demand to see the evidence before we believe it to be true.” ~ Jen Cincero, Author

 

 

In my world of civil engineering executive search this is a very powerful statement.  I have the privilege of working with civil engineering executives, leaders, and consulting firm owners who have a vision for growth.   These leaders have successfully built businesses or service lines, but they are looking to further expand into new geographies or new service lines, and they seek our guidance in identifying top talent in the industry to help them achieve that vision.

The challenge is, not necessarily findingInner Badass the candidate who meets the desired skill set, but finding the candidate who meets the desired skill set AND who is able to “believe in the not-yet seen.”  That is, the civil engineer or civil engineering executive who is able to buy into the vision, and who can look themselves in the mirror and say to themselves, “yes, this opportunity does pose some risk, but my past experiences and the success that I have earned up to this point in my career will SQUASH that element of risk!”  In other words, finding candidates who have the level of self confidence to successfully pull off an exciting, and often career changing professional feat.  So many times I interact with folks who rather than seeing the opportunity set before them as  true “game-changer,” they become apprehensive and need to see some sort of evidence that things will work out, when in fact they are the ones who have the amazing opportunity to write the story, or create that evidence THEMSELVES!

Those who have the self-awareness and know how to kick ass and take names, but who don’t come across like a bull in a china shop are the one’s who can TRULY make a name for themselves and make sizable impacts in the growth of an organization.

Let me give you an example.  Right now I am conducting a search for a client – a small firm in the Southwest US who is looking to expand into a brand new geography.  The company president has spent the last 18 months performing his due diligence, getting all the necessary certifications in place, meeting with all the right people and developing relationships with potential clients and partners within that marketplace.  He is now ready to pull the trigger.  We have uncovered half a dozen candidates who love the idea of leading an office, sharing in the profits, and taking an ownership stake in the firm in two years.  They have all the tools, a business plan is in place, financials are out on the table, but in the end, they fall back into the trap of being “comfortable” where they are.  A psychological “flick-of-the-switch” would make ALL the difference for some of these folks.  If they were truly able to assess all they have accomplished up to this point in their career, and then maybe puff their chest just a little bit, their career could end up being quite different.

What keeps me going is that I have indeed been fortunate enough to place dozens of civil engineers in leadership roles where they have been tasked with starting a new group, opening a new office, or turning around a struggling operation..and they have KILLED IT!  It is a great honor to watch some of the professionals we work with really take the “bull-by-the-horns” and make considerable contributions to the vision of our clients.  In the end, it was their “inner badass” that played a big part in their achievements.

As a recruiter, it is frustrating to see some really good candidates turn down some amazing opportunities; not because we lost out on a placement, but because we catch a glimpse of greatness in these candidates, and we only wish they would have caught that same glimpse themselves.

 

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Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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May 4, 2016 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

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