Posts filed under ‘The U.S. Economy & Civil Engineering’
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:
Looks 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.
The 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.”
Don’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.
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!
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com
Timing the stock market is impossible…no matter what anyone tells you, it just can’t be done on a sustainable basis. The same can be said when it comes to career opportunities. Take a look at this chart:
There are a number of different directions I could go comparing your career to the stock market, but my message today is that if you try to perfectly time your career moves you will spend the rest of your career with the same organization. If you miss out on opportunities that are presented to you for no other reason then “the timing is not right,” then you are diminishing your ROC (Return on Career). Diminishing returns on career – here is what I am talking about:
- Exposure to salary compression
- No exposure to new people, new clients, new cultures, or new types of projects
- No breaking out of your comfort zone
- Missed growth opportunities passing you by
- Creative and lucrative retirement savings programs
I’m not suggesting making a move every couple of years, because I still believe the “job hopping” mentality will catch up to you, at least in the civil engineering consulting world. But if an opportunity presents itself, and I don’t mean one that is just doing the same thing with a different company for a little bit more money, those are a dime-a-dozen, but something different and challenging that can take your career to new levels; don’t you owe it to yourself to at least explore the opportunity? It does not have to be on company time, as most executives and hiring managers we work with are willing to meet first thing in the morning for breakfast, out for drinks or dinner after regular business hours, or even on the weekends.
Quite often when I approach candidates with career opportunities with clients that I am extremely passionate about I am told that “the timing is not right.” I get it, on the surface the timing is rarely right because:
- You are in the middle of a project – but aren’t you always going to be in the middle of some sort of project or task?
- You would feel guilty leaving your boss with challenging task of having to replace you or pick up your work that you are leaving behind – don’t you think if your boss was presented with a great opportunity he/she would consider it?
- You feel as though you deliver great value to your employer and you would feel bad about leaving them in a bind – other valuable employees have moved on before you, yet the company managed to survive, and often thrive!
- You are waiting on a bonus – there is a strong likelihood that that bonus can be equalized with a signing bonus from your new employer.
It is a great time to be a civil engineer as there are tremendous opportunities available with firms that are creating new positions due to growth, expanding into new services lines, and opening up new offices in new geographies, all of which present enormous upside for experienced professional. Guess what? The folks that take on those new and exciting opportunities are in turn creating some quality opportunities within the firms they left. So take a step back and reflect upon all you have accomplished, what your current career situation looks like, and what the future holds for you with your current firm.
Take a good, hard, honest look.
If you do not see that defined path for advancement, or if you find that you are too “comfortable” or “content” in your current role and see that that level of contentment is leading to complacency, then shed the “not the right time” excuse and take some time to explore what other opportunities may be out there.
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com
As I was perusing the different headlines at CNN.com the other today a headline grabbed my attention:
And as I leaned back in my chair for a moment reading this piece, I began to wonder, “is it time for civil engineering firms to adjust the notches on their belt and loosen up a little?”
Take a look at what the commentary’s author, Paul La Monica noted:
“Bob Baur, chief global economist for Principal Global Investors in Des Moines, Iowa, noted that U.S. workers may be reaching the point where they are stretched too thin…at some point, U.S. corporations need to recognize that they can’t keep trying to do more with less…”
The idea of “doing more with less” is nothing new, but if I had a dime for each time I heard this phrase as a result of the recession I could retire…today! The concept is not a bad idea, but at some point you have to draw the line. Seriously. Remember the days when your Land Development or Highway group was made up of a Vice President who was mainly responsible for business development; a Department Head who assisted with business development but also managed the Project Managers and kept their finger on the pulse of all the projects and clients; Project Managers managing projects making sure they got out the door within schedule and within budget; a Project Engineer; a designer and a cad tech? As civil engineering consulting firms have been fighting to stay afloat many of them have slimmed down their business structures where a department now may be made up of a “Seller-Doer” and Project Engineer where the “Seller-Doer” is a Vice President/Department Manager/Project Manager all rolled up into one, and the Project Engineer is the Project Engineer/Designer/Cad Tech all rolled up into one. So now you have two professionals scrambling to handle the responsibilities of what was previously in the laps of six. They are doing more with less. But it may be time to loosen up the purse strings a little and invest in some new help.
We recently completed a search for a client of ours, a local consulting engineering firm, who was looking for a Project Manager for their Land Development group. The local market was improving and development was beginning to pick up. The President was still struggling with some of the uncertainty in the air and quite frankly, found it difficult to be optimistic after being in the dumps for so long. But he listened to his employees. They were becoming overwhelmed with hours, they were stretched thin, and stress was beginning to set in. The “doing more with less” mentality was beginning to take its toll, but he recognized that and made the decision to bring on another Project Manager…a decision that was welcomed by his staff, in turn easing the burden on them, resulting in a happier group of campers.
So you adjusted to the economy and have implemented the “do-more-with-less” philosophy, but as the economy begins to improve, is that same philosophy beginning to take its toll? Is it now time to re-adjust your philosophy?
If you are a business owner or executive and can relate, or an employee who has been in the trenches with this philosophy in place, please let us know and share your experience with our audience on this topic.
“Age to me means nothing. I can’t get old; I’m working. I was old when I was twenty-one and out of work. As long as you’re working, you stay young. When I’m in front of an audience, all that love and vitality sweeps over me and I forget my age.” – George Burns
So last week I authored a blog titled, “From Civil Engineer to…,” which discussed some of the different careers civil engineering professionals have transitioned into as a result of being laid off in the midst of this recession. We posted this blog on dozens of LinkedIn discussion boards that generated some lively conversation and we learned of a number of folks who are now doing something new. For those that have been able to find an opportunity again within the profession, we uncovered that many of them are making less than they were prior to being laid off. But a reoccurring theme within those discussions came from those engineers with 35+ years of experience; they are frustrated with what they see as age discrimination, and as a result are not being hired…or even considered for hire. I am not here to fight the age discrimination battle as I have no desire to, nor do I have the credentials. But I would like to use this opportunity to challenge those who are 55+ (and those who are on their way) to help them become more marketable so that any thought of age discrimination is thrown out the window. Here is a sampling of some of the comments that I extracted from the elder statesmen of the civil engineering community on the discussion boards:
“It seems like such a waste that the industry has tossed so many engineers and lost a generation of knowledge and mentoring. On a more personal level, I am frustrated, feeling that two educations are not being used and that I have lost some prime earning years. “We” have always been told get a science degree or two and it will be OK, you will always be employed and live the dream. Well, that isn’t true.”
“I haven’t gone anywhere…..I am still here, water and wastewater consulting experience of 30+ years. Trying to sell my services as a sole proprietor to prospective clients, or as an experienced client manager to professional services firms is about as rewarding as selling refrigerators to Eskimos”
“However, as is obtained nowadays employers are increasingly bypassing more experienced civil engineers for younger just out of school candidates and expecting them to do senior /experienced engineer work only because they fear they can’t pay more highly experienced engineers. However they should not fear experience;”
“I am presently working with a group of seasoned professionals that can handle just about any problem with little direction. What a difference in the caliber of design product! The client knows and appreciates that quality and I am confident they will continue to use our service. Managers should be aware of the value of that quality and the little comparative cost difference as a percentage of the entire project, it represents. “
“Companies were happy to have me a few years ago, but the work seems to have dried up now I have turned 60”
“Maybe its time to start a consultancy employing only over 60s…and show the kids we’ve still got it!”
As most of you know, I have made a career out of recruiting civil engineering professionals, and these same frustrations are often conveyed to me by those professionals in the 55+ crowd. That said, I have also been successful in placing professionals who merely based upon their graduation dates or the gray hair on their head may be considered to be “over the hill.” Here are some of the single traits that I have found that makes these “silver-haired” experts look “platinum” :
PLATINUM: They take good care of themselves physically and still find time exercise on a regular basis. When they arrive for meetings they still wear a suit…with a tie.
SILVER: They have “let themselves go” and believe that their breadth of experience is all that matters.
POINT BEING: Looks and presentation do matter, and first impressions are often, well, first impressions.
PLATINUM: They have somehow found a way to keep that “fire” burning in their belly. They continue to search for creative solutions and opportunities to differentiate themselves, and their companies, from the competition.
SILVER: They are stuck in their old ways and believe if something worked just fine a decade ago it will work fine today. They are looking to ride slowly off into the sunset.
POINT BEING: Companies and clients want innovation; they want someone who is continuously looking for ways to make things even better. They want people who enjoy taking on challenges and have the continued desire to learn and grow.
PLATINUM: They are very active in their local and national associations. That is, they seek out opportunities to present to their professional community, and when given those opportunities they are engaging and memorable. They keep up with their network and with networking…in good times and in bad.
SILVER: They limit their professional interaction to those that surround them in the office and at client meetings.
POINT BEING: You’ve heard of old adage, “location, location, location,” right? Same concept.
PLATINUM: They are flexible. That is, they are open to relocation, travel, or TDY.
SILVER: 9-5, no longer than a 30 minute commute, not willing to travel.
POINT BEING: The more flexible you are, the more opportunities exist.
PLATINUM: They have become experts in niche services (i.e. rail/transit, tunneling, process engineering, long-span bridge, ITS, green infrastructure, etc) that are subsets of a broader industry focus. They have mastered the art of Project Execution Delivery / Program Management / Operations / Business Development.
SILVER: They continue to hold Project Manager roles on bread-and-butter projects.
POINT BEING: Do you know how many Land Development Project Managers there are?
PLATINUM: They are mentors; and memorable and effective ones at that.
SILVER: Focuses purely on themselves.
POINT BEING: People you mentor will remember you when opportunities arise. Business owners will hire you to mentor their younger staff so they can more on driving sales. Companies will hire you to fill the gap between the existing aging leadership and the next generation of leaders. Catch my drift?
PLATINUM: They have found / earned their way into larger and higher profile projects which increase their industry exposure…and they have experienced success.
SILVER: They are constantly content and show no desire to grow or be challenged.
POINT BEING: Are you a tortoise running a marathon, or are you a rabbit looking for the next sprinting race? And if you are the tortoise in the marathon, are you willing to turn on the after-burners from time-to-time?
It’s no secret that there are plenty of companies out there who shy away from hiring those professionals with “too much experience (wink, wink).” And for or many companies, there are valid reasons why they are not willing to hire someone with 35+ years of experience. No matter what the perception or reality may or may not be on this topic, my desire is to share some of my insight that comes from nearly 16 years of experience in recruiting AEC professionals. With all the “platinum” and “silver” in this blog, my hope is that I have provided you with a little nugget of GOLD that may make a difference for you or someone you know.
And in line with the quote at the beginning of this blog, may vitality sweep over YOU and may potential employers forget about YOUR age.
Comments and lively discussion always welcome.
Engineers that understand infrastructure asset management are in demand within the US engineering marketplace. Infrastructure asset management specifically focuses on the need to sustain structures such as highways, bridges, water treatment facilities, electric utility and transmission lines in addition to many others. Mounting pressures to cut public spending, has much needed maintenance and rehabilitation put on hold. Meanwhile, US infrastructure continues to decay. The planning, design, construction, operations, maintenance, upgrading, and rehabilitation of infrastructure has become split among the private sector and public agencies .
What has become clear is the need for talented engineering managers that understand the delicate balance between planning, design, operation, maintenance and sustainability of infrastructure. My clients, architecture and consulting civil engineering firms, have multiple year initiatives for expanding consulting divisions that focus only on asset management. Whether it be underground tunneling for large diameter pipes, water/waste-water systems or transportation systems- the market and the money are HOT.
Consulting A/E firms seek to expand their ability to offer their clients asset management action plans that create an effective and practical business framework for transportation, stormwater, water and sanitary assets. One firm states the importance in providing agencies/municipalities a “comprehensive approach that creates a sustainable program to help achieve performance goals, minimize costs and meet stakeholder demands.” These asset management plans vary from firm to firm and may include but not be limited to: strategy and service level development; business planning; infrastructure assessment and planning; financial and capital planning; technology strategy implementation; operational excellence; computerized maintenance management systems.
Engineers with comprehensive business experience and practices will find a variety of opportunities open to them over the next year. This may reactivate the MBA vs. MSCE discussion. What do you think?
Engineers of decades past have had more credit hours required of them compared to the engineers of today, yet engineers of today have so much more to learn than those engineers of past generations. As a result, there is a new campaign supported by the likes of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), and the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) that is catching fire:
If you have not noticed, many engineering companies these days are requiring Masters Degrees for any candidates they consider for current or future jobs. Why? Today’s engineer can no longer rely solely on a Bachelors Degree and senior civil engineering staff to teach them all the knowledge and technology necessary to be successful, because they do not always understand it all themselves. The challenges of today’s civil engineering infrastructure are much more complex than in years past, and a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering allows the engineer of today to be more prepared to take on those complex challenges. Universities have the continued pressure to graduate their engineering undergrads in four years, but this will not provide the undergraduate civil engineer with the knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a Professional Engineer.
Carl Mack, Ph.D, Executive Director for the National Society of Black Engineers says, “If you want to be competitive in this global environment, in this very changing and complex world, an undergrad degree just isn’t going to cut it.”
As you will hear in the video below, education beyond the undergraduate degree has been a requirement for every learned profession except engineering. Professional Engineering is not setting the same standards as a doctor or lawyer or any other profession that requires an advanced degree; as a result, it is time to “Raise the Bar for Engineering.” By increasing the educational requirements for the Professional Engineer, many experts agree that this will help boost the profession to the stature where it belongs.
Take a look at the following promotional video for this initiative:
An opposing opinion was left on the YouTube page where this video was found:
“This is a misguided initiative. There is certainly very little value an engineering Masters degree would provide the practicing engineer. Most Masters degrees, and even most Bachelors degrees, are research and theory based and provide little practical knowledge for the real world. On the job experience is more valuable. To compare our profession to doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, etc. is fair, but let’s be honest, there’s no way employers are going to pay at the same level as those professions.”
This initiative seems to make sense, as the impact that engineers make on our society is overlooked for no good reason. Their talents and skills are critical to our world, so comparing them to attorneys or doctors from a stature standpoint I do not believe is off target.
What do you think? Are you FOR or AGAINST this campaign?
To learn more, please visit http://www.raisethebarforengineering.org