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Do Formal Mentoring Programs Work?

Recently I had a candidate interview with a mid-sized consulting civil engineering firm.  The company was very well established with strong leadership and a great reputation within their community.  The interview went well and both parties enjoyed spending the day together getting to know one another, both on a personal and professional level.  Following the interview, in debriefing the candidate, she had one major area of concern about the company.  You see, my candidate is an ambitious young professional with about 10 years of experience.  She is confident in her abilities and has had some really good experience thus far in her career.  One of the reasons she was considering a new opportunity was because her existing employer did not have a mentorship program where she could further refine her career as a professional civil engineer. She was looking for a firm where she could not only be challenged and where a visible path for upward career mobility was available, but where she could be provided a mentor to guide her in areas of technical and managerial leadership in order to develop a well rounded and productive career, one day leading to a principal or executive level role.  This conversation led to a couple of interesting discussions not only with my candidate, but with my client as well.  Initially I thought to myself, “why wouldn’t a company have a formal mentorship program in place?”  It seems like a no brainer, right?  But in the words of Lee Corso:

For any of you ESPN College Game Day fans :)

For you ESPN College Game Day fans 🙂

Though my client does not have a formal program, they do have  a number of mentor-protege situations within the organization that occurred naturally, and they feel that is the best approach for their culture.

There are a number of advantages to formal mentoring programs if they are carried out properly:

  • Established goals with measurable outcomes
  • Authored plans / curriculums
  • Sense of accomplishment for both mentor and mentee
  • Value added benefit to employees
  • Building of strong relationships between employees and company principals which may lead to a stronger sense of loyalty
  • Direct organizational benefits in the areas of company growth, client satisfaction, employee engagement and pride

Without a doubt, those are some major advantages that can separate your civil engineering firm from the pack and help distinguish itself from the competition.  There are however some potential downsides to a formal mentoring program worth considering:

  • You MUST have a dedicated Principal who is willing to develop or research, administer, and monitor the program on a consistent basis
  • Forcing a mentor / metee relationship between two people can be troublesome, as opposed to letting a natural relationship flourish over time
  • A forced mentor / mentee relationship that goes awry leads to fences that need mending, which takes time and effort in-and-of-itself

At the end of the day, each organization has to look itself in the mirror and determine whether or not a formal mentoring program fits their culture, and if so, do they have the resources of time, effort, and money to deliver an effective program where all parties can reap the benefits?

What has YOUR experience been with a formal or informal mentorship program within your civil engineering organization?

About the Author:

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

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February 22, 2016 at 10:37 am Leave a comment

Work – Life Balance: A Civil Engineer Putting Family First

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Correct me if I am wrong, but here are some existing truths in the world of civil engineering:

  • The economy continues to improve
  • The civil engineering profession is booming
  • Consulting engineering firms seem to be as busy as they have ever been
  • The demand from clients is high
  • The fight for talent is intense and ongoing

Faith, work, spouse, children, volunteerism, health and fitness, personal development, friends, hobbies, plain ol’ down time.  How do YOU prioritize these items? Is it possible to find balance? In this day and age, is it possible to put any of these items ahead of your responsibility of working as a civil engineer knowing the truths listed above?

Many civil engineers I speak with are working 50-60 hour weeks on a regular basis, not to mention their time outside of the office where they are thinking about work!  Last month I had a candidate who took a stand and made the conscious decision to re-prioritize his work/life balance, at the minor sacrifice of his paycheck; for the sake of anonymity I will Work-Life-Balance-Sign-post-by-Stuart-Milesrefer to this candidate as “Steve.”   As a Sr. Project Manager for a busy highway engineering consulting firm, Steve had a strong passion for his career and his profession. He had a very successful 16 year career, had worked his way up, and was at the point where he had not only mastered many areas of his profession from a technical standpoint, but he had also developed great people and inter-personal / inter-relational skills which allowed him the added opportunity to be actively involved in marketing and business development efforts and a lot of client-facing time.  His employer at the time valued those skills, and saw Steve as an integral contributor to the growth of the local office he was working in.  Beyond his typical project management duties, Steve was also attending networking events, planning meetings, board meetings, public outreach meetings,  and other business related activities around regular business hours, which was pretty typical for someone in his role.  As much as he enjoyed what he was doing, he had to put the breaks on.

Steve is a family man, and he made the conscious decision that he needed to spend more time with his family.  His children were growing up quickly right before his eyes, but they were still young enough where he could be a major influence in their lives and he did not want to miss out on that opportunity.  Steve came to us with his story and asked if we could help.  He was not looking to work with any less vigor or passion, but he wanted an opportunity where he could be more focused internally as a “hands on” project manager.  Steve wanted a role with a company where they valued his experience and could utilize his talents functioning as a technical expert providing QA/QC on projects, and where he could mentor and develop younger engineers into strong and successful project managers themselves.  He would still carry the many stresses that come with being a civil engineering consultant, and he was fine with that, but by uncovering an opportunity that was more internally focused, which diminished many of the after hour business activities, his life would be more balanced and he could dedicate more time to his family.  We were excited to present an opportunity to Steve that would allow for the shift in his career.  He took about a nine percent cut in base pay, but with bonus he will likely meet or exceed what he was previously making.

With this change, Steve’s life is more in balance and his priorities straight.  As a result, Steve is happier, and because he is able to enjoy more time with his family and because he relieved himself of some of his previous duties, he is more productive than ever!

Everyone’s motivation and priorities in life are different, absolutely.  But if you were feeling the way Steve was, would you be bold enough to consider making the type of move where you might take a cut in pay, but where the percentage increase in your happiness and well being superseded the percentage loss in pay?

 

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

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February 15, 2016 at 9:53 am 1 comment

Are You The Smartest Civil Engineer In The Room?

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Are you the smartest civil engineer in the room?  If you answered “yes,” might it be time for you to explore a new opportunity?

I am not sure where the quote originated from, but it has often been said:

Smartest Person in the room

Last year I published a blog about about firms who are stuck in their old ways, and no matter how successful those “ways” worked for them in the past, should civil engineering firms not have the ability to evolve as a company, they will be left in dust.  This same concept certainly applies to the individual civil engineer as well.

No one is perfect, I suspect we can agree on that.  There is always room for improvement, and unless you surround yourself with people who are more talented than you, if not overall, at least in specific areas, your career will remain static.  Often times I hear from civil engineers that they have “topped out” or hit the proverbial “glass ceiling.”  Because of certain situations they very well may have advanced as far as they can with their current organization, but figuratively speaking that may also be their way of feeling as they are the smartest person in the room.  Surrounding yourself with those whose intelligence surpasses your own can allow for the following:

  • Learning of new engineering concepts
  • Learning of new management, financial, and business operational techniques
  • Learning of how technology is changing the way business is done
  • Exposure to new opportunities and activities outside of the workplace
  • Challenging of authority and learning as a result
  • The ability to compete more vigorously

 

Once you surround yourself with more talented people, you will witness the domino effect take place, as more doors will open and more opportunities will present themselves, which can lead to professional and personal development.

So every once in a while, be sure to take a step back and observe your surroundings…are you the smartest person in the room?

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

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February 8, 2016 at 9:46 am 2 comments

Hiring 55+: That Silver Hair May Be A Silver Lining

Goerge Burns
Back in 2012 I started a discussion on LinkedIn, and then wrote a blog in response to that discussion that revolved around the employment of those 55 and older.  The idea that employers shy away from hiring those with 35+ years of experience is disheartening and unfortunate, and in fact, in the line of business that I am in of recruiting civil engineering and land surveying professionals, this line of thinking is not necessarily uncommon.  The perception often is that those 55 and older are “riding off into the sunset” and lack the passion and energy.  Though this very well may be true for some, there are PLENTY of civil engineers and surveyors who are vibrant, passionate, extremely knowledgeable, and remain very competitive who see themselves working until their mid 70’s, or in the case of Bob Vollmer, until nearly the century mark…take a look:

In that LinkedIn discussion that I alluded to earlier, one of the participants commented as follows in regards to the “seasoned professionals” he works with:

“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. “

That said, as the war for talent in the civil engineering and land surveying profession continues, don’t be so quick to toss aside that resume that shows a graduation date from the 70’s or early 80’s,

THAT SILVER HAIR MAY VERY WELL BE A SILVER LINING!

 

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

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February 1, 2016 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

What To Expect As A Client From Your Recruiter

Honesty

An experienced search consultant can be many things to a client they are working with above and beyond just recruiting: adviser, provider of market intelligence, resume screener, reference checker, recruiting coordinator, and expert negotiator just to name a few .  One thing you should always expect from your search consultant as a client is honesty.  Here is how your expectations of honesty should play out when working with a recruiter:

The Job Order.  You should always find a recruiter who is an industry expert.  Often times recruiters take any positions that arrive on their desk and have a hard time saying no.  A good recruiter should be honest and should be able to say “no” when an opportunity is presented to them that falls out of their wheel house.  I appreciate all the calls I get from existing and new clients requesting my services, but from time-to-time I must be honest and tell them they would be better off selecting another recruiter who has the true expertise they are looking for.  For instance, I specialize in recruiting civil engineering and land surveying professionals mainly in the areas of land development, transportation/highway engineering, bridge engineering, water & wastewater engineering, and water resources.  There are a number of specialties that are on the fringes, that may seem logical areas for our continuum of expertise, but are not.  These areas might include construction management, structural building engineering, or environmental (site remediation) engineering.

The Time Frame. Often times I have new clients that approach me with exciting new searches, and they ask me how long they think it will be before I can deliver some solid candidates.  If a recruiter can make you a promise like that I would be skeptical at best.  The honest truth is we do not know.  In our business timing is everything, so it is about catching the right candidate on the right day with the right opportunity.  Now, from time-to-time we may have readily available candidates that we are actively working with they might fit, but normally speaking, those situations are few-and-far between. Searches are customized and tailor made to uncover candidates with specific skill sets that meet your requirements.

The Word on the Street.  Honesty can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow, but a good recruiter will be your firm’s eyes and ears, and an honest recruiter should be able to have a professional conversation with you when your firm’s reputation is not so great.  When recruiting for a client, if I continually hear the same objections from perspective candidates specific to my client’s reputation, I feel as though I have an obligation to report that to my client.  This market intelligence will allow the client to truly evaluate their public perception and make changes, or it will lead to a conversation that will allow me to overcome those potential objections.  For instance, I have a client who from time-to-time is considered a “sweat shop.”  I approached my client with this information, and in fact they produced a report for me showing that their average hours hovered around 45-46 hours/week.  Hardly a “sweat shop” in the consulting civil engineering world.  This honest conversation provided me with the needed ammunition any time the topic surfaced and to have some honest conversations with my candidates as well.

Salary Expectations.  Every so often I will have a conversation with a new client revolving around salary for the proposed position they are looking to fill.  Because we are experts recruiting civil engineers, we talk to civil engineers all day long and have our “finger on the pulse” as to the range of salaries that are being offered to the different experience levels and specialties underneath the civil engineering umbrella.  If our client is being tight on the purse strings, we will let them know, and nine times out of ten they are appreciative of that honesty.  They often have to go by different salary surveys they find on line or through national organizations, but salaries and compensation plans tend to be very parochial in the civil engineering community.  Sub-market salaries can absolutely kill any chance of finding that civil engineering rock star that is so desired, so don’t be afraid to ask your search consultant his or her opinion of the salary range you have earmarked for the open requisition.

Interview Feedback.  No one enjoys being the bearer of bad news, hence the old saying “don’t murder the messenger.”   Your firm may have a GREAT opportunity, but if your interview process is not a well thought out process it will come back to bite you in the rear end.  Many firms fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to interviewing, and in the end, an unprepared interviewer or team of interviewers can derail an interview process and turn off a really good candidate, leading you back to square one.  A good recruiter will extract honest feedback from their candidate, and if that feedback ends up being negative as a result of an uncomfortable interview environment, an ornery line of questioning, etc, he/she should let you know about it.  Granted there are two sides to every story, but use that feedback to better position yourself the next time a strong candidate walks through your door and sits across the desk from you.

Over the years I have developed many strong client relationships based upon trust and honesty, and it is a two way street.  The ability to put everything out on the table will go along way when working with an experienced search consultant and will lead to far better results in securing the quality talent that is so desired.

This blog is the 2nd in our Honesty series.  The first in the series is titled ” What to Expect as a Candidate from your Recruiter.”

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

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January 12, 2016 at 2:39 pm Leave a comment

Are You Having Fun With Your Career?

Having fun at workEarlier this week during the course of conducting a search for a client of mine I spoke with a TxDOT Engineer who would make a great candidate for a position I was recruiting for. After discussing with him his career and the specifics of the opportunity he explained, “Matt, that sounds like a great opportunity for someone, but I’m having too much fun to leave to go anywhere else.” Not the outcome I was looking for, but we had a good laugh and talked about the importance of having fun in one’s career. I see it as a very important element of a job – I mean you are spending anywhere from 8-10 hours a day (and often more for some folks) at work, you might as well enjoy what you are doing, right? It got me to thinking what I love so much about my job as a search consultant and what makes it fun for me:

1. The challenge. The pursuit of finding the ideal candidates for my client that will help them prosper and grow is very exciting to me. The opportunity to deliver a candidate that can make an impact on my client’s business, and the opportunity to provide a new role for someone who may not have that same opportunity with their current company gives me great satisfaction.  It is also fun to compete with my teaming partners and AGAINST other recruiters!

2. The relationships. Having the opportunity to serve so many wonderful clients over the years and forge some great working relationships is what gets me out of bed every day. Certainly I have worked with my fair share of clients who were not necessarily my cup of tea, but that comes with the territory. It is an honor to work for many great clients who are equally as passionate about what they do for a living as I am.

3. The variety. I am fortunate to work with a wide variety of consulting civil engineering firms across the country. Some clients are small, local consultants who serve their local community, while others are large regional and national firms. I am exposed to working with all types of civil engineers in land development, water/wastewater, and transportation, just to name a few.  I speak with company CEO’s, Vice Presidents, and wide array of principal level shareholders; I speak with technical experts and project engineers; I interact with human resources and business development executives, all within the civil engineering profession.  Every day is a little different than the day before, and every conversation is different than the one prior.  The variety that I am exposed to keeps me challenged and on my toes.

What is it about YOUR job as a civil engineer that makes your job fun for you?

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

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November 20, 2015 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

ASCE’s Civil Engineering Magazine – 7 Questions

I was honored to be featured in the September 2015 issue of ASCE’s Civil Engineering magazine. A few years back I had blogged about social media and the impact and role it played in the civil engineering profession. Based upon that blog, I was contacted by the editor of Civil Engineering magazine to see if I would be interested in contributing to the “7 Questions” series specific to the topic of new marketing and branding strategies for civil engineering consulting firms. It was a great Q&A session and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to participate. I have attached a .pdf version of the article, please let me know your thoughts and let me know where you agree (or disagree for that matter), and what trends YOU are seeing when it comes to marketing and branding in the civil engineering profession.

 

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

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November 20, 2015 at 10:12 am Leave a comment

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