I’m No Civil Engineer, But This Has To Apply, Right?

CreativityOn a daily basis I speak to all types of civil engineers.  Those who specialize in rail & transit, highways, traffic & transportation planning, land development, and water/wastewater, just to name a few.  Above all else, what I hear most when I ask them what they love about their profession, is that they love the opportunity to be creative.  The ability to look at a raw piece of land and the different contours and deliver an idea to a client that is new and original;  the ability to be a part of a design team responsible for designing a bridge that isn’t just sensible, but perfectly fits the landscape within which it is being built; engineering and creating the best work zone traffic control plan to keep drivers and construction personnel safe while maintaining a steady flow of traffic.

The level of creativity that an engineer is able to express is often dictated by the company culture within which they work.  Some consulting engineering firms are just flat out “drab,” right?  No innovation, no desire to take some design risks at risk of a losing proposal, designing subdivisions or site plans only so they look like every other one they have ever completed.  Often times this mentality is driven by hard nosed clients with strict budgets and timelines.  But what if your company leadership has been able to develop a level of trust with their client base that would allow for some flexibility in those timelines, resulting in higher levels of creativity?  Sure it may cost the client a little more money, but might the end result be worth it?

Watch this 2 minute video of a group of 5th graders to catch my drift:

Now I’m no civil engineer, and I get that it’s a little more complicated than this video, but doesn’t this simple concept make sense?

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

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April 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

Stuck In “No Man’s Land?” Here Is One Way To Get Out…

No mans land

No man’s land.  You all know what that is, right?

Literally speaking, it is a piece of land that is unoccupied, or under dispute between parties who leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty.  You may also understand it as that place in the ocean, usually thigh deep, where when a wave rolls in you are not far enough out to “jump” the wave, but you are in a safe place where you won’t completely be pummeled by the wave either.  Or that spot on the tennis court between the service line and the back base line where if you find yourself standing when a ball is hit to you, it can be very challenging to make an effective shot.  Whether you are knee-deep in the ocean, or stuck between the service line and base line, you can certainly survive the situation, but you are in a position where you are not reaping the full benefits of having put yourself in the ideal location.

Have yCivil Engineers are not inherently sales peopleou found yourself in “no-man’s land” with your civil engineering career?  Is the piece of “land” that you presently occupy in your career allowing you to merely “get by?”  There are plenty of ways to get yourself out of “no-man’s land,” but I am here today just to suggest just one of those ways.  That way is to master the art of selling.  Many civil engineers cringe with the idea of having to cold-call or strike up a conversation at networking events, but by investing time in sales training or sales activities, you will break out of that professional purgatory within which you currently reside.

Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most talented and well known artists to have ever lived, produced 900 paintings and 1100 sketches over the course of his career.  Of those 2000 works of art, Van Gogh only sold one during his lifetime.  So even though he is considered one of the greatest artists in the last 2000 years,  his work did not generate any revenue until long after his death due to his inability or unwillingness to sell his artwork.  You may be able to engineer and manage the hell out of a project by being creative and by getting the project out the door within schedule and within budget – you may even save your client’s money on a regular basis.  But that will only get you so far.  Unless you are climbing the “technical” career ladder which exists in some firms, you will find yourself stuck between the service line and the base line.

So how do you break through and find that sweet spot where you can jump the waves and reach their peaks?  You master the art of selling. I’m no civil engineer, but here are some ideas off the top of my head as to where to start your mastery:

A.  Find a mentor.  In this case, a civil engineering professional who has mastered the art of “pursuit-and-capture.”

B.  Find training.  There are many sales training programs out there, the first one that comes to mind is the Dale Carnegie Training program.

C.  Become a great speaker.  Did you know there are over 15,000 Toastmaster clubs – I would bet there is one within 20 minutes from where you live.

D.  Self directed learning.  Books, blogs, audio books for your commute, magazines, podcasts.  Find an author or blogger or motivational sales trainer that you enjoy reading or listening to, carve out time every day for some self-directed sales training, and then implement the ideas that appeal to you most.

No man land sucks.

If you look at the leaders in your profession – those who are business owners, partners,  or company executives – one of the main reasons they were able to elevate their careers to that level is due to their commitment to sales and business development.  Commit to mastering the art of sales and business development specific to the civil engineering industry and your career will know no bounds.

Take the necessary steps required that will allow you to rush the net and make that overhead slam!

crush your civil engineering career


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

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April 19, 2016 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Does Company Size Matter?

choosing between companies

The 2016 job market is in full swing and with it, if you are lucky, comes choices. Seasoned professionals as well as graduate engineers find themselves approached with opportunities. Today’s civil engineering companies are as different as their employees. In your job exploration you need to define the type of employer you will best fit.

The 2015 ENR Top 500 list reflected most of the largest A/E firms becoming even larger as a result of mergers and acquisitions. Similarly, a number of firms who were not on the top 500 leaped onto the widely reviewed list.

As an executive recruiter, I experienced leaders from the top 10 firms make notable moves to much smaller firms. In each case, the executive wanted to join a firm where they felt they could have significant impact on company strategic direction and growth. They wanted to join a firm that they felt would allow them to “get back to the practice of civil engineering.” Conversely, during the last year a number of project engineers and project managers asked me if my larger clients had job opportunities for them. These job seekers specifically wanted to join the top 100 firms as they perceived these firms to get a bigger share of complex, huge and sexier projects.  In my opinion while these observations seem to be representative of a trend last year, there are a good deal of people who focus their job search not specifically on company size, but on the job itself.

Evaluating where you are in your career, defining your short and long-term goals, assessing culture, company leadership and peers at a new firm- these answers will helping you make a good decision to join a firm. Yes, size of a company does matter but should not be THE factor in selecting a new opportunity. What do you think?

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

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March 28, 2016 at 3:34 pm Leave a comment

7 Tips To Beat Out The Competition In Hiring Great Candidates


Fantastic job: Excited young businessman giving thumbs up while

Without a doubt, the civil engineering profession is a candidate driven market.  That is, civil engineers are in high demand in most parts of the country and when they conduct a job search they are receiving multiple offers.  Great news for the candidate as that puts them in a position of power; not so great news for the companies looking to hire them.  How many times have you interviewed THE PERFECT candidate, only to have them accept an offer from your most fierce competitor down the street?  If this has happened to you more than once, it is time to re-evaluate your interview and offer process so that your percentage rate of hiring top notch employees trends upward.

Here are 7 tips that will not break your budget or flip your schedule upside down that can help improve your chances of welcoming that next great civil engineer or civil engineering executive:

  1.  Move swiftly.   There is an old saying in the recruiting world, “great candidates have a short shelf life.”   Great candidates are decision makers, they are movers and shakers, and they do not have time to schedule interviews a couple weeks apart, only to wait another couple of weeks before an offer is made.  They know what they want and they go after it.  If you show signs of indecision or hesitancy in your process, even if it is of no fault of the candidate (i.e. sketchy work history, good not great references, etc.), they very well may see that as a sign of weakness, and as my kids often jest, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”
  2. Don’t be afraid of technology.  If you are not able to schedule a face-to-face interview in a timely manner, schedule a SKYPE call to get the ball rolling or to keep positive momentum during an interview process.  Text message quick updates, feedback, questions, or availability – these messages pop up on the face of everyone’s smart phone and allows for a quick response during busy days, but can keep things moving forward.
  3. Listen, Listen, Listen.  So many times hiring managers discuss all the great benefits of working for their company, but they fail to listen and understand the motivations of the candidate.  So ask a lot of questions of the candidates first, listen, and then respond accordingly.  What you think may be the most important attributes of your firm may not be the most important characteristics to the candidate.  Ask, listen, and then respond.  If you make your case before listening and understanding the candidate’s motivation they very well may be walking out the door for the last time.
  4. Be a Project Manager of the interview process.  If you are in a position of authority where you are responsible for hiring, you have likely mastered the art of project management.  When you are assigned the management of a multi-million dollar infrastructure project you wouldn’t wing it, would you?  Don’t wing the interview process either.  Take the time to absorb the candidate’s resume, find out what you can about them online. Develop a plan/process with those who will be involved in the interview process with decision time lines, technical skills to look for, personality traits to look for, specific questions to ask, and make sure everyone involved in the process knows specifically the role that the candidate is being interviewed so that a meaningful conversation can be had.
  5. Meet in a social setting.  Obviously it is important to invite the candidate into the office so they can experience the office environment and witness the hustle and bustle and observe the setting of what potentially could become their second home.  But beyond that office interview, meet them outside the office.  A breakfast or lunch meeting is okay, but chances are they may be a little preoccupied with the work that is waiting for them when the arrive back to the office, or they may fear their boss may become suspicious of them should they arrive late for work or take an extended lunch.  I would suggest grabbing a couple of co-workers and inviting them out for happy-hour after the work day.  This way they are not as preoccupied and they can let their guard down, and the same can be said for you.  This opportunity will allow for you to get to know the person, not just the engineer. You will also begin to witness  if a natural camaraderie is easily developed.
  6. Send a thank you email.  Wait…what?  That’s right.  We all know it is standard operating procedure for a candidate to send a thank you letter or email to the hiring manager following an interview.  But try sending a thank you letter to the candidate.  I recently had a client send an email to a candidate in the 48 hours following his interview letting him know of the value that they saw in him and that he could bring to the organization, while at same time reiterating some of the important details of their previous conversation.  This simple gesture, an email that may have taken 10 minutes at the most to type, made a very positive impact on the candidate and ultimately “sealed the deal” as he was weighing a couple of different offers.
  7. Ditch the canned offer letter.  We are excited to offer you the role of Vice President, here is your salary…please read the employee manual…we need proof of your citizenship…you are required to take a drug test…Oh, and by the way, our state is an “at-will” state so we can fire you at any time.  Sound familiar? “Woopty Frickin’ Doo,” right? It doesn’t make you feel that special, does it? For many companies, this type of terminology in an offer letter is pretty standard.  Not that these elements should not be included in the offer letter, but jazz it up, man!  Recap the reasons WHY you are excited to have them join your firm and the impact that they will make on your company.  Recap your interview conversations and let them know why joining your firm will further enhance their career.  Drop in a couple of exciting pieces of company news that may appeal to them.  And reflect on a statement or conversation that occurred over the course of the interview that stood out.  By adding some strategic personal elements to the offer letter shows that you took the time to really understand their motives and ambitions.  A simple gesture like this may be the deciding factor between two or three equally exciting offers that they are considering.

The competition for great civil engineering candidates is at an all time high.  By adopting these simple strategies into your hiring process you will make great strides in improving your offer-to-acceptance rates.



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

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March 21, 2016 at 10:04 am Leave a comment

Control Your Career, Don’t Let Your Career Control You

Frustrated with the fact that one of your peers got the promotion that you felt you deserved?

What about the guy two offices down from you who was recently hired to manage your team when you felt you were the best man for the job?

Would you rather JUMP out of bed in the morning excited for work rather than hitting snooze three times and gingerly rolling out from under the covers 27 minutes later?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then this message is for you.  It is time for you to take control of your career!

Before I go any further, I am requesting your help:


Taking control of your civil engineering careerTaking control of one’s career is not a “one-and-done” event where you make some minor tweaks and see what happens; taking control of your career is a daily, ongoing, lifelong process.  Taking control, and then maintaining that control so that your career is forever on the upward curve is about making simple choices, on a consistent basis.  It is the compounding effect over time of making those simple, consistent choices, that will allow you take control of your career and advance to professional levels that you have thought previously unattainable.  BEWARE:  as easy as it is to make those choices, it is just as easy NOT to make them, and THAT is why so many fail to “grasp the bull by the horns” when it comes to their career.  If this concept sounds vaguely familiar to you, it comes from the Jeff Olson titled book, The Slight Edge.  If you are looking for a REALLY GOOD and IMPACTFUL read, I would highly recommend it.

In any event, it is that “compounding interest,” if you will, of the regular choices you make in your career that will lead to great things.  We live in a “now” world, where everyone expects immediate results NOW!  If this your mentality, then you are chasing your tail.  But if you are patient and understand the concept of “compound interest” where small actions today with seemingly minuscule  impact, compounded over time (done on a regular basis), you will find a path to growth filled with major accomplishments throughout the lifetime of your career.

Specific to your career as a civil engineer, here are some suggestions based upon my 19 years of experience in recruiting civil engineers:

**Keep a running list of clients and potential clients and dedicate time each day or week to reaching out to them.  Make notes of the conversations that are had so that you can refer back to them in future conversations or attempts to call.  Don’t just note the outcome of the call, but note any personal information that is divulged regarding family, hobbies, favorite sports teams, etc.


**Actively participate, on a regular basis, in the different industry associations that you are a part of.  It is a great way to meet new clients, gather valuable information that you can bring to your clients or potential clients in your business development activities, and it is a great way to shed light upon yourself as a professional, or the firm that you are working for.


**A good majority of hiring activities are a result of internal referrals.  That said, keep some sort of database of professionals that you have either met or witnessed in action that have made a positive impression.  These should be folks that you specifically target as you build your team.


**Provide and schedule regular doses of self improvement specific to your career.  Read regularly.  Attend seminars or webinars that will enhance your career.  Make presentations, whether at association meetings, client interviews, or internal “brown bag lunches.”  And if you are scared of public speaking go sign up for your local Toastmasters club (and ask your employer to pay for it – the worst they can say is “no” ).


**Identify a mentor.  Depending upon the career track that you are looking to take, find that one individual, either within your firm or elsewhere, that has experienced tremendous success that you would like to emulate, then sit back and learn.  Meet with them once a month to ask questions and share stories that will help facilitate career growth.


**There is an old saying, “good things come to those who wait, but only those things left behind by those who hustle.”  Hustle every day.  Ask questions. Document your success where you can tell your story to your current employer or potential employer and don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibility if you are ready.


**Don’t be afraid to fail.  Express your ideas and let your creativity flow freely.  This has a lot to do with the corporate culture you are in, as some companies are set in their ways and operate with an “if it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it” mentality.  That is, they do what has worked in the past and create a culture of idea suppression.  If it fits your style, find an organization that truly promotes an entrepreneurial culture where ideas are shared and cultivated and respected.  After all, part of the reason you became an engineer was because it allows you to be creative and solve problems in new and different ways.  They may not always work out, but if you are not being challenged or your creativity is being stifled by the company leadership or culture it may be time for a change.

These are some of my ideas.  The reality is though, I am on the outside looking in as I am not a civil engineer myself.  So here is where I am looking for a little bit of your help:


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

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March 14, 2016 at 8:50 am 1 comment

Missed Career Opportunities & Diminishing ROC

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:

Missed opportunities

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.

Wayne Gretzky

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

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February 29, 2016 at 11:30 am Leave a comment

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

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