Posts tagged ‘career advice’

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

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

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

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


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