I recently received this question from a civil engineer:
I would like to return to the civil engineering field of wastewater (from my current civil engineering discipline) and move closer to a major city. However, since I haven’t practiced wastewater for a few years now, I am finding it very challenging to return to find a job in the field. Can you offer any advice on helping me achieve this goal?
Here are three specific actions you can take when looking to return to a civil engineering discipline you haven’t practiced in awhile.
Now, I am not saying, ‘Take a job mopping the floors at a wastewater engineering firm just to get in the door.’ But please realize that you may need to start a little below your actual experience level because you are coming into the industry after a hiatus.
Therefore, if you are currently a civil engineering project manager in one discipline, you may have revert back to a beginner technical/design role in order to return to the desired industry as soon as possible.
My recommendation is to take the lesser role in a heartbeat, assuming that you really want to return to the discipline and that you can’t find a role that is equivalent to your current position. Once you are able to get a position in the desired industry, with some hard work you can very likely progress to your current level.
Yes, it may take time, but you will be on the fast-track to achieve your goal.
2. Make it clear to prospective employers how your current civil engineering position will help them
When you go on job interviews with wastewater engineering firms, your primary goal should be to show these firms the benefits they can reap from your current experience.
For example, you might currently be practicing structural engineering, but your position has demanded that you make several technical presentations, explaining your designs to clients. If that’s the case, then in your interviews, you should emphasize the fact that you are a very strong presenter of technical designs and concepts, and that your presentations have helped you to garner new business for your current civil engineering firm, and can very possibly do the same for them.
Remember, a prospective employer cares primarily about how you can help them, so if you can clearly explain the benefits they will reap from your skills, your odds of getting hired should increase.
3. Reduce your needs as much as possible to achieve your goal
You mentioned living in a city. Depending on the city you plan to live in, city living can be extremely costly, and based on the fact that you may have to take a beginner position, I recommend being prepared to greatly reduce your needs. This may mean selling your car, cooking for yourself more often as opposed to eating at restaurants, and even selling off many of your possessions to live in a small apartment.
If you are truly passionate and interested in returning to the wastewater engineering discipline, then do whatever you have to do to find employment in the city of your choice, even if it means surrendering many of your material needs.
I hope this post was helpful if you’re planning to transition between civil engineering disciplines. Please leave a comment below and share your experiences of transitioning disciplines within the civil engineering world.
Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Career Coach website which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and has written a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. You can download a free video series on his website that will give you the tools needed to immediately improve your networking and communication skills.