Ken’s Career Corner

February 5, 2013

I’ve recently been offering my advice to some young engineers via the ASCE Career Mentoring program. Below are some questions from people at various stages of their job search.


Still Searching in Pleasant Hope, MO asks: I have had difficulty selling my skills effectively to potential employers. I wasn’t able to land an internship while in college, so I graduated with no real world experience outside of my senior design project. I graduated with a B.S. in civil engineering, but have yet to find employment in my field. While I’m pretty sure I would be happiest in the structural field, at this point, I’m not even all that concerned with what field of civil engineering I get a first job in.

Advice: Congratulations on your graduation. I know it’s a very competitive job market, and I have to be honest that finding a job without a Master’s degree is going to be tough, particularly in structures. Contractors on the other hand do often hire people with bachelors’ degrees. If you’re not set on structures, and can’t get back to school, then your best chance of employment may be with a construction manager. Another good place to get experience is as a technician for a testing company. However, there again, the career engineers will often have graduate degrees.

I think another thing working against you is your stated openness to any career path. When interviewing, I look for candidates that are wholly committed to structures, and even more specifically to the investigation and restoration type of work that we do. It’s too bad that your college experience didn’t lead you in one particular direction. I’d also encourage you to reach out to other professionals to see what career is most appealing. See the previous blog: Setting a Clear Career Goal by Rafael Gomes de Oliveira.


Sweaty Palms in Confidence, CA asks: I’m not really sure what to expect or how to prepare for my job interview. Do you have any suggestions or advice?

Advice: Most importantly, just to be yourself. It’s actually rare to be tested on the technical skills you learned in school, so stop sweating. At the entry level employers want to know that a young engineer is adaptable, trainable, reliable, and a fit for their team. You’ll want to be confident, but don’t pretend to be a wiz in their field. Ask lots of questions and show that you’ve done some homework on what their firm does. Show interest in their work and ask specific project related questions if introduced to a particular project. See the previous blog post: Interview Questions for the Interviewee.

Also, ask to speak with other engineers at your level. Find out what it’s like working there day to day. If you make a good connection with your peers, they might put in a good word for you. They’ll just be looking for someone whom they will be able to work with and friendly enough to socialize with after hours.

Get a good night sleep and be bright eyed when you arrive.


Ready for Commitment in Romance, AK asks: I just received an offer, but after some research, it looks like this is below the average for the position. Should I try to negotiate for more? I’m hesitant because I don’t want them to withdraw their job offer. I’m worried about making a bad impression.

Advice: I think most employers will respect your request for higher pay, whether they negotiate or not. You’ve made it past the test, and they’re imagining all the ways that they can put you to work now. It’s a lot of work to interview and hire new employees. That’s your leverage. For more information about contract negotiation please see the previous blog: Contract Negotiation.

Benefits are definitely important too, but most hiring managers will not have the authority to negotiate those terms. If you receive a 401k match, that’s basically like a salary increase (in monies that you can’t spend until you retire). You may also want to get in writing the continuing education and professional activities reimbursement. I think these are important for advancing your career over time. If you have multiple offers this can be a differentiator between companies. Look for firms that will encourage career growth.

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  • Sweaty Palms: I agree to be as confident as possible. If you don’t know an answer don’t fake the answer. I remember when I was thinking of switching from one type of Civil Engineering to another and went on an interview for a Structural Engineer. They had me take a test, which they never mentioned when they called me in. I told them that it had been about 3 years since I had done any structural calculations. I took the test and could only remember 1/3 of what I was taught off the top of my head. They said its no problem and don’t stress out. Turns out the answers I got right, they said most structurals have a hard time doing, and they appreciated that I was upfront about what I knew. I was offered the job a couple of days later. They were also preparing for me to start out simple to work my way up so I felt comfortable with their work process because of how I approached the interview. Just remember everyone you are interviewing for has gone through similar situations when they started out.

  • Great comments and advice, Ken. When I was at Davenport, I used to say/teach the same things in my business communications, speech, and English classes, but students really didn’t believe me since I was an English professor. Preprofessional prepping should be required at all levels of education. BTW — cute kid, y’ll did good work!

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