It has only been in the last few years that I have become more interested in soccer or, as I guess it is better known around the world, Fùtbol. The sport, which features the very simple objective of putting a ball into a net, is actually much more complex than it seems on the surface, and it offers many powerful analogies to an engineering career.
I’ve gotten to know this game because I have spent the last few years coaching my daughter, and while she is only in second grade, she is in a very intense travel league and her head coach is a professional soccer trainer. He tells me time and time again that the best soccer players do one thing really excellently—they find room on the field. They take the ball and then separate themselves from the other players. He calls it looking for the SPACE. Once they are out in space, away from the others, they can do so many things—shoot, score, make a brilliant pass, visualize their next move, and more.
The whole concept led me to start thinking about how engineers can get SPACE in their careers and separate themselves from the field. Here is a short list and description of some of the items I came up with:
1 – Set Clear Goals that Include Quantifiable Results
If you set goals, period, you will be in the minority in the engineering world. I would guess, based on presenting to thousands of engineers, that less than 10% of practicing engineers have written goals. I would also bet that of those 10%, very few of them have goals that include numbers that can be measured. For example, there is a big difference between “I want to be a project manager” and “I want to be a project manager within two years from now.” The second goal will push you harder and also give you the ability to track your progress more easily.
2 – Obtain Specific Credentials
If you read my blog regularly, you know I am a big proponent of obtaining the right credentials as early on in your career as possible, but let’s take it one step further. Obtain the specific credentials that will separate you in your field. If you want to become a project manager, consider obtaining a project management professional (PMP) certification. Odds are that, of the engineers in your firm seeking the project manager status, very few of them—if any—will have a PMP. If you want to become a partner in your engineering firm, maybe a master of engineering management (MEM) will differentiate you from others. Take the time to find credible credentials that really matter in your specific niche.
3 – Become the Best Presenter in Your Company
Yes, the ability to present is important as an engineer, and you should be good at it. But what if you were the best in your company? One of our IECD members is only two years out of school, but because he joined Toastmasters and has become a powerful presenter, his firm asked him to make a very important presentation to a prospective client. His firm actually presented for multiple projects that day, and his presentation was the only one that won a project. Do you think his ability to be the best presenter that day separated him from the field in his company? I know it did. Don’t just be good at something, be the best at it.
4 – Find the Mentor in Your Field
Again, it’s obvious to most people that having a mentor can facilitate your advancement as an engineer, but what if you had the best mentor in your field? John Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, among many other bridges, is in my opinion one of the greatest engineers of all time. He passed away some time ago, but how do you think your career would be impacted if John Roebling were your mentor? My point here is simple: don’t ask just anyone to be your mentor, find the absolute best engineer in your field and ask them. Look through engineering magazines, as many of the best will be featured in articles. You might have to ask them multiple times and it may take years to get even one conversation with them, but the information you gain in that one conversation alone may help you separate yourself from the field.
5 – Help as Many People as You Can
Here is one that probably doesn’t fit into the typical corporate mentality of today, but I have found that one way to grow and differentiate yourself is to help people. Everyone is so busy today that they can’t even take five minutes to help someone move toward their goals. They are too afraid of losing valuable time. I have found that the more people I help and support, more opportunities come my way—and I experience more enjoyment, which is worth more than anything in my book. The key to doing this effectively is to expect nothing in return. Just give, and you will grow in ways you never imagined.
So now I challenge you to implement some of these strategies and start to separate yourself from the field. Start looking for the SPACE today.
Please leave a comment below and share any strategies you have utilized to separate yourself from the field in your engineering career.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success