As a recent post-secondary graduate I have experienced first-hand the challenges faced when finding that first job on the path towards a great career. A quick online search shows the well understood hurdles new graduates have in landing that first big break in the industry. But let’s say you’ve beat the odds and created the right opportunity, what’s next? You have a few years of industry experience under your belt and have a degree or diploma to back it up; what do you do now? Do you see yourself growing old with your current company or curious to see if there are greener pastures on the other side?
Recently, there has been a shift in priorities for young professionals. The opportunity for professional development is a significant factor when deciding where your career path leads. This is especially important after gaining those crucial first few years of industry experience. As someone who has moved companies within the engineering industry and across disciplines, I have had to continually reevaluate which direction to take my career in and where I would be best suited to pursuing my professional goals. I found through each move there are four important points that have guided my success and I want to share them:
- Be patient and take the time to find out what you are looking for
In order to grow professionally you need to have a clear idea of where you are in your career and where you want to be in the next 2-3 years. This takes time and is one of the most challenging questions facing a young professional.
Within engineering specifically, there are generally two paths to choose from, management and technical. I have found in order to have a good indication of where your career could be headed, it is extremely helpful to look at the senior management and technical teams within a company and find out how they got there. Did they start in a similar role to yours and worked their way up? Or did they come in a senior level from a different company? It is undeniable that education and credentials help show what is valued in a company and possibly the industry, but this only tells you one small piece of their story. The best and most reliable way to find out the path your superiors took is to ask them; this leads to point #2.
- Have a career development conversation with your current employer, in fact, have more than one
Every strong leader will be willing to have a conversation with you about your career. Again patience is necessary, conversations may not occur in the moment you would like, but it does not mean that they are not willing to have them. Conversations can take any form, such as informal lunch breaks or formal annual performance reviews. It is important to remember to be fair and give your current employer the opportunity to hear and respond to your career goals, especially before making a decision to look externally. Your employer was possibly the one to give you your first big break and was willing to spend time and effort training you for your current job. Loyalty and trust go very far across any industry. With that said if in the process it is clear your development plan does not align with your company’s growth strategies then looking for opportunities externally is likely a strong option which leads to point #3.
- Take the time to research the competition and the industry, heard this one before? Turns out it’s a very valid point
Knowing what positions are available outside your company, either locally, nationally or internationally provides a great deal of insight to what options are out there, even if you are not looking. This goes beyond simply “keeping your options open” because it gives you the general sense of the size and mobility within your industry. What you may find is your professional development plan cannot be supported by your industry and you may need to switch to one that does.
Moving within engineering from a large scale industry to a niche industry, I recognized that career mobility could be significantly reduced simply due to the fewer number of companies within the industry. This was a factor I needed to consider and ultimately accepted because the decision to change industries supported my overall professional development plan.
As the title of this point mentions, doing your research is a common piece of advice, building on this information is what will set you apart. Let’s move to point #4.
- Build your professional brand and meet with competing companies
Creating opportunities to meet with companies can be incredibly difficult. It can be even more difficult if you do not know what distinguishes you from everyone else. To figure this out I took the clear idea of where I wanted to go, considered the development conversations I had with my employers, and researched competitors and the industry. Now to bring it home.
The concept of your “professional brand” is important from day one. This is appropriately the last point I want to mention, as it was the last step which had a vital impact to my career decisions. I developed my brand by going to professional associations, both in person and online, through membership boards and professional social media networks such as Linkedin. Once I felt I had done this sufficiently, I found taking the leap and meeting with people in person was the best way to create opportunities. I did this through attending industry-related social events and one-on-one “coffee chats”. It might sound easy, but this took many days of searching, reaching out, following up and sometimes getting blown off. Persistence and resilience are key. If you succeed in developing relationships with competitors then finding the right one which fits your professional development plan becomes much easier. Just remember to try and relax. It’s conversations over coffee, not an exam on the Taj Mahal.
I have utilized these four points continuously and can confidently say they have led me to significant professional development and growth in building my career. It is not easy, but it is achievable. The ever changing process of figuring out where your next steps are headed is challenging but ultimately is worth your time, career and happiness to figure out.
Here it comes, Your Second Big Break![Editor’s note: We’re always hiring at Aercoustics. If you’re keen to pursue a career in acoustics, noise, and vibration, we’d love to hear from you – [email protected]]