What is a successful electrical engineer? The author’s friend,
mentor, and colleague, Dave, is the most successful engineer I
know. When project teams are formed, Dave is in high
demand because of his excellent teamwork skills. When there
is a technical problem, Dave is consulted because of his broad
knowledge and excellent troubleshooting skills. When
engineers are just stumped, they come to Dave because of his
ability to think “outside the box.” When engineers need career
advice, they come to Dave because he is an excellent listener
and hands out advice wisely and respectfully. When Dave
needs help, he is equally comfortable learning from his
colleagues, reading technical material from manufacturers, or
opening up the latest textbook. Dave is a great source of
stories about climbing mountains, starting companies,
climbing 2000-ft antenna towers, running from bears,
shanking golf balls, and participating in many engineering
development efforts. Dave has enjoyed his career and
contributed positively to the careers of many others since he
graduated from college in 1968. Dave is 74 years old and,
despite the requests to play more golf with his friends,
continues to be an active contributor to our department.
This chapter contains advice from the author, from Dave, and
from successful engineers the author is fortunate to call
friends; some are highly technical, some manage people and
projects, and some market products. This chapter is a
collection of suggestions intended to supplement the
traditional career advice that can readily be found on the
Internet or elsewhere. These items describe qualities and
behaviors seen in the best interview candidates and the best
engineers. This information will help you positively
distinguish yourself from other job applicants and then
distinguish yourself in the workplace. Not everything you
read in this chapter will be right for you. Pick each item up,
examine it, and determine if it will help you be your best.
Companies hire engineers because they need engineering
talent to solve technical problems. Companies hire people to
effectively deliver those skills to the workplace. The first
section of this chapter focuses on how you can effectively
market yourself to companies as a candidate with strong
technical and interpersonal skills. Demonstrating these skills
during the hiring process is essential to getting your first job.
The second section of the chapter shows how to quickly
develop skills that will make you a valuable part of any
engineering department. This will allow you drive your career
in the direction you want it to go and also minimize the
chances you’ll be a target when the company lays off
engineers. These are simple suggestions and might seem
obvious, but they can be the difference between an excellent
engineer and a mediocre one.
The third section of the chapter acknowledges that the nearly
100, 000 hours of our life spent working should be satisfying,
rewarding, and meaningful. As a recent graduate, this
material won’t be immediately useful, but as your career
progresses it will provide insights on how to keep your work
experience fresh and exciting while keeping your skills in
When a company has a job opening, the process in Figure
 is used to narrow the field of applicants. The large
number of resumes received by a company is shown at the top
of the figure. Some of these resumes will be sent by
individuals, but many of them will be sent automatically by
computers at staffing firms that use software to align phrases
and terms on engineers’ resumes with those in the job
posting. Due to the large volume of incoming resumes, the
hiring company will often use its own computer software to
screen the resumes as shown in Step 1. Some of the resumes
will be written with this procedure in mind, and contain a
large number of terms1 that the engineer believes will get his
resume through this process. Computer sorting results in a
smaller collection of resumes to be reviewed by personnel in
the company’s Human Resources department. The Human
Resources person typically has experience hiring engineers
and will further screen the resumes based on specific input
from the hiring manager. The result of this screening is about
30 resumes that will be passed to the hiring manager. The
hiring manager will review the resumes and compare the
experience described in the resumes to his needs. If the
experience on a resume does not match the manager’s needs,
or if the hiring manager senses that it is overly rich with
search terms but weak on experience, it will be rejected. The
hiring manager will typically select about 10-15 candidates
for interviews.
Figure 10.1 The corporate hiring process. This chapter gives
suggestions for bypassing Step 1 because resumes of recent
graduates rarely make it past this step.
It is expensive for a company to conduct onsite interviews
because of the time spent by the interviewers and possibly the
candidate’s travel expenses. Therefore the next step in the
process is a telephone screen where the hiring manager
interviews candidates for about 15-30 min. After the
telephone screens, four or five candidates will be invited to
the company for an onsite interview. Finally, the best
candidate will receive a job offer.
As a recent graduate, the reason your resume will not make it
through the company’s computer screening process is that it
will be in competition with those of experienced engineers.
Companies recognize the value of new graduates and recruit
them with on-campus interviews and job fairs. The best way
to avoid the computer screening process is to take advantage
of all the job placement assistance available at your school.
Another way to avoid resume screening is to target companies
carefully and send resumes to individuals within the
company. This requires more homework on your part, but
may result in a “dream job.”
Students sometimes question why a company would hire a
recent graduate instead of an experienced
engineer—especially in an economy where many experienced
engineers are competing for the same jobs. One reason
against hiring recent graduates is that they don’t provide
immediate value, and the company simply doesn’t have time
to train them. This is a valid concern. The previous nine
chapters have addressed it by reviewing practical skills that
you can confidently demonstrate in an interview and then use
as an immediate contributor in the workplace. If you’ve
absorbed the skills in this book, your skill set will be
competitive with many experienced engineers—especially
those who have not maintained their skill sets.
There is an old joke about two guys who encounter a hungry
cheetah in the African plains. One of them immediately starts
putting on a pair of running shoes. The other asks “Why are
you putting on those shoes? You can’t outrun that cheetah.”
The first guy tightens the laces and replies “Of course not, I
just have to outrun you.” The point is that you don’t need to
be a superstar to get a good job. Instead, you need to
positively differentiate yourself so that you are selected over
the other applicants. The items in this chapter are suggestions
for differentiating yourself in the interview process—and
throughout your career.
10.1.1 Getting an Interview
The process of getting an interview begins well before you
attend that first job fair or send out your first resume.
Take the Fundamentals of Engineering/Engineer In Training
(FE/EIT) exam—Taking and passing this exam differentiates
you from other candidates. It also shows an employer that you
retained what you learned in your undergraduate courses. It
also allows you to take the Professional Engineer (PE) exam
within a year after college which will raise your professional
collateral throughout your career.
Get some experience—If you worked as a co-op student or
engineering intern you will be able to show some experience
on your resume. If you don’t have experience, consider doing
a project on your own. If you aren’t sure what to build, pick
an example from this book that you find interesting and aligns
with your career interests; then get it working in your school’s
senior project laboratory. Any time you make something
work you gain experience that employers will value. Take
some pictures, have them available on your phone and make
sure to include this experience on your resume.
Attend job fairs—One of the best ways to bypass the
computerized resume sorting process is to attend job fairs at
your school. Companies frequently send hiring managers to
college job fairs because they are specifically interested in
recent graduates. These managers will often accept resumes
and conduct interviews on the premises. If you interview
well, you’ll be invited to interview at their facility. When you
go to the job fair, bring your resume, dress appropriately, and
be prepared for an interview.
Send resumes to a carefully chosen set of
companies—Sending a resume to every company with an
available position will likely result in many computerized
rejections as shown in Step 1 of Figure 10.1. It is much more
effective to target companies where you have a particular
interest and possibly some applicable experience.
Send your resume to the right person—You can sometimes
bypass the computer resume sorting process by sending a
resume and cover letter directly to a corporate executive, the
hiring manager, or the Human Resources department.
Corporate websites of small- and mid-size companies often
provide names and e-mail addresses for members of the
executive management team. If you send a well-written cover
letter and resume to the director of engineering expressing
your interest and asking for an interview, he may notice that
you have some special quality or skill, she may believe that
you would make a good addition to the department, or he may
just recall that he was a recent graduate once and decide to
help by placing you in contact with someone he knows. Don’t
send e-mail, because it’s too easy for the recipient to simply
delete it. A letter has a better chance of getting passed to the
right person with hand-written or verbal comments.
Always accompany a resume with a cover letter—A cover
letter shows that you have a particular interest in a company
and differentiates you from applicants who simply send a
resume. Your cover letter should show that you have
researched the company, state why you’re interested in
working there, and include any experience that may be
relevant to their business. If you’re unsure of your spelling or
grammar, have someone else check it for you. Don’t send a
“one-size-fits-all” cover letter. Personalize it for the job
you’re applying for.
Contact companies even if they are not hiring—Companies
are always looking for good people. If you send a
well-written cover letter and resume to the right person, he/
she may reconsider their staffing needs and hire you. The
process of hiring an engineer is expensive for a company and
usually entails sifting through hundreds of resumes and
interviewing a dozen or more candidates. That’s a lot of work.
If a good candidate “drops out of the sky, ” it saves them
10.1.2 Preparing for an Interview
Research a company before the interview—Good
interviewers frequently begin telephone and onsite interviews
with the question “So what do you know about our
company?” The amount of research you’ve done tells them
whether you are interested in the company or just in getting a
job. Learn about some of their products and relate them to
your interests and abilities.
Get your suit cleaned and pressed—Even though the technical
interviewers may be wearing blue jeans and T-shirts, you as
the candidate are expected to be well dressed. If you do well
in the interview, you may be introduced to some of the
executives in the organization who wear suits regularly and
will appreciate that you are similarly attired.
Prepare to discuss anything on your resume—As an
interviewer, it’s disheartening to ask a student about
something on his/her resume and get the response “I did that,
but I don’t remember much about it.” This is often the case
with team projects where the student includes the project on
his/her resume but only did a small part of it. Doing a small
part is perfectly acceptable, but you should be ready to
describe what you did, what your team members did, how you
worked together, and what you learned. For example, students
frequently include “Matlab” on their resume, but can’t
remember the syntax of basic operations. But if they discuss
where and why they used Matlab and what problems it
solved, then they’ve demonstrated sufficient familiarity. As
you prepare your resume, make sure you can say something
meaningful about every detail of it.
Mentally prepare to be interviewed by a team—Team
interviews are becoming more common, but seeing a group of
people in the room surprises some candidates.
Be prepared for the interviewer to ask you to discuss a subject
of your choice—This is your chance to relate an experience
where your unique skills, knowledge, and personality resulted
in success. You could discuss a lab, a team project, your
senior project, or a project you did to gain experience. An
ideal story would show how you analyzed a problem, came
up with a solution, executed your plan, made something work,
and learned something valuable. Your story can be simple.
For example, your “problem” could be that you had no
experience, your solution could be that you did an individual
project in the senior project lab (such as the circuit from
Section 5.6), and what you learned was how to build and
debug a servo system.
It is common for interviewers to ask the candidate if he/she
has any questions at the end of the interview. If you have not
had a chance to relate your story, ask if you can mention “An
experience that will give you an idea of how I approach and
solve problems.”
10.1.3 The Interview
As shown in Figure 10.1, your next step to securing your job
will be a telephone screen. If you do well in the telephone
screen you will be invited to the company for an onsite
After your onsite interview, each interviewer evaluates you
by filling out a form provided by the Human Resources
department. You will be graded in 10-15 areas including
technical knowledge, enthusiasm, and whether the interviewer
feels you can make an immediate contribution. At the bottom
of the forms are checkboxes for “hire” and “don’t hire, ” and
under the boxes is a field for comments. Your goal is for the
interviewers to check the “hire” box and then follow up with
a comment such as “The candidate had researched our
company and wants to work here because he/she likes our
technology. He/she has solid technical skills and will be an
immediate contributor to our department.”
Treat the phone screen as an interview—You must succeed in
your phone screen to get invited for an onsite interview. Make
sure you are located in a quiet place with an
Internet-connected computer. Since the audio quality of a
land-based telephone is better than a cell phone, use one if
possible. Expect technical questions, and have pencil, paper,
and calculator with you. If you look something up on the
Internet during the interview and the interviewer hears the
key taps, you could be rejected. Use the Internet only if the
interviewer asks you to go to a specific website.
Be prepared to work problems—To evaluate your technical
skills, the interviewer needs to ask you to work out problems.
This surprises some candidates and causes them to “freeze.”
You should bring a pencil, eraser, clipboard with paper, and
calculator to any interview. Arrive early and work out several
problems immediately before the interview so you are “in the
Be confident and enthusiastic—The interview is your chance
to show the interviewers that you are going to be a valuable
asset to their department. You need to show that you just
received an excellent education, you know how to apply it,
and you have prepared specifically for this interview. The
enthusiasm of recent graduates is valuable in engineering
departments. If you feel you offer enthusiasm, let it show.
Don’t worry about being nervous— Interviewers expect
candidates to be nervous. Feel free to admit it to the
interviewer if it helps you. If, at the beginning of the
interview, they ask if you would like a glass of water, accept
it so your throat doesn’t get too dry during the interview. If
you are nervous, don’t starve your brain of oxygen by taking
shallow breaths.
If you’ll be interviewed by a team, try to sit at the head or the
foot of the table—When interviewed by a team, it is awkward
if you have to turn your head to address each person. If
possible, try to sit at the head or foot of the table so you can
address everyone in the room simultaneously.
When you are asked something you don’t know, don’t give
up or panic—Interviewers intentionally present difficult
questions to gauge how candidates approach unfamiliar
problems. If the problem is difficult because it uses
terminologies or technologies that are unfamiliar to you, ask
for clarification. Draw a picture or diagram that shows what
they’re asking. Work with your diagram and use the
fundamentals. Talk as you think. Let them stop you or prod
you through.
If the interviewer is inexperienced, help him/her out—In
today’s economy the interviewer is often your potential boss,
and he/she may not be an experienced interviewer. Figure
10.2 shows the “middle ground” where interviewing is
effective. By reading this book, you have done your part to
prepare for an interview in this area. If the interviewer
attempts to conduct the interview in the area to the right of the
middle ground, then you will be presented with terms and
technologies that will be completely unfamiliar, and you
won’t get the opportunity to show what you can offer. If
presented with questions on the right side of Figure 10.2,
respond by asking questions that relate the questions to the
middle ground.
Figure 10.2 When interviews take place in the “middle
ground, ” the company learns the most about the candidate
and the candidate gets the best opportunity to show his/her
Another mistake made by inexperienced interviewers is to
spend too much time telling you about the problems and
needs of the company without giving you an opportunity to
present yourself. When the interviewer fills out the review
form he/she will realize that they failed to get the required
information and you won’t get hired. If you detect this,
salvage the interview by politely interrupting and letting the
interviewer know how you can help with the problems he/she
is describing.
When doing problems, check your work—When working
problems during an interview you will make errors—and
interviewers expect that. If you can recognize that your
answer is wrong, you’ll demonstrate that you have the skills
to objectively review your work and find errors on your own.
For example, when doing any analog or digital circuit
problem, always apply asymptotic analysis to check the
frequency response.
When asked about team projects, make sure to credit your
team members—The interviewer is probably more interested
in the team dynamics than the specific result. Discuss your
most successful project and show why you were a good team
Be prepared to ask the interviewer questions—Nearly all
interviewers will conclude the interview by asking the
candidate if he/she has questions about the company or the
department. Asking the interviewer about his/her work will
give you valuable insight into the department’s tasks and how
they do them. This is also a good time to inquire about the
composition of the department and whether you would be
working with experienced engineers that you can use as
mentors. Finally, if you don’t have a clear idea about the type
of work you would be doing if hired, ask them.
Send a follow-up e-mail immediately after the
interview—Many interviewers wait a day or so before filling
out their interview feedback form so their opinion may be
positively influenced if they read your e-mail before filling it
out. Use the e-mail to reiterate your interest in something you
discussed in the interview or to correct something that you got
wrong during the interview. If the letter does not specifically
address the interview, for example, if it looks like a
“one-size-fits-all” letter, it will be ignored.
10.1.4 Selecting the Right Offer
Hopefully your efforts will result in a list of job offers.
Consider these points when selecting an offer.
Does the company offer job security?—In a tight economy,
job security is an important consideration. It is a frequently
held belief that a job with a larger company will provide job
security, but this is not necessarily true. Large companies
generally have multiple people who can do the same job, so it
is easier for them to reduce their workforce, but their size can
also make it easier for them to find a spot for you. On the
other hand, smaller companies often rely on key individuals
and retain them even during difficult times, but they are more
subject to economic ups and downs. There is no right answer;
you need to consider what you want and what is right for you.
The best way to stay continuously employed is to maintain
and develop your skill set and experience base. In other
words, job security is associated with you—not any company.
If a company can provide you opportunities to gain
experience and expand your technical knowledge, then you
will develop job security. If, for some reason, this job doesn’t
work out, another company will value what you have learned;
that is the best job security.2
Did the company offer a high starting salary?—Throughout
your career you obviously want to be well compensated with
a continuous pattern of salary increases. Your starting salary
represents what the company believes is necessary to attract
qualified new graduates. It is minimally, if at all, related to
your unique talents. On the other hand, your salary increases
and promotions will be based on your individual
performance.3 If we consider salary as a linear function of
time, starting salary is the y-intercept and experience and
technical knowledge represent the slope. To get the highest
overall compensation, focus on gaining experience and
expanding your knowledge rather than on your initial salary.
Did you meet mentors that you could learn from?—During
the interview you might have asked about the composition of
the department or about possible mentors, or you may have
seen experienced engineers working in the laboratory.
Mentors are an excellent way to quickly learn about the
products and technologies at the company as well as the
procedures for getting things done. A good mentor will also
help you develop your overall engineering skills. Working
with a mentor will accelerate your career.
Did you see women in engineering and management
positions?—Modern workplaces are benefiting by hiring
more women and promoting them at all levels. As a woman
you will benefit from female mentors as well as an
environment that values your contribution.
Is the laboratory well equipped?—Laboratory and
troubleshooting skills are some of the first ones you want to
pick up in your career. During the interview you’ll likely get a
brief tour of the facility. Pay close attention to the laboratory.
If it is well equipped and there are engineers working in it,
chances are you’ll be able to work there also.
10.2.1 The First Year
Your first job is the beginning of a career that will ideally
bring you many years of personal and professional
fulfillment. During your first year it is important to establish
your value to the company, establish good working
relationships, increase your skill set, and begin to sort out
your long-term career goals.
As a recent graduate you have a special opportunity. The
author is biased, but typically the members of engineering
departments are simply good people to work with. We may
view you as a toddler who makes simple and laughable
mistakes but is also learning at an incredible rate. As
experienced engineers, we’ll enjoy watching you make
mistakes and learning from them; and we’ll go out of our way
to help you. Your responsibility is to accept help gracefully,
work hard, and not ask anyone to do your work for you. As
you mature, extend this gift to the recent graduates you
Learn to use the whiteboard in meetings—Every conference
room has one or more whiteboards with dry-erase markers
and erasers. You will likely spend at least an hour of every
day conferring with other engineers in meetings. The most
effective communicators are good at drawing diagrams and
sorting out issues by drawing on the whiteboard. This is an
acquired skill. At first, your drawings will be the wrong size,
they’ll be cramped, and after working with a drawing you’ll
wish you could erase it and start over. If you expect to use a
diagram in a meeting, prepare a sketch first and use it as a
guide, or go to the conference room a few minutes before the
meeting and draw the skeleton of your drawing. It’s always
worthwhile to have a brand new dry-erase marker in your
pocket when you go into a meeting because the ones in the
conference room always seem to run out of ink just as you
start to draw.
Learn to be a good troubleshooter—Troubleshooting is an
invaluable skill at any company. If you are a good
troubleshooter you’ll be able to get your designs working
quickly, and you’ll be in demand when your group is working
on system problems. Find a mentor who is a good
troubleshooter, and don’t be surprised if this person does not
have an engineering degree. As your career progresses, use
your troubleshooting skills to become a good overall problem
Document your work—Keep a paper or online lab notebook
and make sure that all of your ideas, computations, circuits,
meeting notes, and so on are kept in it. Before throwing away
a piece of scratch paper check to see if it should be copied or
taped into your notebook. Reference the relevant pages of
your lab notebook in memos you write or in the comments of
your code. Management hates to see engineers spend time
retracing their steps, and appreciates when you can recall
things quickly from your notebook. They especially
appreciate it when a coworker digs into one of your
notebooks because you referenced it in a memo or in a piece
of code. Treat your notebook as a public document and limit
its contents to technical and project issues. If one of your
colleagues has a particularly good notebook, ask him/her to
share his/her skills with you.
Learn more than what is required for anything you’re
assigned—You gain experience with every task you do, but
you can greatly expand your experience base and probably do
a better job if you make an effort to understand the bigger
picture of what you’re doing. By taking a small amount of
extra time, you still get the job done, you remember the result
better and you will broaden your skill set. This must be
balanced against your workload. If you do it on your own
time it will be an excellent investment in your career.
Always be productive—In a corporate environment, you’ll
have to accommodate the schedules of others. For example,
you may not be able to proceed with a project until after a
meeting or until someone else takes some data. One of the
worst things you can tell your boss is that you are “waiting.”
Instead, maintain a prioritized list of short-, medium-, and
long-term tasks so you can remain productive. This will make
every hour of every day meaningful.4 It will also establish
your reputation as a self-directed worker.5
Include a test strategy with test criteria as part of any
design—When you design something you should have a clear
understanding of how you will test it and how you will know
it meets the design requirements. This should be discussed at
any design review so you know your expectations are aligned
with the other team members. Frequently this process
identifies new design requirements that can be included on
the first prototype instead of being recognized at a later stage.
It will also result in faster debug and a smoother transition
into production.
Participate in IEEE activities—If you did not join the Institute
of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in college, this
is a great time to join and get involved. This organization is
dedicated to helping you during every phase of your career.
As a recent graduate you’ll benefit by participating in the
Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) program which will
connect you with other young professionals in your area and
allow you to expand your network of contacts. The IEEE also
provides technical seminars where you can expand your
technical horizons. Their flagship magazine “Spectrum” will
keep you up-to-date on a superbly chosen collection of issues
relevant to electrical engineers.
Don’t nod your head if you don’t understand—Recent
graduates are often reluctant to tell a coworker or supervisor
that they don’t understand what they are being asked to do. If
you nod, you are acknowledging that you understand what is
expected and can complete the task. If you then fail, your
supervisor will assume you weren’t ready to accept the task.
If you don’t understand, let him/her know and develop a plan
to come up-to-speed before receiving additional direction. A
good way to do this is to get the information you need from a
colleague and then return to your supervisor for additional
Develop writing and presentation skills—Before sending an
e-mail, put yourself in the position of the reader. Gauge his/
her technical level, how busy he/she is, and whether he/she
even cares about what you’re telling him/her. Then make sure
your e-mail contains just the right amount of detail. Say you
are sending an e-mail to your supervisor suggesting a meeting
about an issue. You don’t need to fully describe the issue; just
give a clear reason why the meeting is needed. Internally
evaluate the effectiveness of every e-mail you receive and
every presentation you attend. Learn from others’ mistakes
and successes.
Make connections in other parts of the company—Limiting
your interactions to your department will limit your
understanding of how the company works and what it needs
to be successful. Take advantage of any opportunity to
interact with people from other departments and develop good
working relationships with them. Sometimes companies
create “cross-functional” teams to address problems that
affect multiple departments. These are excellent opportunities
to increase your value to the company by learning how other
parts of the company work. Make sure that people from other
departments are comfortable approaching you.
Ask your coworkers for help—As a recent graduate, you will
find that most of your coworkers will be glad to share their
knowledge and experience with you. However, busy
engineers don’t like being asked for help when the person
asking has not taken the time to understand a problem or
propose one or more alternatives. If you make an attempt to
work out issues before asking a coworker you’ll earn their
respect—even if your approach is not quite right. If you
graciously accept their assistance you’ll learn faster and solve
problems correctly the first time. If your boss trusts that you
have the judgment to ask for help when necessary, he/she will
trust you with more responsibility.
10.2.2 After the First Year
During your first year, you will gain the basic skills required
to be a valuable member of your team. During the next few
years you should take on additional responsibility, solidify
your professional goals, and take steps to realize them.
Take on the worst job and make it the best job—There are
some jobs that are important to the company but appear
uninteresting, unglamorous, and, as a result, no one wants to
do them. These projects may initially seem boring, difficult,
or thankless. Some may be in a state of disarray because the
previous engineer had either done them poorly or left the
company. These jobs are often excellent opportunities to learn
new skills, exercise creativity, and gain visibility in the
Recently, the author was asked to be the technical
representative on a cross-functional team that reviewed the
process that the company used to specify and procure toroidal
inductors. The company was having problems with numerous
suppliers and wisely realized that the underlying problem
might be internal. The team consisted of representatives from
engineering, purchasing, quality control, and manufacturing.
As the engineering representative, the author helped develop
an iterative process between the designer and the supplier
during the design phase of a toroid. Then the author’s team
created design guidelines and worksheets to help engineers
create designs that are manufacturable. Since their procedure
was developed with input from multiple departments and
toroid vendors, it was adopted as standard practice.
Working on this project had multiple benefits. The cost
savings from this project gave their team an opportunity to
present their results to the executive management, where they
were favorably recognized. The project gave the author the
opportunity to learn how things are done in other parts of the
company and establish working relationships with the people
who do them. It also allowed the author to show their quality
control personnel some useful statistical techniques—and for
them to introduce the author to the processes that they use.
Present new ideas to management and colleagues—If you
believe you have a good idea, prepare a brief presentation
describing your idea and discuss it with your colleagues or
supervisor. Will it save time, money, or make the product
more reliable? If it’s not a good idea you’ll learn why. Good
managers appreciate enthusiastic ideas, even if they’re off
Understand your relationship with each of your colleagues
and optimize it—Shape your relationship with each colleague
so you are both successful. Ask yourself these questions about
each colleague: Do you respect this person? Do you consider
him/her a mentor? Do you compete with him/her for projects?
Would you consider him/her a friend? Do your skills and
interests complement each other? Your colleagues may not
realize that you are doing this, but they will regard you as
someone who helps them succeed.
Learn to effectively delegate—You will encounter tasks in
parts of your projects that are not right for you to do. These
are not the tasks that you simply don’t want to do. They are
the tasks that can be done more efficiently by others, while
your talents are better used elsewhere. For example, the
author frequently designs hardware, but asks the company’s
computer-aided design (CAD) experts to draw schematics.
This frees the author up to create a test strategy while the
schematic is being drawn. As a result, the author is able to
present the highest quality schematics as well as a test plan at
the design review. Other engineers insist on drawing their
own schematics and delegate the test strategy to a test
engineer with equally beneficial results. Determine the
delegation strategy that works for you.
If you’re wrong, admit it and make it right—If you
consistently check your work before passing it to others, you
will enjoy a reputation for credibility. As a credible person,
your colleagues and subordinates know that when you ask
them to do something they will have to do it only once. If you
constantly change your mind, or change directions, they will
have to discard their efforts and then repeat them. If you get a
reputation for wasting your colleague’s time, they’ll avoid
working with you. When the author makes a mistake, I
always apologize to those affected. If anyone has to work
additional hours due to the my error, I make sure the person
and their supervisor know that I was the one at fault.
If your career is technical get your PE license—Very few
electrical engineers outside of the utility industry or
government have their PE license.6 If you passed the FE
exam, you can take the PE exam after working for a year.
This license distinguishes you from other engineers by
showing that you have demonstrated competence in numerous
areas of electrical engineering. If you intend to be a
consultant in the future you should get your license because it
allows you to testify in court and to use the legally restricted
title of Consulting Engineer. The author found that the review
manual and exam were similar to the approach used in this
book; they emphasized practical skills but related them to the
fundamentals. If you enjoyed the technical chapters of this
book, you’ll enjoy studying for the exam also. And when you
pass it you’ll be able to distinguish yourself with the initials
PE on your business card!
Find the people who will be your long-term friends—Most
experienced engineers have a collection of 5 or 10 current and
former colleagues that they consider trusted friends and
confidants. These are the people with whom you will share
technical knowledge, solicit help from for difficult career or
personal decisions, and might possibly form your own
company one day. These friends are rare, and it is important
that you identify them and then maintain the friendships as
your careers progress.
Don’t get overworked—Some engineers always seem to be
overworked. They will often leave a job because they’re
“burned-out” and then find themselves burned-out at their
next job. These engineers will insist that the company is
overworking them, but that’s rarely the case—especially
when it happens to the same person at multiple companies. If
you find yourself working an excessive number of hours, take
a hard look at the reason why. It is easy to stay later and later
at night, but the result of this can be an ever-increasing cycle
of increasing hours and decreasing efficiency. It is much
healthier to work efficiently for a reasonable number of hours
and then recharge yourself.
Get to know the people who sell your company’s
product—The company’s marketing and sales people have
the knowledge and skills to convince customers to spend
money on the products you make. Without sales, there is no
company, so these people can easily be considered the most
valuable in the organization. Good marketing people interact
frequently with engineering. They may notice at a trade show
that your competitor’s product has a new feature that yours
doesn’t. A 10-minute conversation over a cup of coffee will
let them know whether the feature is a simple enhancement or
a complete product redesign. Alternatively, from your
engineering vantage point you may come up with an idea for
a new feature or product. If you present it to a marketing
person he/she will be able to quickly tell you if he/she thinks
it will sell. Finally, if you find yourself starting your own
company in the future, you will need the best marketing
people to present your product to paying customers.
Steer your career toward job satisfaction—You may have to
change jobs a few times to end up in a position that is right
for you. One of the author’s friends, Andy, loved the ocean
so, after college, he took a job at Scripps Institute of
Oceanography in San Diego. Now he owns his own
oceanographic company and combines his engineering skills
with his love for the ocean. His company is small, but larger
companies avoid competing with him because they simply
can’t match his passion. If you love football, find out who
makes the system that draws the yellow first-down line on the
televised image. Research how it works and tell them you
want to work with this technology because you find it
fascinating. If you like cars, learn about engine control or
regenerative brakes and then send letters to car manufacturers.
Don’t waste good passion. Harness it in your career.
Don’t take the promotion if you don’t want to do the job—If
you do your job well you will invariably be approached:
“You’re really good at what you do. We’d like to leverage
your knowledge by having you manage a group that performs
your function.” For many engineers the promotion and
corresponding salary increase is an excellent opportunity to
move along their career path. But some engineers accept the
promotion for the wrong reasons such as pressure from the
management, for the salary increase, or because “that’s what
you’re supposed to do.” If you accept the position for the
wrong reasons, you will be dissatisfied with your work, and
you’ll be a poor manager. If you believe your technical work
is more fun than focusing on people and projects, save
yourself, potential subordinates, and management the
headache and politely decline the offer.7
You will be working for many years. If you enjoy your work,
you will be successful at it and vice versa. The author hopes
that the material in this book will merit valuable space on
your bookshelf. You are encouraged to review the
information in this section every few years. What is not
meaningful now may be in a few years.
Take care of yourself—Personal fitness involves your mind,
body, and spirit. Maintaining these will keep you at your peak
of efficiency and creativity. During the writing of this book,
the author rode his bicycle up a 1600 ft. peak several times
per week, and after late evenings of writing, took long walks
with the dog to wind down. Working hard and laughing with
my colleagues gave me the energy to write for hours after
long days at work. Find out what is required to take care of
your mind, body, and spirit so you can perform at your best.
Your subordinates are as important as your superiors—If your
superiors are wise then they value the opinion of your
subordinates, and one of your duties as a senior person is to
help your subordinates succeed. When you are leading the
team, make sure the younger engineers get the credit they
deserve. If you get a reputation for treating your subordinates
well, you’ll have no shortage of good people wanting to be on
your team. As you mature further you may find that helping
your subordinates provides more satisfaction than impressing
your superiors.
Keep seeking out mentors—As a younger engineer you
probably found mentors that you truly respected. As you gain
experience, mentors are harder to find and you may note that
your younger colleagues have skills and knowledge that you
don’t. As you mentor them in some areas, let them mentor
you in others.
Don’t get complacent or overly comfortable—If you look
back over your career you’ll likely find that you did your best
work in stressful situations such as when you were struggling
against a deadline or when a problem seemed insurmountable.
If you are complacent or comfortable you are not working to
your potential and could be a layoff target. Consider teaching
a younger colleague to do tasks that are easy for you and then
apply your experience to something more challenging. Does
this make you feel uncomfortable? That’s the point!
Laugh lots—There is no better time to laugh than when the
team is stressfully attempting to do the impossible. A good
laugh releases endorphins, makes us breathe more deeply, and
reinforces the bond between teammates. Humor is a valuable
part of the workplace, but must be used carefully. The
author’s favorite target of humor is himself which minimizes
the possibility of offending anyone and often causes others to
laugh at themselves also. When the group laughs together
things just don’t seem so difficult.
Listen to your colleagues—At this stage of your career you
will be the one listening to and evaluating the ideas of your
younger colleagues. By listening to them and carefully
guiding their creativity, they’ll value your inputs and ask you
to participate in their efforts. Always encourage their
Never stop learning—If you have maintained your technical
skills, consider buying a textbook describing the newest
technology in your field once a year and learning it. Despite
the fact that textbooks contain hundreds of pages, chances are
that most of those pages are review and you can focus only on
what is new to you. It is not enough to skim the material and
just learn the “buzzwords.” Make sure you learn the material,
work the examples and problems, and gain valuable skills that
you can apply at work. Alternatively, take advantage of the
many continuing education resources provided by the IEEE.
Avoid office politics by being competent—Fortunately
engineers are usually great people to work with, and our
enjoyment of our work, combined with a collective disdain
for office politics makes personal skirmishes somewhat rare.
Furthermore, as engineers, our output is objectively graded on
our adherence to schedules and the quality of our work, and
there is little room for subjective interpretation. The author’s
experience is that competence and usefulness to the company
always seem to trump political scheming.
Share everything you know—Don’t ever hoard knowledge in
the hopes that it will make you uniquely valuable to the
company. If you do this, your colleagues and management
will recognize it immediately, obtain the knowledge via other
means, and you will likely be terminated in the next layoff.
Instead, use your experience and knowledge to learn new
skills that are valuable to the company and to your
subordinates. Be confident in your ability to learn and share
all you know with your colleagues. This will make you both
professionally valuable and well respected.
Value and maintain the friendships that you’ve made
throughout your career—It is harder to be an older engineer
than a younger engineer. At this point, you and your best
friends will likely work at different companies. Keep in touch
with these friends as you keep in touch with your
non-engineer friends, share whatever new skills you’re
learning, and help each other sort out difficult issues. Take
care of each other.
1. Often taken directly from job postings.
2. Throughout your career your skill set and experience will
change, but it will always be your best source of security.
3. Companies clearly understand that they must pay
competitively to retain good engineers and they pay close
attention to local salary surveys.
4. Sometimes the best 15-minute task is a cup of coffee with a
5. If you enjoy this reputation, your supervisor will likely give
you the latitude to direct yourself.
6. Some electrical engineers believe that since their
colleagues are not PEs, they will not be able to use them as
references and their application will be rejected by the
licensing board. The board recognizes this dilemma and will
usually allow non-PEs to serve as your references.
7. Companies often provide technical career paths in order to
retain good technical personnel.