September 2008

Engineer, market thyself

By Jamie Parker

Hundreds of factories are shutting down in China. Gas prices are rising, making the cost of shipping overseas exorbitant. There is a renaissance afoot in American manufacturing and innovation, and engineers have a place in it.

The changing face of manufacturing and business globally is leading straight to an increased demand for automation engineers across industries. In fact, the unemployment rate for engineers is a mere 2%, whereas unemployment for the U.S. is 5.5%. It is a prime time for engineers to make themselves more marketable. But how? 

Keep learning

As always, what you know is crucial. Workers with the most up-to-date skills and knowledge of current programs and applications will have an edge over those who have allowed their education to lapse. In today's competitive environment, every little bit helps, so be sure to take advantage of any training programs or classes your company offers; and if a tuition reimbursement program is available, make use of it by enrolling in professional development courses or an MBA program.

Gaining advanced technical skills and expanding your general business knowledge shows initiative on your part and demonstrates your commitment as a lifelong learner-two things potential employers appreciate.

If your company does not have a tuition reimbursement program in place, consider laying out the money to get started on an advanced certification or graduate program. Do it a few classes at a time, or as many as your budget and schedule allow, but do it.

Plus, being aware of potential issues and trends shows your current manager how valuable you are and gives you plenty to talk about with potential employers.

Develop transferable skills. While you might think certain tasks are just part of a specific role and are only applicable to your current job, transferable skills are in fact among your most valuable attributes.

Jot down a list of skills you have developed that are transferable. Odds are you have more than you think. If you decide to change industries, you should be prepared to discuss how your prior job experience has prepared you for different corporate environments.

If you discover that your list of transferable skills is a little short, there is no time like the present to add to it. Accept any special projects that are offered to you, and seek out others that interest you and which you feel offer an opportunity to learn, especially if they allow you to take on a leadership role. The chance to collaborate with individuals from other departments or to participate in cross-departmental projects or initiatives could add depth to your experience and resume.

Continue to network

When the time comes to move on in your career, you will want a solid network of professionals you can contact for job leads. Even if you are planning to stay in your current position, having a strong network will only work to your advantage. So dedicate at least some of your free time to building that network. Join professional organizations and be sure to attend their meetings and conferences, where you will have an opportunity to connect with people from other companies and areas. Do not be afraid to pick their brains for ideas you can use in your own work, and increase your knowledge of industry issues by engaging in topical discussions.

Volunteering is another excellent way to expand your network. Lending your time and talents to a great cause could connect you with people whom you might not have met otherwise, and may offer the chance to add valuable skills and experience to your resume.

While networking cannot replace solid relationships that are built over time, it is an effective way to begin those relationships. With each new person you meet, your network expands to include their contacts as well. And, since most of us tend to prefer doing business with people we know, being introduced to a new contact by someone in your network is a great way to grow your client base. Along with repeat clients, referrals are the lifeblood of most businesses. Networking is a key strategy for developing your referral business while building your new business.

Take advantage of technology

Current software enables you to create databases of contacts that you can update frequently with information on each person. Rather than jotting pertinent facts on the back of your contact's business card, you can now enter this information into a database (such as Microsoft Outlook Contacts) that can help you sort them into categories and then be synched-up with your handheld electronics so you can have this information at your fingertips.

Join professional organizations

Join professional organizations specific to your field, but do not ignore general professional organizations. This indirect networking method helps you take advantage of associations whose members are varied and is an excellent way for you to build your contact list.

In addition to increasing the number of people you do business with, building your network in this way also allows you to learn more about your existing contacts, which in turn helps you make smarter business referrals. Since a bad referral can come back to haunt you, get to know the people you are referring. Remember, a strong, successful network is built on solid relationships that you develop over time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jamie Parker (jamie.parker@adeccona.com) is president and chief operations officer of Adecco Engineering and Technical, a global recruiting firm out of Rochester, N.Y.