Essential Skills You Need to Become a Top Engineer
Engineering is one of the fastest growing and most exciting fields today, offering new college graduates significant earning potential, job stability, and plenty of personal satisfaction. There are many different jobs available for engineers. Not everyone can be an engineer, however, as the demands in terms of skills and knowledge are intense.
Most aspiring engineers will need at least a bachelor’s degree, more probably a master’s degree, from an engineering school. Besides the proper educational background and relevant technical experience, you will need to demonstrate many so-called “soft” skills in order to get and keep a good job.
Soft skills are those which involve interpersonal matters, such as leadership and communication. They complement “hard” skills, such as computer modeling or a working knowledge of chemistry, which are specific to your branch of engineering and are technical in nature.
The Engineering Skill Set You Need
There are several different branches of engineering, each with very distinct technical skill sets. Even within a given field, specific job requirements vary significantly between positions. Be sure to read job descriptions carefully and to emphasize your applicable skills in your resume, cover letter, and interview. The soft, or social skills will vary less from job to job, and may or may not be mentioned in the job description, but they are no less critical to your success in the field.
The following are seven of the most important skills for an engineer to have mastered. Reviewing this list can help you determine which skills you already possess which would make you a good engineer and which skills you should be learning.
Engineering is fundamentally about solving problems, and that means finding new ways to apply existing knowledge—a truly creative process. You may be attracted to engineering because of its creative element. On the other hand, if you don’t think of yourself as the creative type, you can practice thinking outside the box through unrestricted brainstorming, daydreaming, and play.
Computer modeling is the creation and use of computer models to run simulations of complex systems. While modeling is not unique to engineering, it has become a critical component of many types of engineering. Computer models can be used to predict anything from how quickly a planned stadium might be evacuated in an emergency to how a power plant might behave if a critical component fails. Not all engineers need the programming expertise to build models, but you will need to understand how models work so that you know what kinds of problems can be simulated and what the simulations mean for your project.
Attention to Detail
Projects in engineering are extraordinarily complex and involve dozens, if not hundreds, of people. A small mistake at any point during planning, development, or construction can result in failure. A failed project not only loses money but could also injure or even kill people.
Gone are the days of calculating by hand and with slide rules, but the existence of computers does not free you from the need to understand math. In fact, since computers can only follow instructions, engineers must first figure out how to solve numeric problems on their own before they can tell a computer what to do.
Engineering is very technical and relies on concise and accurate communication between colleagues. But you will also have to communicate with people outside of the field, such as clients and sometimes the general public, who do not have a technical background. It's important that you are able to translate your specialized knowledge into terms they can understand.
Engineers are typically known for their technical abilities, but leadership and management skills are just as important. While managing projects, you need to learn how to delegate tasks, organize large teams of people, and coordinate many complex processes. As your career progresses, you will likely become responsible for managing and motivating other engineers as well.
Engineers almost never work alone; you will work with a wide range of employees, both fellow engineers and people outside your department, to bring your projects to fruition. You need to be able to work collaboratively with different types of people at every level, applying skills as varied as verbal communication and appropriate body language to goal-setting and prioritizing problems. You need the character and integrity that will induce other people to trust you and rely on you as you all work together.