Important Job Skills for Engineers
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.
Education and Job Requirements
Most aspiring engineers will need at least a bachelor’s degree from an engineering school or university, and the best-paid engineers usually have a master’s degree or Ph.D. in their field.
Besides the proper educational background and relevant technical experience, you will need to demonstrate many so-called “soft” skills in order to advance your engineering career.
Soft skills are those which require interpersonal adaptability among different kinds of people, problems, and situations. For example, leadership and communication are interpersonal skills that successful engineers employ on a regular basis. These soft skills complement “hard” skills, such as programming or a working knowledge of chemistry.
What Kind of Skills Do You Need to be an Engineer?
There are several different branches of engineering, each with distinct technical skill sets. Within a given field, credentials and expectations may vary significantly among these various fields of engineering.
When you're applying for jobs carefully read the job descriptions specific to your field and emphasize the hard skills applicable to your education and experience in your resume, cover letter, and interview.
In contrast, the soft, or social skills will vary less from one industry of engineering to another. Initially, these soft skills may not seem quite as important as the hard skills, but most interviewers will pick up on interpersonal deficiencies in your interview. Further, technically-trained engineers often struggle to obtain promotions after they are hired if they lack the soft skills described below.
Because engineers operate in a variety of industries, some hard skills are vital only to specific industries. That being said, each hard skill below is important in most engineering work.
Engineers are creators in everything from biology to computer programming. Naturally, they need the technical skills to succeed. Depending on the complexity of the field and project, more formal education is often required.
- Computer Science
- Programming Languages
- System Design and Analysis
- Conceptual, Logical, or Physical Data Modeling
- Process Management
- Advanced Physics
- Structural Analysis
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 that those within and outside your department can understand. Due to the highly technical demands, communication often proves one of the most challenging soft skills for engineers. Complexities have to be broken down into digestible words and concepts for your peers and managers.
- Emotional Intelligence
- Presentation Skills
- Active Listening
- Ability to Clarify and Paraphrase
- Stress Tolerance
Frequently, engineers manage teams and must integrate with auxiliary departments while trying to meet deadlines on a budget. Because of the administrative demands required of most engineers, many of them go on to become CEOs and thought leaders.
Like other professionals that need project management skills, some engineers seek a Project Management Certification. Some companies will offer their engineers the opportunity to get certified in project management. If you seek employment as an engineer and already have a bachelor’s degree, you can often find graduate programs at low cost that help you take and pass the PMI exam.
Another type of project management training familiar to engineers is Six Sigma training. Based on the Japanese model of Just-in-Time Manufacturing, project managers trained in Six Sigma achieve colored belt titles (similar to martial arts) indicating their level of skill and achievement.
- Strategic Planning
- Risk Management
- Quality Control
- Critical Thinking
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. This is the essence of department integration and collaboration.
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.
Engineering is fundamentally about problem solving and multi-tasking, 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.
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 maintaining of computer models which become simulations of complex systems. While modeling is not unique to engineering, it has become a critical component in many fields where engineering is vital.
These models are used to predict how quickly a planned stadium might be evacuated in an emergency, how a power plant might behave if a critical component fails, and more. 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.
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.
Attention to Detail
Projects in engineering are extraordinarily complex. They 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.
More Engineering Skills
While the skills above highlight to most important hard and soft skills required of top engineers, there are several others. If you love complexity and understanding the building blocks of innovation, many of these skills will come to you naturally.
- Reading Comprehension
- Information Ordering
- Deductive Reasoning
- Inductive Reasoning
- Independent Thinking
- Ongoing Improvement
- Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Software
- Government Contracting
- Higher National Diploma (HND) in Relevant Subject Matter
- Commercial Awareness
- Environmental Awareness
- Data Analysis
- Equipment Diagnostics
- Inventory Management
- City Planning
- Infrastructural Design
Review a Resume Sample
Review a resume example for an engineer.
How to Make Your Skills Stand Out
Research Your Industry: Engineers build, create, and modify in an enormous variety of complex fields. Whatever your industry, take time to research the specific technical skills required by employers.
Match Your Skills to the Job: When interviewing for an engineering position, make sure that your resume matches your skills, particularly the ones potential employers are looking for. In your cover letter and in the interview, it is appropriate to highlight any notable projects in which you played a role.
Be Prepared to Share Examples: Since engineers often manage others, it can be helpful to come to an interview prepared to share real-life examples of when you solved problems: the situation, the problem, the outcome, what you did well, and how you might handle it differently the next time.