Time sure does start to fly once you leave behind the relaxed college lifestyle for a reoccurring routine in the workforce. Before you know it, one year has passed - maybe even two. You have gone through the review process, seen a raise or two, maybe received a bonus, or perhaps even a promotion in title. Those can all come just by performing the standard tasks asked of you.
On your career path as an engineer it should already be understood that timeliness, consistency, reliability, professionalism are all necessary characteristics of a “good” employee. One thing that may take a little time to learn is how to look beyond the tasks in front of you and into the broader picture of the business in which you are involved. I believe that exploring the aspects beyond the workload on your desk will help separate yourself from your peers and make you stand out in the professional world.
For starters, there are reasons that your company has received the task or project to which you are now contributing. They either have a long-standing relationship with the particular client or the reputation of your firm’s past work experience has helped land the new project. To start defining yourself as an employee, look to those that have developed your firm’s reputation and are clearly successful at keeping their clients satisfied. Pick up on how they interact with all of those involved in a project including the clients, contractors, competitors, public entities, other consultants, etc. I am not telling you to completely mimic them or that all aspects you observe will be good or even fit your particular personality. The point to note is that something is obviously working for them. If you can figure out those characteristics and tweak them to match your personality, it will really jump start your development as a professional.
As you begin to develop and make attempts to work your way up the ladder, the next step is to make note of what tasks your project manager or other team members are taking on that you personally do not have in front of you. Try to find a way to get hold of those new tasks and don’t shy away when new opportunities present themselves. This is how you will learn the business and expand your knowledge-base. Ultimately, by pursuing these new tasks, you are relieving the workload and stress of others on your team and by taking this initiative will show that you are ambitious. In doing so you are setting yourself up to be considered for future promotions. Project manager and partner of our firm, Ralph Saldana, P.E., recently gave some great advice in a seminar for project management training. One of the points he made is that showing ambition doesn’t necessarily result in an immediate raise or promotion. However, those actions do put you in a position to be considered when the firm is looking to fill a new role. If you wait to take that initiative until a position or promotion comes available, chances are your efforts are too late. We can all be considered good employees by effectively handling the day to day tasks in front of us, but without expanding on that and trying to grow as a professional, you are at risk of not standing out.
Now that you are doing everything you can to help your team and grow as an employee, expand on this mind set and try to explore beyond the needs of just your company. You have likely now become familiar with your firm’s clientele, so start to pay attention to what makes them tick and what you can do to make their life easier. The characteristics of a good employee, mentioned in the opening paragraph, are also what our clients already expect of their consultants – that is the minimum. Excelling in that area won’t necessarily give you an edge over others. If you consider your day to be loaded and full of tasks and problems to solve, you likely have a client dealing with a much broader range of assignments. If you have the information and capability, try to jump the gun on your client’s needs. If you can clear up some of your client’s stress - especially without them having to ask for it - it will not go unnoticed. If it is difficult to think of an opportunity like this, go ahead and ask the client questions during phone conversations or meetings. Ask if there is anything that you can help them out with, beyond the topics you are already discussing. Anticipating the client’s needs and/or freeing them from some of their workload will go a long way. These efforts may also not result in immediate praise or acknowledgement, but eventually that will happen. When the day does come that your firm receives a compliment from a client about you going above and beyond the call of duty - that will be the best recognition you could ever receive. It not only shows that your firm is expanding on that client relationship, but also that you are being acknowledged as a valuable asset for your company. Going above and beyond to cover the needs of your clientele is a trait that you can carry with you the rest of your career as a professional.
Implementing these concepts into an already busy day may be a little tricky at first. Step back on occasion to evaluate your work load to see if you are missing out on any of these opportunities. Like most other aspects in the business world, over time, this kind of mindset will become second nature. Every firm has a different model of how employees progress within their operations. Looking beyond your individual roles in the firm will help you stand out where it will be hard for the firm not to consider you for a new position or promotion when they become available. Thinking outside of the box, to go above and beyond for your clients, will never become irrelevant in your career as a professional.