Leveraging Your Expertise to Grow Your Electrical Engineering Career

Today’s workplace is fast-paced and demanding. You deliver far beyond the requirements of your job description, often taking on additional duties, working late and sacrificing your personal life for your employer’s expectations. You are a promising electrical engineer and a model employee. But you are not entirely happy. You may be worried about job security. Or perhaps, you simply know that you cannot keep up the pace for the next 20, 30 or 40 years.

We are taught to applaud and appreciate dedication and hard work. And in fact, there’s no inherent problem in committing yourself to a job well done, every time. There’s no problem in working extra hours or going above and beyond. The problem is in sacrificing your personal growth and skill development in the process.

From 2013 to 2020, experts project 10,000 to 49,999 new jobs in electrical engineering Source: http://www.electronicproducts.com/Software/Development_Tools_and_Software/Engineering_Career_Outlook_Between_2013_amp_2020.aspx

From 2013 to 2020, experts project 10,000 to 49,999 new jobs in electrical engineering
Source: http://www.electronicproducts.com/Software/Development_Tools_and_Software/Engineering_Career_Outlook_Between_2013_amp_2020.aspx

 

If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that no one job is indispensible. The engineering landscape can be unpredictable and change quickly, and if you are not able to roll with the tide, you face financial and career ruin.

The solution: Diversify. Leverage your expertise, your knowledge and your passions to grow your electrical engineer career. And in the process, recession-proof your skillset so you are always in demand.

 

Recession-Proof Your Income: Develop Your Personal Brand

If there’s one dirty, scary little truth in the employment world, it’s that no matter what the experts say, no job is recession proof. Budgets are exceeded and jobs are made redundant: unless you’re the president or have tenure, job stability is never guaranteed.

First things first: the good news is that you’ve made a good career choice. Even in today’s economy, the field of electrical engineering is growing around 18% annually. And electrical engineers earn a respectable median income of $111,807 annually, to boot. The bad news? Even a well-paid job in a growing field would be unable to stay afloat in the economic quagmire of another Great Recession.

What you can do is recession-proof your services – and your personal brand.

Certain skills transcend economic downturns, company layoffs and financial instability. Certain skills – your skills – will always be in demand. The key is to diversify your offerings.

On average, U.S. jobs dropped 1.7% during the recession; during that same period, engineering jobs increased 0.6% source: http://degreecentral.com/blog/2013/11/18/infographic-science-and-engineering-degree-career/

On average, U.S. jobs dropped 1.7% during the recession; during that same period, engineering jobs increased 0.6%
source: http://degreecentral.com/blog/2013/11/18/infographic-science-and-engineering-degree-career/

 

For most electrical engineers, diversification is literally rooted in, well, diversification – in dividing your eggs into several different baskets. Freelancing and consulting work play a vital role in building your portfolio, expanding your network, and giving you access to multiple income streams. So how do you diversify?

It starts with building your personal brand – and that can be as easy as stepping it up at the office. Consumer Reports says, “At work, your personal brand is what you’re known for, the thing that makes you unique.” But your personal brand is about a lot more than what you offer at work; it’s what you do, in your own time, to grow your name in the field of electrical engineering. It’s blogging; it’s networking; it’s getting published; it’s freelancing and consulting (as long as there’s no conflict of interest with your day job).

STEM Jobs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are growing – and engineers will benefit Source: http://www.careerbuilder.com/article/cb-3249-job-info-trends-a-spotlight-on-engineering-jobs/

STEM Jobs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are growing – and engineers will benefit
Source: http://www.careerbuilder.com/article/cb-3249-job-info-trends-a-spotlight-on-engineering-jobs/

Let’s get started.

 

Step 1: Develop Your Expertise

While we’re on the topic of dirty truths, here’s a cold, hard one for you: before you can build your personal brand, you need to have the expertise to back it up. That starts with the standard requirements: get into a reputable degree program, work hard for good grades, snag internships and work experience when possible – you know the drill.

Once you have your foot in the door, there are myriad ways to build your electrical engineering expertise:

Recent Grads

It may sound cliché, but this is the time to put your nose to the grindstone and work hard.

  • Learn everything: Apply yourself at the office. Learn absolutely everything you can. Volunteer for extra responsibilities. Soak up every drop of knowledge you can wring out of your day job.
  • Seek mentors: There is no greater teacher than someone who has already arrived at your goal.
  • Join professional organizations and engineering societies: It’s not just the eye-triple-E (IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers); the number of U.S. engineering organizations blows the field’s antisocial stereotype right out the water. (Shortcut: Check out these top 10 engineering associations.) Join them. Mingle. Learn. Then go forth and conquer.
  • Attend engineering conferences & events: Believe it or not, there are even more conferences and events for electrical engineers than there are organizations. IEEE conferences are a great choice, but you can also sign up to receive alerts about all worldwide engineering conferences. (And did you know you could convince your boss to pay for your conference?)
The office is a place to learn, collaborate and demonstrate your desire to succeed Source: http://www.baselinemag.com/careers/slideshows/12-ways-to-stand-out-at-work.html

The office is a place to learn, collaborate and demonstrate your desire to succeed
Source: http://www.baselinemag.com/careers/slideshows/12-ways-to-stand-out-at-work.html

Junior and Mid-Level Engineers

You’ve worked your way up in the engineering world, and are ready to rocket your expertise to the next level. Here’s your roadmap to success:

  • Keep doing what you’re doing: Don’t ever stop rocking your job, chatting up your mentors, participating in organizations and attending events.
  • Attend ongoing, professional training: There’s always new research, better proven theories, and other happenings in electrical engineering. Professional training keeps your knowledge updated and yours skills sharp. Check out IEEE’s continuing education, Stanford’s free online classes, and other options in continuing education for electrical engineers.
  • Update your résumé: Don’t put that puppy away just because you have a job; you should constantly improve and expand on your CV. If you’re wanting for inspiration, Tufts University has a great checklist for electrical engineers (PDF). And remember, this is the age of the Résumé 2.0. Get an online portfolio. Be current.
  • Take on extra responsibility: Talk to senior management and express your desire to take on new roles or responsibilities. According to Women2.0 (not just for women, FYI), “It may seem obvious, but be sure to let your manager know you’re interested in being promoted, and ask him or her what you can do to make yourself a better candidate. Managers know their engineers get pinged constantly with opportunities at other companies, and they want to know how to keep you and help you in your career path.”
  • Read: Reading is the cheapest, most convenient form of continuing education. Devour engineering blogs, books, scholarly articles, trade magazines and other publications in the field.
  • Begin consulting: Your first foray into consulting and freelancing can be intimidating. Find out whether you’re ready, build a business plan, and follow these tips to success as an electrical engineering consultant.

Senior Engineers

You’ve risen to the top as cream of the crop, but there’s still room to grow your expertise.

A solid business plan is key to building a successful consulting business Source: http://lichtenbooksblog.com/making-a-business-plan-2/

A solid business plan is key to building a successful consulting business
Source: http://lichtenbooksblog.com/making-a-business-plan-2/

 

  • Get more involved at work: Take on an additional leadership role, headline a new project, or bring pioneering ideas to your boss. New and top-level responsibilities not only further your knowledge, but they’re a great résumé builder.
  • Continue your continuing education: Electrical engineers must stay up-to-date at all times.
  • Create something: Women2.0 (again, not just for women) expounds, “Remember that your open source contributions are often your résumé as an engineer… If you create something others can build upon—and then have others actually use, follow and contribute to it—that will be noticed and help your career. Contributing to others’ open source also helps to get your name out there, but creating a program that people use takes you up another level.”
  • Read: We repeat: read. Here’s that’s list again of engineering blogs, books, scholarly articles, and trade magazines for the field.
  • Stay involved in the engineering community: Networking is key and putting yourself out there expands your professional reach. Read and comment on top engineering blogs, attend conferences, and make it to your association meetings.
  • Grow your freelance or consulting business: In your off hours, work to expand your side business.

 

Step 2: Get Recognized as a Thought Leader

To grow your electrical engineering career, it’s not enough to simply build your expertise – you must show the world that you know your stuff. Note: That’s show, not tell. A true expert doesn’t proclaim his or her genius; it’s apparent in his or actions.

Thought leadership is the most important part of building your brand. But unless you’re Kevin Costner, there’s much more than building it before they’ll come. Your web portfolio is not enough. Your blog is not enough. One online community account is not enough. You must spread your name and spread your knowledge (this is the sharing economy, after all).

Thought leadership encompasses many aspects of building your brand and audience Source: http://blog.marketwired.com/2012/07/11/small-brands-can-building-business-with-thought-leadership/

Thought leadership encompasses many aspects of building your brand and audience
Source: http://blog.marketwired.com/2012/07/11/small-brands-can-building-business-with-thought-leadership/

 

According to Ruth Stevens of SPIE (formerly the Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers, now the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers), “A brand is, simply, an image in people’s minds that makes something memorable and different from other similar things. When it comes to you, a personal brand is what people think of when they think of you.”

So what is personal branding for an electrical engineer? Well, it’s one part goals, one part prospects, one part skills, and one part attitude. That’s right, part of your brand depends on how you tackle a challenge. John Rossheim of Monster.com explains that employers tell recruiters that they want to hire engineers who think like businesspeople. “Employers want engineers who have been involved with strategy and planning and know their way around balance sheets and income statements,” Smith says. “It’s not easy to find them.

Success isn't a scientific formula: it depends in part on intangibles like spirit, desire and loyalty Source: http://infographics.idlelist.com/11-necessities-to-grow-a-successful-small-business/

Success isn’t a scientific formula: it depends in part on intangibles like spirit, desire and loyalty
Source: http://infographics.idlelist.com/11-necessities-to-grow-a-successful-small-business/

 

This is excellent insight: think like a businessperson with the skills of an engineer, and you’re an instant commodity. So how do you get started on building your personal brand as an electrical engineer? Here are a few ideas:

  • Participate in online communities: The easiest way to demonstrate your expertise is to share your knowledge. Get active in online engineering communities, where you can lend advice, solve problems, and take on new challenges. Be sure to link your forum footer or profile back to your online portfolio.
  • Attend industry events: We’re back to networking. You must attend electrical engineering events and conferences, not only to hobnob with the bigwigs, but also to make meaningful connections with potential clients. And speaking of, you’re not limited to electrical engineering conferences: attend events where your clients and potential partners (e.g. aircraft manufacturers) will be.
  • Give a tech talk: Actually leading a talk is one of the best ways to boost your cachet. And if you’ve never given a talk before, it’s easy to get your foot in the door: volunteer to speak at a local event first, then use that experience to springboard to larger events and conferences.
  • Start blogging: Launching your own engineering blog is one of the single most effective ways to build your personal brand and demonstrate your expertise. (Guest blogging is also a good idea.) Additionally, blogging is one of the best ways to gain trust and build loyalty with your target demographic.
  • Get published in engineering journals & trade publications: There are few things that demonstrate your expertise better than peer approval. There are dozens of electrical engineering trade journals out there, so pick a few that best align with your expertise. (Boost your chances of getting published by following this detailed PDF guide on how to pitch and write articles for trade publications.)
  • Get social: Everyone does it, but that doesn’t mean social media is tired and worthless. In fact, social media is an important part of your branding and thought leadership. Hop on Twitter to see what engineers are talking about (follow these Twitter engineering accounts to get started). Leverage LinkedIn to grow your personal brand. Share your blog posts; comment on others’ musings. Continue building your network, showcasing your work, and sharing your know-how.
  • Become a subject matter expert: We live in the expertise economy – a world where authorities demonstrate their skill by sharing their knowledge, often freely. Open an account at expertise-sharing sites like Zintro to connect with targeted leads – clients who actively seek your knowledge and often turn into paying clients after an initial consultation.
Content marketing, including blogging and social media, is an integral part of growing your freelance engineering business Source: http://dendritepark.com/grow-business-using-content-marketing-infographic/

Content marketing, including blogging and social media, is an integral part of growing your freelance engineering business
Source: http://dendritepark.com/grow-business-using-content-marketing-infographic/

 

Step 3: Leverage Your Expertise

As you build your expertise and personal brand, you will become a more valuable employee. You will be sought. You may even be wooed. You are an engineering rockstar – a master of your field.

It’s right around this time that you also become a highly desired consultant. (This is that recession-proof skillset we talked about earlier.) And as long as you can avoid the pitfalls of personal branding, you’re golden.

Social media gives you a current, effective method to showcase your expertise Source: https://blog.zintro.com/2012/04/18/leveraging-social-media-expertise-infographic/

Social media gives you a current, effective method to showcase your expertise
Source: https://blog.zintro.com/2012/04/18/leveraging-social-media-expertise-infographic/

 

Take on new clients. Step a little outside your comfort zone. Tackle different types of projects. And if you’ve kept your day job, put yourself out there at work. Always strive to sharpen your focus. Always work to please your employer and your consulting clients. Always push to become better at what you do.

Once you have reached this level in your career, you have a lot of flexibility. So now it’s your turn: what do you want to do? If you haven’t already defined your niche, do so. Take on only those consulting projects that interest you – and at which you’ll excel. Carve out the career you’ve always wanted, doing what you’ve always wanted to do.

While you’re at it, be sure to continue building your brand:

  • Never stop learning: At this point, continuing education should be exciting: you get to study the latest, greatest and most groundbreaking research and discoveries in your whittled-down niche(s). Embrace continuing education for what it is – the chance to grow even better at what you do.
  • Be a guest speaker: Whether it’s at your kid’s career day or an international conference, continue to share your interests and expertise through your guest-speaking gigs.
  • Keep blogging: Become the go-to blog for electrical engineering know-how, and you’ll never want for work.
  • Continue to publish: By now, you’ve likely built professional relationships with bloggers, trade pubs, engineering journals and other thought leaders. Keep your name out there. Always work to move up to bigger blogs, more popular trade pubs and more widely circulated journals.
  • Volunteer with your favorite engineering organizations: Volunteer to take on a leadership role with your engineering society or preferred professional organization.
  • Mentor: Remember how important your mentor was to you? It’s time to pay it forward.
  • Keep marketing yourself: When you’re rolling in success (and the accompanying mountains of money), it’s easy to let your marketing – blogging, social networking, your online portfolio, etc. – slide onto the back burner. Big mistake. Keep on keeping on, and you’ll never experience the freelancing feast or famine cycle.
  • Give yourself a raise: If you haven’t had this a-ha moment yet, here it comes: as a freelancer or consultant, you set your rates. If you’re receiving more offers and requests than you can keep up with, it’s time to think about raising your rates. (And don’t worry; you can raise your rates without losing clients.)
Your blog is one of the best ways to build trust and engage client loyalty Source: http://skyrocketgroup.com/blog-statistics-infographic/

Your blog is one of the best ways to build trust and engage client loyalty
Source: http://skyrocketgroup.com/blog-statistics-infographic/

 

Growing your career takes time, motivation and a good helping of entrepreneurial spirit. Throw in some elbow grease, a willingness to learn and a flair for networking, and you have the recipe to build a successful, lucrative and recession-proof career in electrical engineering. Now go, get started. Build your future dream job on your hard work of today.

Resources Cited in this Article:

  1. Why “Recession-Proof” Jobs Are a Myth
  2. The Best and Worst Master’s Degrees for Finding a Job
  3. 12 Steps to Making Your Job Recession-Proof
  4. List of Engineering Societies in the United States
  5. Top 10 Engineering Associations
  6. IEEE Conferences & Events
  7. Engineering Conferences Worldwide
  8. How to Convince Your Boss to Send You to a Conference
  9. IEEE Continuing Education
  10. Stanford Engineering: Professional Development and Continuing Education
  11. RedVector: The Engineer CE Courses you Need
  12. Mike Holt: Electrical Continuing Education
  13. Tufts Career Center: Resumes for Engineers (PDF)
  14. Why Traditional Resumes Are Dead: The Rise Of Resume 2.0
  15. 6 Tips for Female Engineers to Advance Their Careers
  16. 100 Top Resources for Electrical Engineers
  17. Electronics & Electrical Engineering Journals, Academic Books & Online Media
  18. Recent Scholarly Articles for Electrical Engineering
  19. List of Engineering Journals and Magazines
  20. Should I Start My Own Consulting Business?
  21. Engineering Consulting Business Plan
  22. Tips to Succeed as an Engineering Consultant
  23. What Is Thought Leadership? 5 Steps To Get It Right
  24. The Rise Of The Sharing Economy
  25. Personal Branding for Engineers
  26. 2013 Engineering Jobs Outlook
  27. Build Your Personal Brand and Make It Work
  28. 7 Ways to Demonstrate Your Expertise and Build Your Blog Audience
  29. Boost Your Personal Brand with Guest Blogging
  30. 49 Ways to Gain the Trust and Loyalty of Your Audience
  31. Top 5 Electrical and Computer Engineering Resources
  32. Kresge Engineering Library: Trade Journals and Society Magazines
  33. Electrical Engineering Magazines, White Papers, Reports & eBooks
  34. Get Your Articles Published: How to Pitch and Write Articles for Trade Publications (PDF)
  35. Who to Follow on Twitter: Engineering
  36. Leveraging LinkedIn to Build Your Personal Brand
  37. Zintro: Start a Conversation with Expertise Providers
  38. Engineering Rockstars – Why Engineers & Developers need a Personal Brand
  39. Personal Branding Pitfalls
  40. 7 Easy Ways to Control the Infamous Feast or Famine Cycle
  41. Tips on Raising Your Rates From 20 Freelancers, Coaches, and Consultants
  42. Engineering Career Outlook Between 2013 & 2020
  43. Infographic: This is Why That Science and Engineering Degree is Worth It
  44. A Spotlight on Engineering Jobs
  45. 12 Ways to Stand Out at Work
  46. Making A Business Plan
  47. Small Brands Can: Building Business with Thought Leadership
  48. 11 Necessities to Grow a Successful Small Business
  49. Infographic: Grow Your Business Using Content Marketing
  50. Infographic: Leveraging Social Media to Showcase Your Expertise
  51. Infographic: Blogging Statistics