Want a bigger paycheck next month?
I can’t help you there.
Willing to take some specific actions to grow your value over time? Let’s talk.
Many engineers stagnate on the career/pay curve after just 5 years in industry. Don’t get me wrong- they do well. The job certainly pays better than flipping burgers. But, why do so many folks with an engineering background see little more than cost of living wage increases?
Better question: What habits of the big engineering earners can you adopt?
Forget about your GPA
Your GPA and prestigious college only matter on your first job interview. Managers looking to hire staff with a few years of industry experience under the belt don’t even look at GPA. They look at the experience and responsibility listed in the work history.
I’ve known plenty of engineers who 10 years after graduation still manage to mention graduating from MIT or Purdue with a 3.9 GPA in every conversation. If this is you, you have to stop. The people around you are not impressed. It screams entitlement, not expertise.
Focus instead on walking the walk with your current position. Be the best you can be, and help others around you do the same.
Learn how to present
Engineering school did many of us a huge disservice. Learn these equations and do this math, but don’t worry about articulating ideas in a compelling way for a live audience. That’s for the Poli-Sci and Drama students.
Most of the big earners in your company appear comfortable and compelling in front of a group. While there are a few natural orators, most of them got good through experience.
Myers-Briggs says I’m strongly introverted. I remember sitting in my first post-college project meetings at GM and sweating bullets as each person took a turn on the weekly round table review. I was so terrified that I couldn’t even listen to the updates before mine.
I quickly fixed my presentation problem by joining Toastmasters. Within a few months, I was making great progress. In the years after, I consciously worked on a couple of presentation skills at every opportunity. After inexplicably moving into Sales, I got more practice than you can imagine. Today, I’m calm and poised in all presentations. No butterflies, even.
Why is this important?
Because, teams are made up of humans. Humans communicate through vocal tones and body language. Having technical expertise is valuable. The ability to effectively pass that expertise along to your team, project, and product is invaluable. And, eventually, it gets you more pay.
Learn how to write
Writing is really just another shade of presentation. Engineers tend toward long words, jargon, and unnecessary volume in technical reports. I believe even the most dry of subjects can be crafted into enjoyable (or at least tolerable) prose.
Take the time to write for readability, not just for accuracy. Clear, concise, engaging writing will also promote clear, concise, engaging thinking. Again, reps and intention will improve your skills here. Think of every email and report as an opportunity to practice.
I also suggest starting a blog. The regularity and public exposure will give you a nice kick in the pants. As a side benefit, you will begin building your own personal brand… which is another great way to eventually increase your salary.
Michael Hyatt details everything you need to know to get started:
How to Launch a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes or Less [Screencast]
Learn your business
Have a very clear vision of what your company makes and the profit structure around that. You’ll have to know that to move into management roles. But, I think it’s critical for everyone in an organization.
To get ahead, you don’t have to gain the knowledge of a CFO overnight. Start with something simple… like, “Who buys our products, where do they buy them, and how much do they spend?” In speaking with thousands of engineers over the last decade, I’ve found that only a small minority can answer those basic questions.
The engineers who impress me (and who I later see rising through the ranks) are the ones who take me for a plant tour, point to the widget popping off the end of the line and say, “We make 100,000 of these a year and sell them for around $500 a pop. Not much we can do on the manufacturing side… but if I could save $10 in material per unit, we’re looking at a million in found money.”
If you make laptops, you probably have a good feel for these answers, because you’ve purchased one yourself. But, let’s say you work for a tier 1 auto supplier making HVAC units. How much does the auto OEM pay for each unit? Quite surprising that many engineers can’t even hazard a guess at $10, $100, or $1000.
Knowing this information, along with some rough understanding of material and production costs will quickly set you apart from the standard engineer. Just dropping a couple of these ideas into a presentation or written document to support your engineering choices will most definitely have an impact on how management thinks of you. Rightly so. You become more valuable by being in tune with what really matters at your company. When promotion time comes, who do you think your CEO would rather have in positions of authority?
What other skills and ideas have helped your career?
Please comment and share below.