7 things engineers should know when looking for a job

Being an engineer isn’t an easy job. To become a professional engineer in Canada, you need a degree and several years of on the job work experience, meaning it will take at least 6 years of combined study and work experience before you can become a licensed engineer in Canada! Luckily, engineers enjoy a rewarding career, knowing they’re creating machines and structures that benefit society.

However, when it comes time to look for a job, some engineers find themselves at a loss for how to sell their strengths and market their skills. Engineering tends to be a very hands-on profession, which can make positioning yourself for jobs a little more challenging than in some other professions.

job tips for engineers

1. hone in on an engineering specialty to access higher paying jobs

Engineering is a diverse field with many different disciplines and specialties for you to choose from. In the broadest terms, engineering is a ‘branch of science and technology concerned with design, building and use of engines, machines and structures.’ As you can imagine, that leaves a lot of ground to cover. Having clear career goals and honing in on a discipline you’re interested in will allow you to become a specialist in an area that interests you. Being a generalist is fine in many careers, but as an engineer, you’ll find choosing a specialty leads to higher paying jobs.

Not sure what your calling is? Here are a few of the most in-demand engineering professions in Canada, worth considering:

Civil engineers - Civil engineers design, develop and oversee the construction of buildings and infrastructure. This can include everything from high-rises to residential homes, to commercial buildings and strictures, to roads and bridges. Civil engineers may also work on water, sewer and drainage systems. Jobs are available in both the public and private sectors.

Electrical engineers – Electrical engineers design, develop and test electrical systems and equipment. As an electrical engineer you may work on all kinds of electrical devices, from tiny microcomputers to massive supercomputers. You might also work in the power, transmission or telecommunications industries, on large-scale electrical systems or power grids.

Mechanical engineers – Mechanical engineers design, build, test and improve machines that serve a variety of purposes. Depending on your role, you may design machines such as generators, batteries, engines, turbines, appliances, heating or cooling systems, elevators, or escalators. Manufacturing engineers also fall into this category. As a manufacturing engineer you’ll develop machines to assist with or streamline manufacturing processes.

Biomedical engineers – Biomedical engineers analyze and solve problems related to biology and medicine, with the end goal of improving human life. Biomedical engineers can work on developing artificial organs or limbs, or medical treatments or devices such a pacemakers, hearing aids and other devices with medical purposes. They also may work on creating, testing or improving medical equipment, devices or instruments for diagnosing or treating medical conditions. Biomedical engineers often have a dual background in engineering and medicine or biology.

Petroleum engineers – Petroleum engineers work in the oil, gas and mining sectors. Their primary goal is to design safe, effective and cost-saving methods of extracting oil and gas deposits. Though you may work on developing a method to tap into a new reservoir, you might also be tasked with finding a new way of extracting oil and gas from a preexisting well.

Software engineers – Software engineers use the principles of computer science, engineering and mathematics to design, develop, test and implement software. As a software engineer you may develop operating systems, computer applications, games, computer networks, or enterprise software or systems for businesses, among other things. As a software engineer, you’re typically expected to be adept at software development and understand key programming or coding languages.

These are just a few of the many engineering professions out there. Check out our engineering job listings to see what other engineering jobs are out there right now. Also check out this list of 10 lesser-known engineering careers that are worth getting into.

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2. developing a portfolio of your work can help you stand out

Engineering is a hands-on profession, and sometimes a resume isn’t enough to capture the complete spirit and breadth of your work. Often engineers will find a portfolio is an invaluable tool during a job hunt. Not only does it allow you to better express your work experience, it can help set you apart from other candidates.

Your engineering portfolio should include:

  • A bio that focuses on your education, certifications and work experience
  • A copy of your engineering-focused resume
  • Detailed information about your work and the projects you’ve worked on
  • References or letters of recommendation from people you’ve worked with or for
  • Examples of projects you’ve worked on, or other demonstrations of your skills. This is your chance to be creative. Do you have a YouTube video of a project coming together? Have you built models or prototypes you can show off (photos will do)? Anything that showcases your engineering skills in action will add weight to your portfolio.

3. networking is important in engineering, too

Though engineering is a diverse field, the engineering community is smaller than you might think! Especially once you’ve honed in on a discipline. So who you know is incredibly important when you’re looking for a new engineering job. You never know when a previous client might be hiring, or former colleague might be in a position to recommend you for a job at their current firm. It’s no secret that hiring managers love referrals. Referred employees are faster to hire, they’re easier to train and they stay longer. Even if you’re not a natural networker, here are a few places to build up your engineering network!

  • Colleagues and former colleagues – your coworkers are the best place to start your network. They work in the industry and probably have highly relevant connections, particularly if they’ve been in the field awhile. This extends to clients and bosses too. Just make sure you’re not that coworker who’s constantly asking for things without offering anything in return.
  • Your alumni association – most colleges and universities will have an alumni association you can join to connect with fellow classmates who graduated from the same program as you. Most people have fond memories of their alma mater and may give preference to fellow grads, which could give you a little boost, if you’re looking for a job.
  • Professional associations – in Canada, each province has a professional engineering association you can join as an engineer. You might also be able to find more specialized engineering associations for your chosen engineering discipline.
  • Social media – social media is a surprisingly great way to meet other engineers. Check out the discussion groups created for engineers on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Twitter also has some prominent engineering accounts worth following such as @Engineeringcom. Question and answer sites like Quora are also great for engaging with the engineering community.

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4. work on your teamwork and collaboration skills

Being a strong collaborator is a skill that will serve you well in any engineering discipline. As the saying goes, ‘no man is an island.’ While you might be an amazing engineer in your own right, if you work well in a team setting, you’ll be able to achieve much more than you could ever dream of doing on your own. Most projects in the field will require you to work with others, ranging from other engineers, to clients, to professionals in complementary disciplines.

Given the math and science focus of most engineering professions, many engineers tend to be focused inward. Working on your teamwork skills and learning to trust the expertise of other professionals who can assist with creating the best finished product possible is important. Unsurprisingly, teamwork is the top soft skill that hiring managers look for in engineering roles. So you never know: showing off your flawless ability to work with others could give you an edge.

5. presentation and communication skills are important, too

Though teamwork is the top soft skill hiring managers look for in engineering professionals, presentation and communication skills aren’t far behind. As an engineer, you’re often working with complex ideas backed by mathematical and engineering principles. It’s up to you to be able to communicate your ideas to those you’re working with in a way they can understand. Often you’ll need to be able to condense incredibly technical ideas into simple layman’s terms for stakeholders or clients. Being able to do so is a valuable skill, particularly if you plan to move up the corporate ladder into more senior or management-level roles.

6. supplement your engineering credentials with design or business experience

Engineering is a multidisciplinary profession. Engineers with diverse skill sets have a leg up when it comes to seeking out promotions and finding new jobs. Those with a background in design or business will find they’re open to new opportunities earlier than their colleagues. A business degree or classes in management will be particularly helpful if you’re aiming to move into a management or supervisory role. Engineers with experience in fields such as design, computer programming, mathematics or medicine will find their cross-disciplinary knowledge makes them more valuable in hiring managers’ eyes.

7. work with professional recruiters to access hidden jobs

The majority of job openings are never posted online. Often recruiters are hiring for jobs that aren’t posted and can help you access opportunities you’d never know about otherwise. Recruiters also have long-standing connections with engineering firms and companies that are actively looking to hire engineers – making them great connections to have when you’re actively job hunting! Just make sure to look for recruiting firms that specialize in engineering – like Randstad Engineering – to ensure you’re working with an organization that has relevant connections with companies you want to work for.

Working with a recruitment agency is free and no-strings-attached (you don’t have to accept any of the positions they present to you if you don’t like them!) so you have nothing to lose by seeing what they have to offer. Most recruiters will work with you, get to know your interests and try to pair you with clients they think you’ll enjoy working for. You never know, you might just find a job you love! Engineering recruiters also have experience hiring in the field and may be able to help you improve your resume and prepare for interviews if you need assistance.