Having a successful career in engineering takes a lot more than just technical skill. You could be a technically brilliant engineer, but lack ability in important areas like communication, time management and more. In some cases, these soft skills may even be more beneficial than what you learned in the classroom.
Soft skills can open up new opportunities for you in your career and position you as a reliable, thoughtful leader who your coworkers can depend on. Angela Froistad, an assistant director at the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, says soft skills are crucial because they’re difficult to teach:
“Many employers can train an employee on a computer program or laboratory skill in a relatively short amount of time, but they would likely find it more difficult to train an employee on how to resolve conflicts or be an effective member of a team. Soft skills are not developed overnight.”
She’s absolutely right. Which is why it’s critical to begin studying these skills now.
The ability to focus is now more important than ever. Research shows that our attention span has also gone down from an average of 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8.25 seconds in 2015. Disruptions like office chatter, emails, texts or phone calls are all common; however, they interrupt your focus and ultimately hinder your overall productivity.
To prevent this, engineers should set aside blocks of time free of interruptions and distractions, and focus on completing one or two projects during that time. Engineers may also set benchmarks to work up to for larger projects. These strategies will make you more productive, and thus more valuable and competitive in your career.
There are plenty of non-technical skills that engineers use everyday, and communication is arguably one of the most important ones. Engineers are often expected to give presentations, interact with stakeholders or management in the office, and listen to a client’s needs. Poor speaking, writing and listening skills can have a negative impact on projects and these relationships.
To ensure they don’t miss out on important details, engineers must actively listen to others and respond appropriately. This involves giving their undivided attention, making eye contact, asking questions when needed and providing their own feedback in exchange.
3. Time Management
Engineers often spend the majority of their time working on large-scale projects that require significant blocks of time. To make sure these projects get done on time and efficiently, engineers must recognize their own workflow patterns and manage their time accordingly.
For example, some engineers think the most creatively in the morning, while others may find they get the most done in the mid or late afternoon. Engineers should communicate with their teams to determine how long a project should take and then break up the project into smaller tasks. Setting milestone dates for each element adds accountability to all team members and helps paint a better picture of how long the project may take.
What many engineers may not know is that they also double as salesmen and marketers. Each time an engineer presents an idea, they’re asking audiences to invest money, time or attention into the idea. So, engineers must be able to market their ideas—and themselves—effectively to clients, stakeholders and executives.
In their presentations, engineers should incorporate a unique competitive edge to help convince audiences why their idea is worthwhile. This could include competitive prices, a unique skillset they possess or time to market. Incorporating selling points like these, along with superior examples of past work, may ultimately help you get what you want at your company.
Engineering is already a creative field by nature; however, even the best engineers struggle to create innovative ideas. For engineers to stay competitive and offer their customers the best solutions, they should invest time in a few creative strategies to spark new ideas.
These may include keeping a doodle pad to trigger creativity and enhance memory, work in a new space or room with a view, or reverse brainstorming to think from a new perspective. Each of these techniques has been proven to aid in creative breakthroughs, which may be the key to your next big idea.
Engineering is a fast-moving field with new technology and advancements introduced each day. Professionals must be able to adapt to new challenges and opportunities.
To help, there are a number of hacks that engineers can use to learn faster. These may include chunking new material into smaller sections, practicing new technology during their downtime and setting aside 15 minutes each day to read the news about new advancements in real-world applications.
What other soft skills do you find helpful in your field?