Discussion Thread

  • 1.  How to gain different experience at a consulting firm

    Posted 05-01-2019 10:11 AM
    Hello all,

    How can I gain more experience in different civil disciplines and what would be the best way to communicate to my employer that I have more interest in different lines of work? 

    A little background: I have a B.S. in Civil Engineering and a Residential Builder's license. I work for a municipal engineering firm with mostly local government clients. I have 4 years of experience and no P.E. (waiting for test results). After college I was desperate for work and took an entry-level position involved with asset management, hydraulic modeling, and technical writing. I appreciate the work that I am given but after a few years of working I realized that I am more interested in development, architectural drawings, and civil-site plans. 

    I want to continue to be a Civil Engineer but my biggest concern at my current job is that I am only getting a certain types of work. I am not getting any design or drafting experience in water, sewer, paving, grading, or other projects. I feel that I am not learning how to be a well-rounded, professional engineer. For example, if I got my PE license and someone asked me develop construction plans for a water main replacement, I would have no idea how or here to even begin. 

    Therefore, how can I gain more experience in different projects and what would be the best way to communicate to my employer that I have more interest in different lines of work? Should I change jobs? Should I work for a smaller or larger firm? Should I request to work in a different department? 

    Long time reader, First time posting to Collaborate 

    Matt H, EIT, Aff.M.ASCE
    Engineer II

  • 2.  RE: How to gain different experience at a consulting firm

    Posted 05-02-2019 12:18 PM
    Hi Matt,

    Your concern speaks to a lot of pain points I am sure. This is a difficult position many engineers find themselves in. I would say the first step is to discuss your concerns and desires with your supervisor in a very direct way. Something along the lines of: "I want to do X and hope to be performing Y work, how can we make that happen in the next 6 months?" If there is no option for that happening in your current role, it sounds like you have the option to switch to a department which does this type of work, which if your company allows, may be the best and easiest step. Again, another direct conversation explaining your desires. I understand this can be difficult to do, sometimes other departments are full or they only accept new hires. If possible, you can slowly transition into doing more and more work for that department. Each company has a different system for managing employees and departments so navigating that is up to you. If that doesn't work and you don't see it changing, you might experience a better fit at another company that more aligns with your goals.

    Best of luck.

    Zachary Gautsch M.ASCE

  • 3.  RE: How to gain different experience at a consulting firm

    Posted 05-02-2019 02:25 PM
    First, ask yourself the following questions:
    1. Can you identify specific managers in your firm who are doing the types of project you want to do ?
    2. Is there a different department in your current firm that does the types of projects you want to do?

    If the answer is "no" to both of these, you probably need to look for a new job, and there's no point in telling your manager about it until you're ready to give notice.  As you are interviewing, I'd look for a mid-sized firm that has projects in your areas of interest., and be very clear during the interview that you're looking for an opportunity in the design of residential homes.  Your municipal experience will help you on the civil-site plan side, because when you submit for permit and need to attend zoning hearings you'll already know how the municipal process works.

    If the answer is "yes" to one or both of the questions above, have a direct conversation with your supervisor. The conversation could go something like this:

    "Hey [manager], one of the things I noticed as I was studying for my PE is that I haven't had a lot of exposure to certain areas of design. I want to make sure I'm well-rounded and able to take on whatever challenging projects come our firm's way.  I feel like I've been able to learn so much from you and our projects on the municipal side, and think it would be beneficial to get some similar experience on the design side, specifically in residential homes. Can you  give me some advice on how I could get experience in that design area here?"

    Following that question, be absolutely silent. Do not be tempted to fill in the silence because it will be awkward but that's OK, your manager will need a few minutes to process the request silently. When you hear the response, stay curious and ask questions like "Tell me more about that." or "What can I do to help facilitate me gaining those skills?" 

    You have to be your own advocate when you aren't getting what you need to have a great work experience.  And, if this conversation goes well, expect that you'll need to be very proactive if you want to see a change quickly. Recognize that this sort of request is going to be viewed as an imposition by many managers (but don't let that stop you from making it!), so anything you can do to smooth the process is helpful.  

    Stephanie Slocum P.E.,M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 4.  RE: How to gain different experience at a consulting firm
    Best Answer

    Posted 05-02-2019 02:25 PM


    That is a frustrating position to be in and I've been there myself.  Hopefully some good news coming on those PE results, waiting is somehow as stressful as the exam itself!  Like Zachary said, the hardest and most important first step is talking to your supervisor.  It may be hard to bring up, but if they don't know your concerns they cannot do anything about them.  This is all assuming your firm does Civil Site work.

    I would ask them to stay after your next meeting and have a discussion about your desires and ambitions.  You'll be more successful if you focus on positives instead of blaming for lack of diversity in your work.  Make your appeal about bettering yourself so that you can be a better asset to them and your company.  Demonstrate your willingness to learn and take on new challenges, potentially working extra while you phase out of your current projects.  Likely that first meeting not a whole lot can be done as it will require coordination with others and other departments.  However, make sure you leave with a plan for one of you to talk to the other parties that would need to be involved and meet again in a week.  Set a time to meet.

    If they are receptive, and hopefully they will be, then you'll be on your way to more satisfying work.  In that scenario it's easy to get slid back into your old role if work gets light on your endeavors or demand increases on your old tasks.  If and when that happens you need to be understanding of the needs of your team, but don't be afraid to stand up for yourself.  Let them know you're happy to help but as much as possible you're interested in Civil Site work.

    Either way try to talk with co-workers with experience in your area.  If they're willing meet up for lunch/after work and see if they can go over some of these skills with you.  Maybe offer them lunch or something as a thanks for spending this extra time with you.  Try to find projects within your firm you can look through.  Also doesn't hurt to read up online, places like this forum.  It's frustrating when your not taught the way you'd wish, sometimes you just have to take it upon yourself.

    So if all that has failed.  Your firm doesn't do Civil Site work, your supervisor isn't receptive to broadening your work, or you've tried and gotten pigeon-holed back to your old spot.  Now it's time to start looking elsewhere.   I would only recommend this as a last resort, but if you're not happy and you've tried to get things changed this is all that's left.  Look for firms that do the work you want to do and try to reach out to those firms especially if you have contacts via LinkedIn or otherwise and see if they have any availability.  Any skills you haven't been able to acquire, let them know you're hungry to learn and quick to do it (and mean it).  Make sure you did try with your firm and when it comes time to leave they'll understand.  You will want to do so on good terms without burning bridges, you never know what the future holds or how you'll be involved with them later.

    In terms of a larger/smaller firm it will depend on the firm.  Larger firms offer more job security typically, able to weather economic downturns.  However, smaller firms may need you to be more robust and have a wider range of experience so you might see/do more (which it sounds like you want).  It'll depend on the company culture so there's no right/wrong answer.

    Hopefully that's helpful to you.  I know that's a very frustrating spot to be in. Above all, do something.  There's no sense suffering with no goal at the end driving you.  Best of luck Matt!  Let us know if you have any further questions!

    James Smith P.E.,M.ASCE
    Design Engineer
    Grand Rapids MI