Client-Facing Skills Give Engineering Contractors an Edge

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Are you able to interpret technical and design information and present those ideas to clients in a way that’s easy to understand? Are you calm and composed under pressure?

If you answered yes to those questions, you’re in luck. A Harvard University study revealed that 85 percent of jobs and promotions happened because of a candidate’s attitude and soft skills, while only 15 percent were driven by his or her accomplishments.

If you answered no, you’ve got some work to do.

If you need motivation, consider this insight from Dr. Samuel Frimpong, who chairs the Mining department at Missouri University of Mining and Technology.

Engineers don’t just deal with machines and models. They need to interact with their co-workers and subordinates and managers as well as industry groups and regulatory agencies. They need to know how to lead, communicate and work with others.

Many engineering schools have added soft skills training.

Are you ready to roll up your sleeves? Here’s a list of hot client-facing skills, and some easy ways to build your competencies.

Must Have Skill: Empathy

Clients want to work with someone who cares about their company and their needs. Empathetic engineers put themselves in their clients’ shoes are often described as understanding, compassionate or sensitive, while those with low levels of empathy are often described as detached, indifferent or distant.

How to Acquire this Skill

There’s an app for that – also a deck of cards. IDEO Method Cards teaches you how to get inside others’ heads and how to approach problems or opportunities with a set of different perspectives. This article by Teresa Torres offers other handy tips. Or, check out Roman Krznaric’s list of empathetic behaviors in “Six Habits of Highly Empathic People.”

Must Have Skill: Business Etiquette and Cultural Sensitivity

How you greet a client, shake hands or interact during a business lunch can impact your business relationships. Even if you think you know the drill, a quick brush-up never hurts.

How to Acquire this Skill

Etipedia is an encyclopedia of etiquette that offers instructional articles, videos, surveys and podcasts from the Emily Post Institute. Executive Planet provides valuable tips on business etiquette, customs and protocol for doing business worldwide.

Must Have Skill: Tact

Tactful people tend to state their positions without offending others and are viewed as discreet and diplomatic. They’re able to persuade clients and resolve disputes without ruffling feathers.

How to Acquire this Skill

Ask a tactful colleague to be your mentor and emulate their style. Or, practice softening your message by starting with: “Would you consider?” “I see your point.” “Let’s dig into that.” If you tend to be blunt read: “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear” by Frank Luntz.

Must Have Skill: Communications

Engineers absolutely need excellent written and verbal communications skills, and some need to master the art of group presentations. A hiring manager told Frimpong that he assumes all engineers are technically qualified, and that it is communication, presentation and other soft skills that make some students stand out.

How to Acquire this Skill

Depending on your baseline abilities, improving your communications skills may take some time. Start by taking a free online course – including one from MIT. Or, download a free eBook on communications at Another option: organize a series of lunch-and-learns at your firm. After all, who doesn’t need better communications skills?

Must Have Skill: Flexibility

Clients view rigid engineers as uncompromising or guarded, while highly flexible professionals are considered open to new ideas. They are often described as adaptable, accepting and open-minded.

How to Acquire this Skill

Some people are inherently adaptable, but even those with “stubborn genes” can benefit from stretching says Dr. Scott Williams at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. Exercise can help you become more flexible in the face of change.

Other information of potential interest

How to Write a Winning Resume

How to Ace a Video Interview

Help PEAK find the right placement for you:  Submit or Update Your Resume


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