By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman
Every profession has unwritten rules that can make or break a career. Unfortunately, engineering professionals usually have to figure them out on their own – or discover them through trial and error when they venture into the world of contract engineering.
To make your job easier, here are seven rules you need to pay attention to in order to survive and thrive in the contract workplace.
Prioritize the Client’s Needs
When you go on an interview or engage with a new engineering manager or firm, don’t start by telling them what you want or what you think they need. Find out what the project involves, the requirements, key milestones and the end client’s expectations before explaining how you can help. The engineering manager will appreciate that you have taken the time to ask and that you are willing to tailor your services and approach to match the organization’s needs.
When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do
Certainly you should offer solutions and helpful tips, however it’s usually a good idea to get the lay of the land before suggesting major improvements or changes to a firm’s protocols and procedures. Understanding the firm’s culture and etiquette is the key to finding your groove. As Kate Matsudaira and Kate Stull point out: “It doesn’t matter how many engineering teams you’ve worked on or how famous the last company you worked for was — when you’re on a new team, you’ve got to learn new rules.”
Offer to Help Others
If you finish your tasks early, offer to help a co-worker or ask your project manager or engineering manager where you can lend a helping hand. Taking the time to understand not only your deliverables but also your manager’s deliverables, and looking for opportunities to help him or her succeed, can generate referrals, endorsements, extensions and repeat assignments.
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
There’s nothing wrong with turning down an assignment if it doesn’t seem like a good fit for your strengths, technical expertise or career path. That said, don’t be afraid to tackle a stretch assignment or project that is beyond your level of knowledge as long as you accurately represent your skills and abilities and have the full support of your engineering manager and teammates.
Develop a Marketing Mindset
Don’t think of yourself as an employee; rather, view yourself as an independent service provider or entrepreneur. That mindset will help you understand why your reputation is your most valuable asset. Not only will building your professional brand and network boost your marketability, it will increase the demand for your services and annual compensation.
Build a Relationship with Your Recruiter
Keep the staff at the agency apprised of your status and changes to the scope of work, travel requirements and the length of an assignment. Be open to suggestions or projects that expand your skillset or may provide a step up the career ladder. Remember, contract recruiters don’t place you in a position and move on. Their success is predicated on their ability to cultivate ongoing relationships with clients and engineering contractors.
Make sure you understand the company’s knowledge transfer protocol and systems from the outset. Showcase your accuracy and precision by documenting change requests and amendments, and turn them over at the end of your project. Keep notes and create a chronological history of decisions you make and why, including the tools you used. Leaving a “paper trail” can be the decisive factor the next time an engineering manager is looking to hire a diligent contractor.
Other Articles of Potential Interest
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