Updated: Mar 16, 2021
If you are in college and you are looking for some insight on what to expect after graduation. Or you have finally earned your bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and have passed your FE. What now? I am almost three years into my career as a structural engineer, and I thought it was finally time to post about my experience. These topics below are some information that I wish I knew while in college or at the beginning of my career as an Engineer.
Networking and Professional Relationships.
Having professional relationships is one of the most important parts of any engineering profession. This is how the majority of college grads secure a job after graduation. Both companies that I have worked for, I got the job because of who I knew.
So, build relationships with classmates and upperclassmen while you are in college. Sometimes friends or acquaintances can lead you to find a job.
For example, this year I was in search of a new company. I reached out to several college friends and classmates to see if their companies were hiring. Most companies were not looking to hire someone at the moment. So, I asked my friends to keep me in mind and let me know when their company decided to hire an EIT. If their company was hiring, I sent in a resume and cc'ed my acquaintance in the email. That way, if the boss or professional engineer asked who I was, my acquaintance could tell them about me. This is how I eventually secured a job!
A week after starting at my new company, one of my friends reached back out to me and said that their company was about to put out a job listing in the next few weeks and wanted to see if I wanted to send in my resume before they started the listing. This shows that your classmate will keep you in mind when they hear through the grapevine that their boss is looking to hiring someone new.
Networking does not stop after you get the job. Politicking in the office is just as important. Career advancement is based as much on politics as the ability to do your job.
Internships do not make or break you.
YES, INTERNSHIPS 100% HELP OBTAIN A JOB! They let employers know you have some experience. Even if you just drafted or filed paperwork. But, I'll let you in on a secret, I did NOT have an internship, and I found a job! As my previous point states, it ALL about who you know. Any engineering program drills it into you that "you must have an internship if you want a job." It will be easier to find a job if you had an internship, but it's not detrimental if you did not have one.
Will your GPA help you get a job?
NOPE, not really! I have never been asked what my GPA was in college or if I graduated with honors. Of course, I have it on my resume that I graduated Magna Cum Lade. But during my interviews, I was never asked about it, not once. Graduating with honors does make you feel like you accomplished something at the moment. But I remember how STRESSED I was all the time about my grades, and not enjoying the college experience. So, do not let your GPA define you. If you are discouraged that your GPA is not great, don't even put it on your resume. It's not needed. Instead, put the activities you were involved in (ASCE, Concrete Canoe, SWE, ASME, or IEEE), relevant class projects you worked on, or programs you used during college (Word, Excel, AutoCAD). And let me tell you, some of my classmates did not have the best GPA or work ethic in college, and they are doing just fine in their career.
What are the areas of Civil Engineering that you can go into, and what to expect in those fields?
The number one question I had and what most Civil Engineering college grads have is "What do (Civil/Structural/Geotechnical/etc.) even do, and which one do I want to be."
When I asked my husband what was one thing that you wish he knew before getting his job, without hesitation, he said, "What a Geotechnical EIT really does."
There is 6 main Specialization of Civil Engineering. These include Civil, Environmental, Geotechnical, Structural, Transportation, and Water Resources. This topic is something I want to go into depth about. So, I will be writing posts about all of these in the future! I will be able to ask my husband, friends, and classmates all the questions about what they do and what their day-to-day consists of. So if you have a specific question about one of the civil engineering fields, leave it in the comments or send me an email!
Desk Job vs. Field Engineer
This is a personal preference, but do your research into the field you want to go into.
For example, my husband is a Geotechnical Engineer, and I am a Structural Engineer; our day-to-day is very different. If you are okay with getting out every once in a while, Structural might be for you. If that sounds like a nightmare and prison to you, and you need to see something other than your computer, geotech might be the way to go.
It will take time to get comfortable.
The transition from college to the "real world" is the strangest experience I have had thus far in my life. I loved being a student because I was good at it. But when I started my career, I felt so out of place. I was NOT good at it, which was hard for my Type A personality. I have had jobs before, but never a career where I studied for 4 years, earned a degree, and had to pass a test to obtain it. When you are in an engineering program you assume your professors are preparing you for everything you will ever encounter in your profession. This is not the case. Your professors are teaching you the (insert engineering major) fundamentals. And basically how to problem solve and critically think. So, it takes time to get comfortable with knowing that you still have SO much more to learn.
You aren't going to know anything and you aren't expected to.
No company hires a fresh graduate and expects them to know everything or even anything at all. You have to remember they were once in your shoes, and they know they will have to train you. Just be eager to learn! Don't be afraid to ask questions! Take notes!
On the first day of my job after graduation, I filled out paperwork in the morning, and then was shown my office and just left there alone with a project folder and a computer. I just sat there and cried. I had very little experience with AutoCAD or any other Civil Engineering program. I had no idea what to do, where to start, or even what to ask. So, don't feel ashamed if you are struggling on your first day, week, or month fresh out of college. We have all been there. In time you will learn. You will learn how to draft and use the programs your company uses to design. You will be more comfortable with asking questions, and eventually, you will learn more than you could imagined.
I will say, my first day at my current company was a vastly different experience from my previous company. I was able to take the tools I had learned of the past two and a half years and "faked it till I made it." It also helped that my officemate was someone that I had one class with. So, they were able to show me the ropes.
It's a lot of 'itch work.. at first.
Since you do not know how to design anything straight out of college, you will be doing a lot of busywork. Most often, busywork is drafting. Drafting did not bother me, and it still doesn't. I quite enjoy it. Although it can be mindless, it will help you build your knowledge of what things are and how things work together (i.e. concrete and rebar). In the future busywork, might be drafting models in Risa3D or laying out a design.
What most engineers hate is that we do not get credit for our work and it is a lot of behind the scene work. This is even more so for an EIT.
"I wish I knew that as engineers, we do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, so we don't get praised for our work as say an architect would. Our job is to make sure that it is safe for the public as well as functional." -Savanna H.
Programs, Programs, Programs.
All those hand calculations you did in college? Yeah, there are computer programs to do that for you. Your days of hand calcs are numbered. I rarely do any calculations by hand,
unless I'm converting lbs to kips. In a later post, I will go over all the computer programs I use as a Structural EIT. But just know, you will be learning so many programs that are designed to make your projects go faster and your life easier. It's good to familiarize yourself with what programs you might be using at your company; so you aren't completely lost.
If you thought your days of reports or writing a document were over, you were wrong.
Engineering is not all numbers and no words. In almost every form of engineering, you will be required to write a report or document on something. Some field of engineering is nothing but writing reports (Geotech). When taking those calculus one, two, and three courses, you think, "wow, I will have to be thinking in three-dimensional math for the rest of my life." Nope, that's not the case; it's all simple math on my calculator. (100 psf/1000 = 0.1 ksf ~ insert into a computer program to do the math and solve for me.)
Find the company for you.
When I was in college, I enjoyed my Civil Eng. classes. When I started my first job, I did not enjoy it. I hated to go to work, but I liked working on the projects that were given to me. I honestly felt so disposable at the company. There was never a time where I felt that I was valued as a team member. I felt so unfulfilled in my life. Which was bizarre; because I just purchased my first home, I was getting married, and I was making adult money. This was supposed to be the most exciting time in my life, and I was miserable every day when I came home. I was at a level of stress, that when I look back on it, that was SO unnecessary. So if this sounds like you, find a different company. Go into a new field of civil engineering. Find somewhere where you like to work and see what field is the best fit for you. In the short amount I have worked at my new company, I feel completely different. Do NOT feel like you owe your first company, your life, or your firstborn child. Yes, it was a great stepping stone, but you have to do this for 30+ years. You might as well enjoy it.