17 Impactful First Engineering Job Advice Tips

New engineering jobs don’t need to be intimidating. By using engineering job advice tips from seniors engineers, the transition becomes easy.

I’m going to share 17 tips I’ve put together after working with many young engineers trying to help them fit in. Also, having once been a young engineer myself, I know it isn’t easy.

I compare the entire process to cage diving with sharks for the first time. If you don’t know what to expect in a cage dive, you’ll probably have a panic attack. Then, a heart attack. BUT, if you prepare for your dive, you’ll have an exhilarating and awesome experience. Then in no time, you’ll become a pro cage diver.

Important Note: in this article, I’m assuming there’s no formal company training. You just enter a company, and you’re on your own. 

#1 Learn your workplace culture

workplace culture

Most all engineers play video games. So I’m going to use a video game analogy to get the ball rolling.

When you first pick up a video game, you play around to learn the controls. Then, you check the menus and your character’s abilities so you can do your missions. The same idea applies to when you first walk into a company as a newbie. You need to learn the following:

  • How engineers start and finish projects
  • Acceptable jokes to use
  • The personality of your colleagues
  • What’s expected of each engineer

The faster you learn the mechanics of your workplace, the quicker you’ll fit in and feel at home. Now, I’m not saying to not be yourself. Of course, be yourself. The point is, to learn how to successfully acclimate and then output kickass work.

#2 Take initiative

If you see an opportunity to help someone, then go help. Don’t be afraid you may step on someone’s toes when a piece of work is sitting unattended.

In fact, everyone will thank and respect you for taking the initiative. I’m always impressed when someone steps up and takes ownership of unattended work. It shows I can rely on them when the going gets tough. And many times, this is the right of passage to promotions.

Just as important, don’t ever say something isn’t in your job description. A job description is only a general overview of what you’ll most likely do. I’ve worn countless hats in my positions myself. And this is more common if you work at a smaller company.

#3 Don’t let others take advantage of you

Don’t EVER let someone take advantage of you. I see it all the time in engineering. Engineers push-off work to others, under the guise they’re busy. Let me tell you, in most instances, they’re not busy, but lazy.

And I know in Tip #2 I said to take initiative. But at the same time, be careful not to take on everyone else’s work. Especially, if you see other people doing nothing themselves.

I’ve had many instances where I saw work sitting idle, but I didn’t touch it. Because I was already working extra hours every night taking on more work than I should have.

All the while, my colleagues were leaving work a couple of hours early every day. Plus, they weren’t doing much work in the office. So, I wasn’t going to become someone’s punching bag and subsidize their lifestyle. The point is, be observant of what’s going on around you and value your time.

#4 Don’t look for endless handholding

baby animals trying to survive
Photo Credit: Christie Greene

We all need handholding to some degree as new engineers. It’s why I wrote a piece on how to train new engineers. But, YOU need to do your part to get up to speed as fast as possible too.

Think of newborn animals in the animal kingdom. They’re not helpless like human babies, as they’re biologically hardwired differently. They need to get up and immediately start moving once they’re born. Because around every corner is a predator looking for its next meal.

And unfortunately these days, many companies don’t have the resources to properly train engineers. More specifically, to train engineers to become self-sufficient and produce billable material. So, you’re on your own to get up and moving.

The realities of office training from senior engineers

I’m already slammed with responsibilities day in and day out. So I don’t have the time to show new engineers all the ropes. Even though I wish I could.

Plus, I have endless new things I need to learn myself. So, to become self-sufficient, I suggest you do the following:

  • Look over and learn from completed projects by your new colleagues,
  • Research and constantly learn about your industry. Watch Youtube videos, read books, and read articles on the internet.
  • When your colleagues have free time, pick their brains.

I know, this isn’t the ideal kickstart you were looking for. But, you’ll be thankful in the long run. Because the less handholding you have, the better engineer you’ll become.

#5 Become familiar with all used standards and codes

Almost every company has documentation of its work processes and protocols. So with a little digging, you can find answers to a lot of your questions.

I always find it best for new engineers to first read these company documents. I know, by asking me, it’s the easy path to your solution. But it’s frustrating for me when the answer is a click or two away, and you’re not putting in any effort.

And I get it, you may not be completely familiar with the company standards at first. But after several times of me telling you where to look, and you still don’t look, then it becomes a problem.

It’s no different than knowing where to look to check stock prices. Maybe your go-to site is Yahoo Finance. In the same way, you need to make company documentation your go-to information source. Because these standards exist for a reason.

To point out, if you find anything confusing in the standards, then go ask questions. Or, ask questions about anything missing from the standards.

#6 Don’t be afraid to ask questions

I know, I know. I said to be self-sufficient and don’t look for hand-holding in Tip #5.

BUT, there will be times when you’ll need to ask for help. Maybe you get stuck on a project and you don’t know what to do. And, your standards aren’t any help.

So, it’s better to look silly by asking stupid questions than to waste endless hours. I know in my younger years, I asked MANY silly questions. And it’s totally okay. Everyone starts from somewhere. You’re not born Einstein.

When you do ask questions though, soak in as much knowledge as you possibly can. I suggest taking notes too for future reference. Because the last thing you want is to repeatedly ask the same questions over and over again. You’ll not only drive people crazy, but you’ll come off as an idiot.

The good thing is, as a new engineer you have a grace period to acclimate. Around 6 months to one year. And other engineers understand this, so no one will hold too much against you. In fact, your colleagues may be extra helpful.

As one last suggestion, learn people’s names to build relationships. This goes a long way in others warming up to you.

#7 Your contribution levels will be minimal

When you first start working, you won’t lead complex projects. And this is totally normal. No one expects you to do overly complex work as a newbie.

So at first, you’ll only work to get up to speed with your company’s workflow. Then over time, you’ll be able to do more and more. This is the typical process for every new engineer.

In short, don’t feel bad or apologize because you’re not carrying your weight. What’s most important is to learn as much as you possibly can in the shortest period of time. Then, you can hit the ground running.

#8 Get your hands dirty and do work

As I highlighted in Tip #7, in the beginning, your contributions will be minimal. But, to gain traction as an engineer, you need to start doing. The faster the rubber meets the road, the better engineer you’ll quickly become.

So when opportunities to do any meaningful work show their face, don’t shy away. Rather, show interest even if you’re in over your head. Once you start your work, you can bang your head on the work until things make sense.

And if you CAN handle the work, go and request more of it. Your employer doesn’t always know how much work you can handle. So again, don’t sit bored surfing the internet.

When I first started working as an engineer I had imposter syndrome. But, I still chased after work. Because I knew it was the best way to level myself up.

And guess what? I made a lot of mistakes. But, I learned a lot from my mistakes too.

#9 Visit engineering sites 

Ask to visit the field or factory, or where ever you execute your engineering plans. Because seeing the execution of your work is an endless learning experience.

I find hands-on work is the only way to maximize your abilities as an engineer.

You’ll learn how to properly design for the real world, and the pitfalls to avoid. Plus, you can better connect the dots with all the theories you learned in your textbooks.

#10 Communicate with outside parties

Speak with vendors, customers, other engineers, tech support, governmental agencies, and so on.

This is a big part of being an engineer, especially if you want to move up the ranks. So, the sooner you master your communication skills, the better off you’ll be.

When I first started working, I wasn’t too familiar with technical communication. For example, how to deeply explain a design to an outside engineer. Plus, I didn’t want to sound like an idiot.

So, I’d write out what I wanted to say, and then I’d ask my boss to correct it. This was my level of paranoia at the time. Over time though, I got the hang of it all through endless practice. Also thankfully, my boss didn’t hold my hand too much, so I had to quickly learn myself.

Now, check out the following articles to faster learn how to communicate like a pro engineer:

#11 Be on time to work

I hate when people are late. It’s as if they think their time is more important than yours. Then, you sit waiting burning time you don’t have.

And, each time you’re late, you paint a poorer image of yourself. Especially, when people don’t know you really well. Soon you become known as the “undependable engineer.”

So always plan ahead and try to arrive 30 minutes early. You never know if you’ll hit traffic or if something else suddenly pops up.

This also applies to coming in on time to your office. Say a late-night project request comes in, and it needs to get done by 10 AM the next day. And you’re the expert. But, you stroll on in at 9:00 AM versus 8:00 AM. You’ll then have a bunch of frustrated pissed-off people waiting on you.

#12 Expected mistakes and failures

mistakes and failures are common

You’ll make mistakes as a new engineer. In fact, you’ll make a lot of them and it’s expected. So don’t feel bad. Even the best of the best engineers make mistakes because all engineers are humans.

Mistakes show you’re pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. And with any bleeding-edge design work, mistakes become all of more common.

The key is though, to not make the same mistakes twice and not make careless mistakes. Like using incorrect units or making simple math errors.

Most importantly though, learn from your mistakes to level yourself up. Like in real life, mistakes and failures are the best teachers in engineering.

#13 Be honest 

As a new engineer, you’ll make doofus mistakes. I certainly did. Because when you do things you’ve never done before, mistakes become common.

Heck, you may even cost your company money for doing something outrageously wrong. But don’t lose too much sleep over it. Just own up to your mistake and learn from it.

The worst thing you can do is to lie and point the finger in another direction. Because if you get exposed, you’ll look like an asshole. Then, no one will want to help or work with you. And this is NOT a reputation you want to have.

#14 Off the clock learning

Don’t limit your learning to your workplace. Learn after hours when the business day ends, and then over the weekend. The more you study, the more quickly you can stand on your own two feet.

And to be clear, what I’m saying is to benefit YOU in the end. I’m not pushing you to do free work for your employer.

For example, say you’re an aerospace engineer and you design parts for rockets. In your free time, go read about rocket engineering. You’ll become a better engineer, and you’ll have better future employment opportunities. It’s a win-win!

Here are tips I’ve written on how you can better study engineering subjects.

#15 Understand your financial position in a company

In the end, you’re hired to make a company money. So you need to provide more value than the cost a company pays to hire you. To provide amazing value, I suggest doing the following:

  • Maximize your hours each and every day in producing quality engineering work. So, don’t waste time surfing the internet every 15 minutes.
  • Don’t waste time developing something unmarketable. For example, developing a product costing $200 to build, but you can only sell it for $125.
  • Get up to speed with real-world engineering work as fast as possible. This way you can more quickly contribute to your company’s bottom line.

#16 Call out the mistakes of others

If someone has 30 years of experience over you, it doesn’t make them insulated from feedback. As we previously highlighted, ALL engineers make mistakes. It doesn’t matter how many letters you have after your name, or if you have a head full of white hair.

So, if you spot a mistake, speak up. Because you’re an engineer, and it’s your responsibility. You’re hired to improve a company, and you have ethical principles of engineering to follow.

Now, when you do spot a mistake and go discuss it with the designer, take some type of proof with you. This will simplify your discussion. For example, mark up a calculation mistake with supporting facts.

I compare this to NBA basketball. An 18-year-old rookie should always go hard at a veteran like Lebron James. Because both players have earned the right to be on the same court. And in the end, the product, the game of basketball, wins!

#17 Say “I don’t know”

confused engineer

As a young engineer, to not look like an idiot, I nodded my head in agreeance a lot. I often didn’t say, “I don’t know.” The reality was, I really didn’t know. I just didn’t want to look like an idiot.

Now from one perspective, this forced me to learn a lot on my own. And frankly, I became a better engineer for it, in my pursuit to not look like an idiot. On the flip side, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration and time, by simply saying the 3 words.

And guess what, it’s totally okay to say, “I don’t know.” For one, you probably won’t look like an idiot. Even more, it’s always best to look like an “idiot,” than to have a $10,000,000 mistake on your hands.

Let me elaborate. I was once in a meeting for a huge project in San Francisco. Everyone was saying “I got it!” to certain design parameters.

I didn’t understand the design concept at all though. I thought to myself, should I be the idiot in the room, who after the one-hour discussion is still clueless…

I thought about it long and hard for a good while, as I fidgeted around. Eventually, I mustered up the strength and said “I don’t know, explain it to me.”

What happened next was both amazing and amusing. No one else in the room knew anything either. No one could properly explain the new design direction. These were all engineers with 30 plus years of experience too who at the time looked intimidating to me.

So, my words became a catalyst to a new discussion for understanding. Because no one else wanted to come off as an idiot either. The point is, these three words can be very powerful!

First engineering job advice tips wrap up

Your first engineering job can without a doubt be stressful. But you can make the experience much better by following the tips in this article. Then in no time, you’ll become the experienced engineer showing new engineers the ropes.

Just always remember your feelings in your first engineering job. Whether it was fear, confusion, or whatever else. And then think about how you can help future new engineers through this mental obstacle course. The outcome will be a win-win for everyone.

What’s your favorite first engineering job advice? What was your experience like in your first engineering job?

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