10 Skills Students Need to Succeed in Engineering

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Engineering schools equip students with technical skills, but not necessarily professional skills. Here are 10 soft skills that need to be developed early so you just aren’t another number in a large crowd of engineers.
 
1. Good college: Paige Balcom, an engineering Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley, gained a name after appearing on Shark Tank at age 18 to get funding for a smart wheel product. She’s aware that Berkeley–where big companies and the brightest minds show up – will take her places, more so than her undergraduate school University of New Hampshire.
 
2. Clubs: Balcom was president of Engineers Without Borders at UNH, which provided an opportunity to manage projects, communicate, and fundraise. “Any club where you can show leadership skills is important. There's so much more to doing a job than crunching numbers and [solving problems]. Working with people is actually the hardest part in the real world,” Balcom said.
 
3. Contests: Participating in a contest isn’t about winning, but giving students professional skills like teamwork and negotiation, said Christopher Ramsay, assistant vice provost for student design at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The university’s Human Powered Vehicle Challenge team at ASME’s EFestWest this year had business students seeking sponsors and raising funds to develop the vehicle. Engineering students from multiple disciplines contributed to the vehicle’s design.
 
4. Build your value: It’s difficult for fresh graduates to demand a salary–even rock stars with high GPAs. But negotiating a position could lead to higher pay in the future. A candidate’s importance boils down to value, and negotiating a position means leveraging qualifications like finance and technology, which are highly sought in engineers. “In three years, you know your position and have a good projection, that’s when you put yourself at a point of leverage. You know what that monetary value is so you can differentiate,” said Carlos Beatty, engineer and member of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ corporate leadership development program.  
 
5. Communication: Communication is important for a successful career, and it has to start in college. “I wanted to be involved in clubs, and the only way to do that was to be more social,” said Brandon Graham, experiential learning lab supervisor at Rowan Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Beatty recommends Dale Carnegie's book “Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking.”
 
6. Resume and interview: A bad resume with errors could sink an applicant. Humility also helps–a know-it-all could strike a wrong chord. “Make sure you research the job thoroughly, and make sure you have a couple of questions for the interviewers as well,” Duhe said.
 
7. Learn to sell: Engineering courses largely don't teach how to sell, and that's a key attribute in selling ideas, answers or products, said Nicole Salloum, a consultant at Capgemini. “Even when you are negotiating for a salary, you are selling yourself,” she said. Taking a course or a summer job may help.
 
8. Brand yourself: Figuring out a personal identity and creating a brand around it could pay off big-time. “People ask me ‘what do you do, who are you?’ I tell them ‘I am an engineer, designer, maker. That’s my personal brand. That's a differentiator in how you create value,” Graham said.
 
9. Presentation skills: Good presenters who can pull ideas together and create consensus can make it to management. Avoid jargon, work on simplifying and crisply explaining concepts, Beatty said. “It’s one thing to give a presentation and be questioned, another thing to give a presentation and be challenged,” Beatty said.
 
10. Internships and networking: Networking and internships help engineering students find their passion and get some real-life experience, Noble Plastics’ Duhe said. “The education is the baseline, the foundation, and once you get into your career, you start to learn the specifics,” she said.
 
Agam Shah is associate editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine.
 
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