A career in electrical engineering is an exciting, albeit challenging, one. You need to earn your first degree, and afterwards, you can go for higher degrees to broaden your knowledge of the field and increase your career prospects. But, once they've received their undergraduate electrical engineering degree, most are eager to finally to apply those four years of knowledge to the workplace.
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Planning for an Engineering Career
Your career path is a measurable progression from your first entry-level job to becoming a seasoned professional. Having a solid plan for your career cannot be overemphasised in engineering.
Firstly, a career plan gives you a sense of direction, which is crucial for achieving your career goals. Also, it informs you of your choices and their growth potential based on history and trends, helping you choose a field that aligns with your short- and long-term goals.
Before deciding on which career path to take, it’s important to identify your motivations and properly define your goals.
Common Career Mistakes EEs Make After Graduation
Disclaimer: Career choices ultimately boil down to personal motivations, lifestyle, individual circumstances, and education. Nonetheless, I’m assuming that your original decision to study electrical engineering was born out of a passion to broaden your experience and knowledge of the field.
If you’re in your final year of achieving your degree, here are a few things to avoid when starting your career as an EE.
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1. Accepting the Wrong Job
One common mistake many EE graduates make is taking up jobs in industries that are not a good fit for their knowledge and skills. This often limits their career prospects in the field long-term, even if it seems like a good idea at the moment.
I must add here that one of the amazing things about engineering is that knowledge and skills are transferable across disciplines. So, if you’re well-grounded in fundamental engineering principles and design in one type of engineering, you may also succeed in another.
However, this is not ideal if you desire to achieve considerable success in your own field.
Take, for instance, a career in the oil and gas industry. Hydrocarbon exploration and production are heavily centred on process engineering (a chemical engineering sub-discipline). An electrical engineer starting a career in that industry will realise soon enough that there aren’t ample EE job opportunities with clear-cut career progression.
Worse still, many EEs are taking up jobs in industries that have little or nothing to do with engineering! It’s not rocket science that a maintenance engineer role at a bank won’t get you very far in your career in contrast to a field engineering role in a power generation firm.
How to Choose the Right Path
If you're already stuck in an unrelated job with zero EE career prospects, it's never too late to retrace your steps without outright resigning from your current job. The same applies to fresh grads looking to kickstart their new careers.
Here’s what you can do:
Go Job Hunting Intentionally
Search and apply for exciting electrical/electronic engineering opportunities in relevant industries to broaden your knowledge of the field and give you valuable experience transferable between jobs. Ask your professors if they can connect you to a professional engineer (PE) who can give you advice on where to apply for jobs and strategies to set yourself up for success from the beginning.
Invest in Professional Training (Software and Hardware)
The knowledge gained from training can give EEs an edge in their careers since they serve as evidence of learning and comprehension beyond university. Some valuable courses for EEs include embedded systems design, UNIX shell scripts, Verilog/VDHL, and MATLAB.
Fresh graduates can include these courses on their resumes to make up for inadequate work experience. These also help new EEs stand out from others who haven’t invested in their professional development (yet).
2. Being Too Money-Oriented at the Beginning
Closely tied to taking up the wrong job is being too focused on building wealth at the beginning of your EE career.
It’s certainly not a bad thing to desire a steady income from your job. But if your primary focus is on making money, rather than garnering valuable experience and acquiring relevant on-the-job skills, you might wind up in the wrong career.
In engineering – like most professions – pay is commensurate to experience. Your level of experience in the field is directly proportional to your earning potential.
Glassdoor reports a base annual salary of $85,322 for entry-level EEs in the U.S. – a figure that could go much higher for mid-level and senior engineers. Establish your worth in your entry-level job first before asking for a pay raise prematurely.
Play the Long Game
Search and apply for electrical/electronic engineering opportunities with job descriptions that could broaden your knowledge of the field. Prioritise opportunities with a potential for long-term career growth and development.
When interviewing with various companies, ask what their company culture is like. Do they value mentorship? What are their networking opportunities like? What can a company do to help you achieve soft skills, like leadership experience or teamwork?
These are the tools that give you an edge and make you more valuable, leading to higher positions with more responsibility and increased pay.
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3. Pursuing an Advanced Degree in an Unrelated Engineering Field
If you have no intentions of becoming a seasoned professional in your field, then by all means, go for a master’s degree in reservoir engineering or something of that sort.
But, if you’re looking to achieve a fulfilling career as an EE professional, you should stick to courses that are relevant to your field. Many organisations require their EEs to hold advanced degrees in core fields to advance their careers with them. Some companies even compensate engineers that choose to get their master’s degree alongside working full time.
If you’re passionate about power engineering a higher degree in advanced power systems, renewable energy engineering would be a great choice. If you have a knack for electronics, you can take up a program in robotics, advanced digital systems, etc.
While studying, you can apply for professional membership with a globally-recognised organisation like the I.E.E.E. Becoming a chartered engineer (C.Eng.) can also dramatically improve your pedigree and employability.
Which EE Industries Should I Look Into?
Electricity is a crucial component of modern life, and EEs are at the heart of designing the systems that enable efficient generation, and the transmission and harnessing of electricity.
Here are just a few industries where EE expertise continues to be in high demand for the 2010s and beyond:
Manufacturers like Tesla are already disrupting the automobile industry, including self-driving cars, EVs, and more. Developments like these are sustained as soon as the existing technology becomes more economically viable. Be at the forefront of a quickly evolving, highly technical industry.
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Long-running concerns by several governments over issues like global warming and CO2 emissions have seen laws passed to end world reliance on hydrocarbons as the main source of energy. For example, France plans to ban oil and gas production by 2040.
Research and development of renewable energy systems will remain a top priority for major energy industries until this becomes a reality, and EEs jobs will naturally increase.
Internet of Things
With the proliferation of the information and burgeoning IoT applications, this industry is set to expand rapidly in the next decade as new and existing gets integrated into many more aspects of our daily lives.
Starting your career in the exciting world of electrical engineering can be daunting and exhilarating at the same time. It’s important to avoid these needless mistakes and take your future into your own hands. Be intentional about your choices early on, and you’ll likely experience a successful, interesting, and challenging career as an EE.