I have a position on an industry advisory board for a local university's Engineering department, which means I get to hear a lot about the challenges of newly-graduated engineers who are looking for jobs. I've also had the chance to speak with some of the new graduates who were able to get engineering jobs, but are wondering how to make their mark (or at least fit in among their corporate peers).
Imagine this: You've just spent four to six years getting a degree or two in engineering. That's a solid decision considering the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that all engineering fields have a high median salary and show better than average growth over the next decade. Of course, getting the engineering job is much different than excelling at the engineering job. As a new engineer, your fresh education is your greatest strength and, although only time will make you a veteran, there are ways you can further advance your knowledge once on the job to position yourself as an indispensable member of the team.
Learn The Jargon
All facets of engineering are full of technical language, some of which you learned in school or gleaned from technical writings, and some that you will need to research or learn as you go. Depending on the field and your role within the organization, there is differing terminology; for example, the engineers in the non-destructible testing (NDT) department have idioms that differ from the R&D group. Pick up some of the jargon from resources like The Most Used Engineering Terminology Defined list on StruCalc or go even further and read the policy and procedure manuals word for word, as this is where engineering acronyms are born.
I happen to work with a lot of software engineers, and we have our own jargon - not only about engineering and software development, but also about the processes surrounding the coding (think Scrum and Agile). We don't expect everyone to know our jargon, but we're suspicious of anyone who doesn't :-)
Know Your Journals
For many fields, scientific, peer-reviewed journals are where the newest ideas are shared. Since new concepts are among the most valuable things you can bring to the table, stay abreast of the latest scientific literature. SJR ranks scientific journals by field, citations and country. According to SJR, the best journal for mechanical engineering is the Journal of Nature Materials which is a UK-based monthly journal that brings together multi-disciplinary articles on cutting edge material sciences. Electrical engineers may want to subscribe to the Journal of Nature Nanotechnology for its vanguard electronic sciences. I regularly read the IEEE Journal, for example.
Sites To Follow
In an online world, there are reputable websites for scientific literature and engineering technology, with one of the best for civil and industrial engineering being the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers website. Besides giving you a solid history of engineering, the Army Corp of Engineers is the final word in civil engineering, risk management and safety and occupational health.
For very different reasons, another site to follow is Engineering For Change. Not only does this website offer the newest engineering innovations across technical fields but it does it with a socially responsible, philanthropic agenda. Partnered with IEEE and Engineers Without Borders, Engineering For Change lets a rookie engineer networks with veterans around the world, building up his knowledge and support network.
Carve Your Niche
Having a specialization is a good way to become invaluable to your company. Within each brand of engineering, there are specialties that call for additional education. Quality assurance is one of the largest specialties, as every engineering concentration needs a quality assurance department or liaison. For example, rubber seal manufacturer Apple Rubber is QA certified in several areas; in aerospace, Apple Rubber is AS9100 certified; for medical components, the manufacturer is ISO 9001 compliant. They even have a certified cleanroom which is class 10000, ISO 7 compliant.
Each of these quality assurance specializations requires specific expertise, record keeping and detailed reporting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists quality assurance in each engineering sector, from electrical to industrial to computer.
Try to find a field or specialization that not only hold your interest, but maps to your talents. For example, if you have an eye for detail, QA (Quality Assurance) may be the specialization for you. If you are adept at chemistry, you may want to get into a laboratory environment creating coatings. In any case, deciding where you want to specialize - and doing that early in your education or career - can help you prioritize and come up with a plan for success.