Finding Your “Fit”: Millennials and the Modern Engineering Firm

Just as new grads and students are worried about finding a job after they graduate, engineering firms are concerned about being able to fill vacancies left by a generation of retiring boomers. Yet there seems to be a disconnect; many new grads struggle to find even entry-level employment, while firms have trouble finding the right “fit” in new hires. What gives? Is it an experience gap?

A generation of retiring engineers and professional-sector employees is likely driving the experience requirement. As far as succession planning goes, retiring workers are highly specialized and technically knowledgeable,  and firms are looking to replace these individuals with those that have the requisite expertise.

But from a new grad’s perspective, it is almost impossible to get that experience without getting the job first - a catch-22. 

Companies are wising up to this gap, and many are re-evaluating their succession plans in order to attract the right people, rather than the right set of technical skills. In the modern firm, being the right “fit” is just as important as having the right resume. 

What to look for in a firm

Less traditional companies are rearranging their hiring practices to attract and retain Millennial employees. Janice Keller, Director of Staff and Culture at Cole Engineering,  says that the things Millennials are looking for are what attracted her to Cole Engineering in the first place. “Seven years ago, on my first day, I walked in and was greeted by a dog! He’d sleep under the board room table during meetings.” Dog-friendly workplaces are just one of the things an animal-loving generation of employees are looking for.

As Kellar notes, new employees find value in having a good work-life balance. Flexible scheduling, work-from-home days and getting rid of the clock-punching mentality can make a huge difference in employees’ stress levels. Communication platforms like Slack and Trello have made telecommuting much easier and sometimes even more productive than clocking the traditional 9-5. It’s great for morale, productivity and overall wellbeing.

The appeal is in flexibility, both inside and outside of the office. Kellar adds that one of the greatest strengths of Cole Engineering’s workplace organization is intra-department mobility. Many employees are hired for specific roles, rather than departments, and can find their fit in the right team. Some find it on their first try, while others shuffle teams until they are content with where they land. It’s a huge benefit, and helps with ensuring employees are happier in their work and with their teams.

Feedback is also extremely important for Millennials. Direct feedback keeps employees connected to their work, their bosses, and their jobs; they know exactly how to grow and balance their own career path. “Young employees are like ‘sponges’”, she laughs, because in her experience they’ve been extremely eager to learn and to grow. 

So how do you get there? 

Fit is number one. But demonstrating that fit can be difficult, much less knowing exactly what fit a firm is looking for. 

Great firms recognize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and mobility among positions makes it a little easier to find what works for some people. Still, fit means that there is a right balance of  echnical skills with communication skills, depending on the position. If a firm is looking for a client-facing employee, then demonstrating strong communication and interpersonal skills is key to being a successful applicant.

A great resume is still the first and most important part looking for a job, Kellar states . Other traditional application methods are dwindling; cover letters are becoming rarer and rarer. Instead, a condensed cover letter in an email containing a resume is much more common, and more time-considerate for both parties.

More common as well is the LinkedIn check prior to interviews. Companies use LinkedIn to “put out feelers” or get a handle on an applicant’s history before they step  foot into a conference room. Resumes and online information should all be easy to read, pleasant to look at, and well-organized. 

Portfolios are also especially important for positions like designers and civil engineers, especially those with CAD expertise. Kellar says that applicants should be excited about their portfolio, and be able to talk about it. Presenting projects that you’re excited about can make a potential employer excited about you!

What about different streams?

As an engineer, should you look into contract or consulting streams? Well, it’s up to you and your workplace personality. Are you a happy-to-stay-for-a-decade kind of person? Then long-term employment is a great option for moving up the ranks and earning a leadership role. But more and more Millennials are job-shifters, and recent studies show that the average stay of employment is about four years. So think of that as the benchmark: if you’re an excitable, mobile person who likes to job hop every couple of years for fresh perspectives, then consulting is a great option. 

Contracting is also a great mobility option. Firms like Cole Engineering will hire independent or small-company contractors for a few months to a few years at a time. Operating as a contractor can mean flexibility and mobility, at the cost of permanent employment. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find the perfect fit.