My 5 Main Lessons which I Have Learned at an Engineering Firm

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I can still remember it as if it was yesterday.  It was June 2011. A colleague helped me to bring my boxes to the car with a trolley. I drove home on the highway and then it happened. I could no longer withstand it. The tears rolled over my cheeks. After 14 years at the same engineering firm, I left. And it was my decision.

I have had many experiences with the engineering firm and I have had great opportunities. I have met wonderful professionals in beautiful places around the world. Mike In California, Recep in Turkey, Karim in Paris and countless other colleagues worldwide with whom I have built a special bond. I have learned a lot and was able to help others.

A divorce

It felt like a divorce. A (working) relationship had come to an end. And I had ended it because I, my wife and the children were looking for an adventure abroad. I was manager of a group of skilled laboratory technicians for three years. It was one of my best jobs the engineering firm. There was still so much to do and to learn. The choice was mine and was in line with what I wanted in life. (Also read: How to make a choice in line with YOU).

Anyhow, the tears rolled down my cheeks and I was sad and thankful for the great years. I learned so much. In this article, I am sharing the 5 main lessons which I have learned at the engineering firm. They sure apply to you if you are just starting out at a new job but also if you need a new impulse.

Lesson 1: Get to know your organization

The engineering firm I worked for at the time had thousands of employees  worldwide. When you start to work at a department of a company, you tend to continue to work on your island. I understand that and I did that too. It is familiar terrain and it is safe.

I encourage you to get to know the organization and to show interest in others, other departments or operating companies. So, join colleagues from another department for lunch and ask what they do, what their expertise is or what their challenges are. Take part in the activities of the employee association and help with the organization. You will get to know a lot of people in a short time.

The interesting thing about this is, that many people in the organization also get to know you. This will make you a part of the network. It happened regularly that a secretary called me to inform that she had someone on the line and did not know how to direct this call. “For that you need Jean in Paris”, I replied because I often knew who could help this customer best.

Lesson 2: Ask for help

In a large organization there is a lot of knowledge and you can use it. It is not necessary to solve all your challenges by yourself. That takes a lot of time, energy and money. Perhaps there is someone in the organization who has a smart solution to your problem.

How do you find those people? Ask your new colleagues, your project manager or director. You can also ask for help within your group. I was responsible for a large project in Luxembourg and an invoice had to be made. Something that was far behind schedule. There was much extra work delivered to the client and I discovered that a secretary was an expert with Excel. In a short time, she had made a sound spreadsheet that I could use for my invoice.

Lesson 3: KISS

No, you do not need to kiss (new) colleagues. KISS stands for “Keep It Simple Sweetheart”. With my calculations, I often had to take many parameters into account. This also caused many variations in the execution of a project. I did describe them all in detail in my the report. That report was therefore often a thick book containing pages full of text.

I showed one of my first reports to my project manager and he showed me how you could present the results more simpler and clearer in a table. That made the report a lot more readable (and thinner). Later, we also added a summary of the main conclusions. The deal is to present your calculations and results as simple as possible. The client would like to go swiftly through the report and know what he/she should do. It is not useful to provide a thick and big report.

Lesson 4: Clients are humans as well

There are those clients who impress big time. You are the contractor and you have to do what is said. I was always very impressed with this kind of clients. One day, I had to go to a meeting with such a condescending client. Prior to the meeting, I talked with the director of the engineering firm where I worked. I told him about my worries and tensions about the meeting. He told me that these clients are humans. They also go to the toilet, have a family and have worries.

When you really have a hard time with such a client, he continued, you can think of something you find funny. Next, imagine that this person changes into what you find funny. Then, your fears, uncertainties and tensions will disappear. It is very similar to the Boggart in the movie “The Prisoner of Azkaban” with Harry Potter. See below for an excerpt:

In fact, it is about putting yourself in the position of the client and show empathy. What are the worries, stresses and questions for help from him or her? When you know this, the conversation will become a lot easier. (Also Read: What you need to know about empathy).

Lesson 5: Take your time & be flexible

This is not always easy in a (commercial) organization with short deadlines and limited budgets. Try to take the time and peace for your calculations and for writing your report. Sometimes you’ll need a little patience.

Don’t rush your work. Chances are that you will make a mistake. (Also read: 4 tips on how to deal with an embarrassing mistake and 8 tips to be more productive). Take the time to check things with the client or your project group and manage expectations. (Also read: Going beyond Perfection in 6 Steps). Take time for Self-reflection; To think about things that went well, less good and what you have learned from it. Also read: the benefits of Self-reflection

Being flexible can be perceived as a cliché but it has brought me a lot. It allowed me to work for a year in the US, to spend 2 years in Paris and to carry out numerous projects abroad. Be open to new challenges and grab opportunities. It comes down to making yourself visible in the organization and to let others know what you want to achieve and learn. (Also read: ONE exercise to find out what you’re good at or what you need to do).

There are still numerous of other valuable lessons that I have learned at the engineering company. For these I am thankful until today.

Which of the lessons resonate most to you and what valuable lessons have you learned from the company you work for (or have worked for)? Share them with us and let us know in the comment box below. I for sure, look forward to read from you!

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