When starting an engineer job search, it makes sense to focus largely on practical abilities. After all, these “hard” engineering skills are in demand. However, while wide-ranging technical knowledge may be essential for you to fulfill your job duties, it isn't enough to build a successful career. Soft skills—loosely defined as interpersonal skills in the workplace—can take you to the next level by helping you to communicate and collaborate effectively, adapt to changing scenarios, and utilize creativity to solve diverse problems.
Soft skills for engineers are especially important to navigate the group dynamics in a workplace and thrive as a professional. Here are just a few examples of the soft skills engineers need to succeed.
Engineers often have to work with other team members who do not share their technical knowledge, so it’s important to be able to interact with individuals from many different disciplines. It's necessary to discuss and explain your work in terms everyone can understand, especially when you have to justify the time or budget spent on a long-term project. In addition to having positive face-to-face exchanges, learning how to write professional emails is a necessary part of any job and one of the most vital soft skills for engineers.
Some engineers get deeply interested in the projects they work on and can lose sight of the customer's needs. This is where being empathetic can help. From an engineering standpoint, empathy can be defined as understanding the work from the client's perspective. At the end of the day, that's who must come first. However, empathy with coworkers is also key. On any team, not all members have full access to the information needed to complete a project. This can lead some staff members to get frustrated. Engineers who demonstrate empathy to these individuals, by looking at the work from their perspective, are better able to maintain positive working relationships.
Collaboration between engineering disciplines and nontechnical team members is common in private and public sector work. It's rare you'll ever do an entire project on your own from start to finish. You should be able to learn from others' perspectives and understand their needs so you can come together to create a project that's completed on time, on budget, and with high quality.
Regardless of your industry, things will change on individual projects. It's not uncommon to end up with a final product that is wildly different than the initial design. Whether due to unforeseen circumstances (bugs and failures) or outside elements (changes in customer specifications), adaptability is essential to success as an engineer. More importantly, it’s vital to know when to advocate for your views and vision and when to accept the changing conditions and move on.
Displaying a broad understanding of the ultimate goals of any project shows you have the capacity for change, but the ability to accommodate a variety of perspectives and make decisions based on what’s best for all involved shows leadership. A selfless attitude and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team or project also demonstrates the capability to manage a group, division, program, or department.
Creativity may be one of the most essential soft skills for engineers, as they are constantly called upon to solve large and small problems throughout a project’s evolution. An imaginative engineer can always see the project from a new angle and devise a solution based on innovative thinking.
Honing your skills as an engineer will also enhance your creativity and troubleshooting abilities. Staying on the cutting edge of what's new and relevant in your industry will give you the insight needed to drive projects forward, which will help your career in the short and long term.
Succeeding as an engineer can be difficult, and there aren’t many options for engineering soft skills training. However, if you are dedicated to progressing in your career, then you must look past the “hard” engineering skills in demand today and look to enhance your soft skills to position yourself as a valuable employee.