Celebrating Engineering Week: A Major for All Careers

We just wrapped Engineering Week 2019 at UMass Lowell with a number of exciting activities, including panel discussions on potential career paths. Tuesday, we hosted four alumni that landed in “atypical” careers for grads with engineering degrees. Their “new” roles included (1) real estate developer; (2) financial manager; (3) social entrepreneur; and (4) lawyer. Here are some nuggets that I gleaned from the engaging conversation:

  • If you decide to make a significant career change to a different field, plan your career “pivot” accordingly.  The (extreme) example was: suppose you work in the biopharmaceutical field producing advanced drugs but you want to become an IT manager.  This move requires two pivots – one from the chemical/pharmaceutical field to IT and another from production to management.  The first pivot will likely require an additional degree or training but can be accomplished at night while working in the pharmaceutical field.  The second can be accomplished by taking on project management/managerial roles in the field before exiting.  With planning, this evolution can be successfully managed.
  • Networking is crucial to making a pivot.  While pursuing additional training, another way to build credibility in another area is through networking.  Attending conferences, tech talks, or networking mixers can provide a way to meet those in the industry and learn about the skills necessary to move.
  • In these growing days of automation, you cannot assume that you will receive an interview for a job if your credentials do not match those requested in an ad.  For example, a job posting may require a certain degree which, you could argue, is not necessary with your experience.  Thus, to give yourself a higher probability of an interview, have an inside champion (someone at the company) that can hand deliver your resume with a recommendation to interview, noting that your different background is actually an asset to the company.
  • An engineering degree gives you credibility in the workplace and the job search.  In 2015-16, only 5.6% of bachelor’s degrees conferred in the United States were in Engineering, according to the Digest of Education Statistics published by the National Center of Education Statistics.  Use this to your advantage, as earning an Engineering degree declares that you are likely a hard-worker and diligent – traits that are welcome in any field.

My favorite takeaway from the panel was the statement that “Engineers really can do anything.”  But this was prefaced by the fact that it is much easier to move from engineering fields to non-engineering fields while it is relatively difficult to move from non-engineering fields to engineering fields because the barrier of entry requires an engineering degree.  Thus, engineering is a great place to start for nearly any profession.