You update your resume. You pull out your best suit. Your palms are sweaty. You do your best to answer the questions you’re asked. And then you wait.
The waiting is over, you find out you didn’t get the position. And you ask yourself why. Your GPA is excellent. You’ve studied hard to make sure you’d be successful come interview time. And you just don’t understand. Why?
Employers today recognize there’s more to engineering than just engineering. They want engineers who are proficient in their discipline and who have been involved in activities that demonstrate leadership qualities. Besides being masterfully skilled in math and science, employers want engineers who are forward-thinking, problem-solving, master communicators.
From new modes of travel like autonomous vehicles, to new technology like virtual reality, transportation engineering is rapidly changing. As communities embrace improvements and residents scrutinize changes, much of our work becomes customer driven. From planning through design and construction, the public wants to weigh in.
In both the private and public sectors, engineers interact with the public daily and face the challenge of clearly articulating complex concepts to their customers. Employers know they can teach new graduates the technical skills, but those who are comfortable with public speaking and can communicate the technical concepts are invaluable. If you have that skillset, you are the engineer companies want because they know that customer buy-in is key to the success of a project.
Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Central 70 project is an example of how communication can garner stakeholder buy-in for a complex solution. The project is one of Denver’s largest construction projects to date and includes removing a crumbling, 54-year-old viaduct that runs through the middle of a neighborhood. Another part of the project entails lowering a portion of the interstate below grade and placing a park over it to reconnect the neighborhood. With residents objecting and expressing concerns over housing and business acquisitions, air quality during construction and connectivity, the project fostered unprecedented levels of community involvement. For this part of the project, engineers provided a solution that meets the needs of this culturally diverse area in Denver.
Luckily not all projects face opposition. The Texas Department of Transportation’s El Paso Streetcar project generated excitement and nostalgia throughout the city. The project revitalized the city’s streetcar system that had been out of operation since 1974. The project included laying new track, building a new maintenance and storage facility and refurbishing and restoring six of the original streetcars so they can transport people across the city. The route runs from the University of Texas El Paso on the city’s north side to the South El Paso Street shopping corridor at the U.S./Mexico border, linking two international bridges that welcome tens of thousands of shoppers every year from El Paso’s sister city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The project team worked extensively with local businesses, institutions and neighborhood groups to maximize communication between stakeholders and minimize disruptions. The city held an inaugural ceremony to re-open the vintage streetcar system with hundreds of community leaders, city officials and residents attending and celebrating.
While automotive manufacturers and transportation network companies (TNCs) drive many of the trends in new modes of transportation, transportation engineers are asked to identify challenges associated with rapid deployment of these technologies, understand the impacts the technologies will have on infrastructure, and help develop policies. Then communicate this data clearly to stakeholders. In this rapidly changing industry, we are analyzing and developing ideas like never before and explaining them clearly in layman’s terms is essential.
Engineering firms want professionals who think beyond traditional ideas to provide solutions. Our Peachtree Corners, GA project is a perfect example of applying nontraditional solutions. Together with our clients and technology firms, we created a plan to convert an existing road through an office park into a test track/outdoor lab for autonomous shuttle testing and development. Through this process, the city discovered a financial benefit to collecting and selling the data to autonomous vehicle companies and other tech producers that service autonomous vehicles.
Thanks to new technology such as virtual reality, building information modeling (BIM) software and microsimulation/visualization tools, we have even more ways to effectively communicate concepts to the public and stakeholders. Most stakeholders and members of the public wouldn’t understand a set of engineering drawings, so leveraging tools available to engineers helps convey concepts that may be difficult to visualize. This is particularly helpful when proposing changes to the transportation network.
With all of this in mind, what can you do to make sure you’re ready to ace your next interview?
Find a mentor. Mentors are a must throughout your career. They can provide advice on how to navigate situations, help you prepare for interviews, and be a sounding board when you need it.
Join an organization. Find something you’re passionate about and look for opportunities to lead. That doesn’t mean you have to be president but volunteering as a committee chair will allow you to talk about your leadership experiences and stand out in an interview.
Get involved. Attend a public meeting for a project happening in your community. Not only will it give you an appreciation for the work that engineers are doing in the industry but will also provide you an opportunity to give feedback.
It’s an exciting time to be a transportation engineer. With our ever-growing population, aging infrastructure and emerging technology, the job demand will only increase. Companies want engineers who can help them provide solutions to complex problems. Your passion must go beyond math and science. We are building safer, more efficient transportation networks for future generations.