Tips for Starting Your First Civil Engineering Job

The Civil Engineering Roundtable showcases insights from a cross-section of ASCE members on a variety of industry topics.

As spring transitions to summer, it’s the start of that most exciting of seasons – new job season. Civil engineering graduates are preparing for a transition from campus to office. And that’s not always an easy move.

Fortunately, they’ve got help in this edition of CE Roundtable, which asks:

What tips do you have for a civil engineer starting their first job?

Headshot of Don Nguyen

Don Nguyen, P.E., ENV SP, STP, M.ASCE, bridge engineer, HDR Inc.; past-president and mentorship co-chair for ASCE Seattle Younger Member Forum

“I would say that you should be open to learning and to not be afraid to ask questions. School taught you how to learn; work will teach you what you need to do your job.

“You should also accept challenges that are given to you. Try to take on some responsibilities earlier than you think you can handle them.

“Find out what the company culture is like by asking the right questions. You’ll be spending much of your waking hours at work, so you should pick an employer that provides a great place to work!”

Headshot of Therese R. Kline

Therese R. Kline, P.E., F.ASCE, buried structures specialist, bridge management, Michigan Department of Transportation

“Take a page from Tina Fey’s book Bossy Pants and say, ‘Yes, and… .’ Whenever you are asked to work on something new, accept the challenge with a ‘Yes…’ and step out of your comfort zone. Everything you learn will apply to your career, including the networking that will happen as you step up to the new challenge that will increase your knowledge level.

“Also, choose two mentors to discuss your career goals with. There are many ways to reach the same goal; multiple coaches will give you options you never knew existed.”

Headshot of Danielle Schroeder

Danielle Schroeder, EIT, A.M.ASCE, associate bridge engineer, Pennoni; social media chair for ASCE Philadelphia Younger Member Forum

“The best advice I can give to young civil engineers starting their first job is don’t be afraid to ask questions! Especially as a young engineer, you aren’t expected to know everything, so make sure you speak up when you are given a task and you are not sure how to proceed.

“Your team is there to help you learn and gain the critical technical skills for you to thrive in your field. Also, I recommend that you get involved in local professional societies as soon as you can. Core skills like communication will always be important to your engineering career regardless of your role, and professional societies are a great way to work on these skills as a young engineer and better prepare you for project management positions later in your career.”

Headshot of Josh Shippy

Josh Shippy, M.ASCE, project manager, City of Seattle; chair of ASCE Committee on Advancing the Profession

“My advice to young engineers would be to work on as many different projects and tasks as work allows. Volunteer for new tasks and don’t hesitate to ask questions when they come up. Continue networking and volunteering outside of work as well.”

Headshot of Daniel Peter Loucks

Daniel Peter Loucks, Ph.D., NAE, Hon.D.WRE, Dist.M.ASCE. professor emeritus, Cornell University; co-editor of new ASCE book, Adventures in Managing Water

“When I’m considering a new job, I ask myself several questions: Will it be fun? Will it be challenging? Will I keep learning and gaining more skills? Will I be contributing to society and to a better environment? Is it where I’d like to live – at least for a while? Will I enjoy and respect those whom I’ll be working with and for? Finally, and least important, will my salary be sufficient?

“Remember, your first job will unlikely be your last one. Certainly mine wasn’t, nor even in the same discipline. Life can be an adventure including the portion of it that involves ‘work.’ If your work becomes your hobby, you will be successful. I guarantee it.”

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