Should You Take A Non-Engineering Assignment?…It Depends

Last week, I was fortunate to meet a young engineer (I’ll call him Dave) while at a client for whom I was doing some contract work. Our common connections around mechanical engineering and southeastern Wisconsin allowed us to hit it off immediately. 

Diverging Paths

CC image courtesy of Daniel Oines on Flickr

As Dave and I talked, he shared that he had just recently moved to a product support role. Prior to that he had been doing design engineering, which was the position he hired into after graduation. It was also something he really enjoyed. 

An Uncomfortable Twinge In My Stomach

When he shared this, I immediately felt a twinge inside of me and I wondered silently to myself, “Does he really know what he’s gotten himself into? Why did he make the change?…And does he realize it might be difficult to reenter engineering later if he wants to?”

I need to tell you that my internal questions were the result of some personal experiences, along with those of some engineers I had met in the past during my recruiting days. They had nothing to do with Dave. 

In fact, as he and I talked more, I learned that Dave had done a nice job of thinking things through before he made the move to the product support role.

The thoroughness of his decision process is what prompted me to write this post. I felt that sharing some of Dave’s thoughts might help some readers who may be faced with a similar “fork in the career road” someday.

Consider These 4 Questions Before Making A Move

While I know they won’t cover every situation, here are the key questions and points that Dave considered before making his change:

  1. How will this change impact those closest to me (spouse, kids, etc.)?
    Dave’s situation was a little unique. His wife was considering a job in a different city. 

    For Dave to stay with his current employer, his only short term option in the new city was to move out of design engineering and into a product support role. From a career balance perspective, it seemed like a good move for both of them.

    Even if his wife hadn’t been making her change, the question around balancing their career lives with their home lives was a huge one. The wants and needs of those closest to us are important factors to consider as we navigate our careers.

  2. Will the non-engineering role offer new skills that will be valuable in future engineering assignments, and to my career overall?
    Ideally, your research and investigation will bring you an answer of yes to this question, but it doesn’t have to always be yes in order for you to go ahead with the change. 

    Consider Dave’s example. While he knew his answer to this one was yes, it could have been no, and he still might have made the move because of the opportunity his wife had available to her. As in #1 above, it’s about balance and meeting everyone’s needs.

  3. Does the company history and culture seem to support career moves like this?
    In other words, will a return to engineering be a good possibility down the road? 

    Dave had enough understanding of his company (including input from extended family employed there) to know that engineers who gained related experience outside of their core areas of engineering were often looked upon favorably. 

  4. Do I have a reputation and relationships that will work to my advantage when I want to return to engineering?
    Dave knew that his past performance was solid, but he made a point to also have conversations with some managers, and others, who might be key to helping him return to engineering down the road. He needed to know if they were “on his side”. Fortunately, he got a thumbs up from those he spoke with. 

    If you’re a regular ECL reader, you already know that I hammer constantly on the need for us to be building and strengthening our relationships on a daily basis. Having others who will support our career pursuits is only one of many, many reasons that we need to constantly be building strong relationships.

    I firmly believe that reputation and relationship management are both critical to our ability to do outstanding engineering work. 

There are certainly other questions you might want to work through if you’re considering a move to a non-engineering assignment, but answering these four should provide a nice starting point for making a decision you’re comfortable with. 

Question: As an engineer, what pros and cons have you experienced by taking “non-engineering” roles in your career? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Readers: One of the best ways to begin cultivating strong relationships is by conducting informational interviews.  These conversations can also help you to be ready to make career decisions like Dave was faced with. My FREE 64-page STRAIGHT TALK GUIDE titled, CONDUCTING INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS, reveals exactly how to make these conversations happen. Check it out here.

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