Choose the right engineering career and graduate employer

Engineering employers want good graduates, but how do you choose between them? So much depends on the industry you want to work in, the career you want to have, and the life you want to lead.

Engineering organisations offer roles in a wide range of functions, from specialist technology development to commercial and management roles. Different people are suited to very different roles so have a think about what would be good for you:

  • Do you want to develop your technical expertise and become a guru, or be in the thick of troubleshooting production line issues in a manufacturing facility?
  • Do you want to delve into commercial areas such as supply chain management or build experience to move into project management?

If you’re not sure, consider joining a programme that allows you to work in different roles before you specialise.

The size of employer is likely to affect how broad or specific its entry-level roles are. With smaller employers, graduates are likely to be recruited into specific roles, whereas many larger organisations offer rotational graduate programmes that provide experience in a number of different areas.

Joining a larger employer in the engineering industry may offer you the opportunity to undertake commercial placements as well as technical ones, for example spending time in the finance department or in a supply chain role. However, some large employers will take graduates into specific roles while others have a choice of entry routes (for example a technical route scheme and a management route scheme).

Choosing your working environment

All organisations operate differently, even within the same industry. Think about which environment would be right for you: a fast-paced factory, a high-tech design office or an offshore oil rig?

Some positions (eg site engineer) involve spending a lot of time outdoors while others (eg design engineers) are mainly office based. Also consider the balance you’d like between time spent in different places: would you be happy working all week in one location or do you need more variety?

The size of an organisation affects the style of work, the opportunities for graduates and the types of projects you can work on. Large organisations tend to run structured training schemes, provide a good support network and can offer the opportunity to get to know a broad intake of other graduates.

A smaller organisation might award you more responsibility at an early date and may give an overview of all aspects of its work. Niche organisations are a good option if you want to become a technical expert.

What are you prepared to do?

Have a think about your preferences in terms of working life and assess how mobile you are prepared to be.

  • Are you happy to move around the country from client site to client site, or to spend large chunks of time overseas on longer-term project assignments?
  • Would you prefer to stay in one place and be part of a close-knit, office-based team?

Some engineers travel a lot within the UK (for example to different manufacturing sites) or overseas. Oil and gas engineers, for example, generally need to be globally mobile.

Working hours depend on the sort of role you are in. Manufacturing engineers may have to do shift work, for example, whilst those involved in maintenance sometimes work unusual hours.

Obtaining a professional qualification

Consider whether you want to become professionally qualified and, if so, whether you want to take the chartered engineer or incorporated engineer route. The majority of recruiters (but not all) encourage their graduates to become chartered engineers, and as such request either an MEng or a BEng plus masters.

You also need to ask what training and support different employers will give you towards a particular qualification.

Make the match

Try to get a feel for the culture and the work of the employers you feel enthusiastic about. A view from someone on the inside is invaluable, so talk to graduate engineers at careers fairs, and see if friends or relations know people who work at an organisation that interests you. You could also arrange work experience.

Interviews and assessment centres bring further opportunities to get underneath the corporate gloss, so use the recruitment process to gain as much of a feel for the working environment as possible.

Make the most of opportunities to talk to current employees and ask questions of recruiters. If you feel comfortable talking to them, it’s more likely that you’ll feel comfortable working with them.