Diversity, equality and inclusion

Top female engineers give students their tips for graduate career success

24 Nov 2023, 22:30

Here are the most useful careers hints and tips we heard at targetjobs’ Future Female Engineers networking event, from seeking out role models to being confident.

Female students at the Future Female Engineers event

When we attended Future female engineers , a networking day for female engineering students, we were lucky enough to sit in on various sessions. The event included a panel discussion with senior female engineers, a ‘how to get hired’ skills workshop run by recruiters and speeches by Caroline Norris, a senior engineer at Atkins, and Roma Agrawal, a structural engineer at AECOM. By the end of the day, our brains were full of words of wisdom on how to follow in these women’s footsteps. You’ll find five of the best tips we heard below.

You can head to the Future female engineers page to find out more and register for any open events. Or, if you need a little bit more convincing, take a look at the five reasons we think it’s worth it .

1. Seek out role models and mentors…and eventually become a mentor to junior graduates yourself

This nugget of advice cropped up several times throughout the day. You’ll most likely be given a mentor once you start your engineering career but it’s also good to start identifying role models and mentors while you’re at university. The recruiters and engineers at the event had these tips to share:

  • ‘Seek out your own mentors as well as the ones assigned to you. If you meet somebody you think can help you, ask them if they’d be happy to mentor you. Nine times out of ten, they’ll say yes.’ Melissa Amouzandeh, the emerging talent acquisition manager at Network Rail .
  • ‘Don’t assume that your role models need to be female. I see plenty of skills and qualities in male colleagues that I can learn a lot from.’ Caroline Norris, a senior engineer at Atkins .
  • ‘Remember that your relationship with your mentor doesn’t need to be a formal one. A mentor can be anyone.’ Roma Agrawal, a structural engineer at AECOM.

You could find a mentor in a colleague who you call on for advice and work alongside day-to-day, or a colleague who you catch up with now and then over a cup of coffee.

Nicola Reid, a chartered environmental geologist at Mott MacDonald , also encouraged the students in the room to become mentors themselves a bit further on in their careers, explaining how it gave her a confidence boost: ‘I really felt like an engineer once I started mentoring. Once I started telling people what I knew, I realised just how much I knew.’

2. Don’t underestimate the value of communication and people skills in engineering

The engineers were also unanimous that people skills are just as important as your technical know-how. This is because a big part of any engineering job is communicating with, and working alongside, your colleagues.

‘People and attitudes can be quite difficult to manoeuvre and it can be tricky to persuade people to “buy in” to your idea,’ said Wendy Tipper, an associate and programme manager at Arup . ‘You’ll need to be able to convince them that yours is the right solution so good people skills and persuasive tactics are very useful.’

Roma also touched on the importance of people skills: ‘Problems are not solved by one person. Every day I’m on the phone to architects and in meetings with other engineers. The way you interact with other people is very important.’ Somebody who actively participates in discussions, who shares their ideas, listens to other people and shows an interest in their opinions will achieve much better results than somebody who doesn’t.

These skills will help you set yourself apart and progress to a management position. ‘What differentiated the leaders in my firm from other engineers is their ability to connect, influence and build relationships,’ she added.

So, when it comes to writing your graduate job applications and attending interviews, remember to show off your soft skills as well as your technical ability. Make sure you write and talk about examples of when you’ve developed key skills, including teamwork, communication and the ability to build relationships. You could draw on examples from your degree, such as giving a group presentation; from your work experience, such as working together to meet an important deadline; and from your extracurricular activities, such as playing for a football team.

3. Female engineers don’t need to ‘man up’

It might sound a bit cheesy, but it’s important to be yourself. In fact, everybody at this event felt strongly about this point and were eager to stamp out the myth that female engineers need to ‘act like men’ to fit in.

‘We’re not looking for women who can emulate typically "male" behaviours,’ said Melissa . ‘You don’t need to change who you are or how you behave to be an engineer.’

In fact, your gender doesn’t need to be part of the picture. Caroline added: ‘I don’t consider myself to be a female engineer; I’m just an engineer. I’ve never ever felt discriminated against, I’ve never not had opportunities and my judgement has never been questioned.’

4. Exude confidence while at work

As Roma put it perfectly, ‘Confidence will help you get your first job, speak up in meetings, produce your best work, negotiate salaries, put yourself forward for promotions, be an influential leader and, most importantly, be happy.’

If you’re sat there thinking ‘but feeling confident isn’t that simple’, don’t worry, we touched on that too! Ever heard of impostor syndrome? Roma asked everybody in the room (students, recruiters and experienced engineers) to put their hand up if they’d ever felt like a fraud who had fooled people into thinking they’re more intelligent than they are. Most people put their hands up, so it’s fair to say that confidence doesn’t come easily to many.

Roma assured the room that she feels that way too and has learned how to get past it. ‘I have to calm myself down and tell myself I do know what I’m talking about. After all, I’ve worked on five or six structures, including The Shard, and they’re all still standing.’

If all else fails, she recommended the fake it ‘til you make it method: ‘I’ve gone very far in life by faking confidence. It doesn’t matter if I’m terrified; I’m going to do it anyway. And it gets easier every time you do it.’

5. Keep pushing yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone in your job

Each and every engineer at the event advocated pushing yourself and putting yourself forward for more responsibility as much as possible. Advice we heard from the engineers included:

  • ‘Pushing yourself will help develop your confidence. Having responsibility was a good thing for me as I thought “If this goes wrong, it’s my fault”. And, when it didn’t go wrong after all, my confidence grew.’ Sarah Gealy, a regional director at AECOM .
  • ‘Always consider jobs or projects that are outside your comfort zone. Your initial assumptions can be wrong and an outside-the-box opportunity could be the best one for you.’ Katie Reynolds, an agent at Balfour Beatty .

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