How to be a Travelling Engineer

Receiving messages from readers is one of the most rewarding parts of writing this blog. It’s an indicator that I’m not just screaming into the void, and that what I write is more than just a way for me to process my life and all the crazy I’ve encountered, especially in the last couple of years. It reminds me of why I started blogging in the first place – as a means to connect with other people.

One of the most common questions that I receive is from engineering students – or recent graduates – who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives.

“How do you get a job working as a travelling engineer?”

Most of these people know they want to do engineering, and would like the variety and challenge that travel offers, but aren’t exactly sure how to go about it. I’ve touched on this before in articles on getting an overseas internship and a job that allows you to travel (as well as the downsides of a travel-intensive career as a word of warning), but I’m going to write more specifically for people that want to work in engineering.

First off: if you are still at university, go see your careers adviser. University engineering departments typically have strong links with both industry and the careers service. It is in their interest to make sure their graduates are 1. highly employable, and 2. employed quickly after graduation. Therefore a good place to start is there, be it for information on companies, networking opportunities, interview and job-hunting skills, or even just a little more clarity in what you want to achieve in your upcoming career.

If you are already in employment at an engineering firm, speak to HR or your manager about opportunities to travel. If no one in your company knows you are open to those opportunities, those opportunities will most likely pass you by. My manager from my first job and I both connected over travel, and as a result of that he give me priority for going to work in Myanmar – an opportunity that was my most enjoyable work trip for that company and led to a whole host of new opportunities and friendships. My openness to travel (and most importantly get the job done) led to repeated opportunities and increased responsibilities. Again, it’s in a company’s interest to keep their employees happy and motivated, as well as giving them opportunities to grow professionally.

So your first point of call is to dip into resources you already have available. As part of this process you will also need to be doing some self-assessment, to work out where your strengths and areas for improvement are, and how you can leverage that for the future.

Next, you need to start identifying opportunities for work – you need to get a good understanding of your industry – or the industries you have the potential to work in. You have a lot of different job options to look at, for example:

  • Jobs that demand frequent travel, such as field service engineering, often with contractor/services companies.
  • Jobs within large, multinational corporations, that have multiple opportunities for growth, travel and secondment.
  • Jobs in other countries – many countries worldwide have severe shortages of engineers coming through from university locally and have to recruit internationally. Check also which countries you can work in easily – for example EU citizens have freedom of work and movement to all member counties.
  • Jobs in/near cities with major international airports – transportation links are part of the reason companies might base themselves where they are (alternatively this gives you an opportunity to easily travel at the weekends instead of with work).

If you see a company or job that piques your interest, look at similar companies in the same field (Google searching their main competitors is always a surefire way to widen your search). Sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn can also give alternative job or company suggestions. I strongly recommend looking at YouTube, which can give a much better idea of what it is like working for company X or industry Y, so subscribe to some channels and watch some recommended videos. Again the career’s service can help direct you to similar companies, and reading publications by your professional body can also feed you ideas.

Now you should have a good few ideas of where to look and what you can offer a company. At this point, if you haven’t already, you should really be networking. Networking is not throwing out business cards willy-nilly and some champagne mixer. Essentially networking is building a group of contacts for a 2-way flow of information, in this case professional. Monster has a very straightforward article explaining it for beginners. It’s not difficult or scary, but does take a little bit of work, and the results aren’t immediate. A little bit of networking with the right people in Myanmar in 2013, keeping in touch and showing interest in their lives and careers, helped me land my job in aid work in over a year later in 2014.

At this point, networking should be more of an information gathering exercise. Ask the people you meet about their jobs, what are the pros and cons, what do they enjoy most, how did they end up doing that job, what is their vision for their career, what is the workplace like, how is the industry changing, what would they do different in their career… etc. Be interested. That in turn allows you to ask for advice that relates to your own career and professional development – are you the right kind of personality, are there any gaps in your CV they recommend you work on, what are common interview questions etc… The more information you arm yourself with at this stage, the clearer an idea of the options before you which means you can make informed decisions, as well as be more prepared for the job hunt and interviews.

Finally comes the job hunt itself. At this point you should have a well-rounded (and well written) CV of good academic performance (you don’t have to be top of the class), extra-curricular activities, and (ideally) practical work experience. From networking you should be able to have a better idea of the recruiting schedules for some companies, hidden opportunities, what hiring managers look for in applications and how the interview process works. When you pull together your applications, check your spelling and grammar, and spend time on them, especially your preferred jobs, always tailoring the CV to the job. Keep a record of applications you’ve put in and of upcoming closing dates, if a reasonable amount of time has passed with no news, you can call to check progress or collect feedback if you haven’t been successful. The job hunt is often more work than the actual job itself, and involves a lot of refining your approach and your applications.

Ultimately don’t be discouraged, and keep cycling through these steps until you get a clear direction and action plan for your career. If at first you aren’t successful getting the exact job you want, don’t panic! Other opportunities will be presenting themselves, and if necessary it is more than acceptable to take a job for a year or so in order to build your skills and experience (and pay the bills), continue to expand your network and set yourself up to springboard to a more ideal role in the future. So long as you have a goal in mind and make the most of opportunities you receive, this isn’t time wasted.

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