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Mechanical engineers enjoying solving problems, doing so with strong math, science and analytical skills. But if this is your career choice, it’s important to realize that you don’t solve problems in a vacuum -- there are always other people involved and that means you need to communicate to and with other individuals. You’ll have to muster both oral and verbal communication skills -- and often incorporate graphics -- to describe your work and explain it to others. Also, engineers often work on teams, and a vital but often overlooked communication skill for seamless teamwork is listening.
Acquiring Work Projects
You will need to communicate before you even get a job -- and this applies whether you are applying for a job as a mechanical engineer at an automotive plant or at an engineering firm. You will need to convince your prospective employer that you can listen to others describe problems to you so that you can come up with a design solution for them. Engineering firms often submit competitive proposals to bid on prospective client jobs. These proposals typically include written specifications, as well as personal presentations in front of prospective clients -- including non-engineers, so you will have to use a combination of industry jargon, layman terminology and metaphorical examples to illustrate complex concepts.
Playing Well With Others
Expect to be a part of a team that includes other engineers -- mechanical or other types -- as well as non-engineers. For example, anything automated that you design will likely require close coordination with software developers and engineers. Further, these and other key personnel may not be in the same facility as you, so expect an exchange of detailed and clear emails, or telephone conversation without the benefit of absorbing nonverbal cues to help you decipher meaning and intent. Listening is key when working in a team so you understand what each member is contributing. You also need to gauge whether they understand your mechanical concepts.
Getting the Job Done
You will generate a lot of written communication for each job you do. For example, you will detail both your thoughts and your tasks on lengthy jobs in a project notebook. If you get stuck at a point later on, you can go back and read what you’ve tried and why. It also serves as a reference for any presentations or updates you need to give to your supervisors or clients, or for anyone who makes modifications later. Some mechanical engineering tasks will require you to write technical operating manuals geared toward users. You may also need to write specifications for other engineers working on other parts of the job. Always expect to write routine administrative communications such as memorandums and emails with progress updates or for things like budgetary concerns if a job is taking longer than anticipated.
There's Some Explaining to Do
You will always be accountable to someone, whether it’s a supervisor, a client or, in some instances, to the public. This means that in addition to taking copious notes and writing technical materials, you need to give verbal presentations. A job may require periodic updates to a lone individual or brief presentations in front of a board of directors or city council. Understanding your audience is key to your presentation; if you are describing how to use a tool that you designed, you need to state how to do something instead of just telling the user how to do it. Fellow engineers prefer concise and brief explanations, while a layperson might do well with more narrative and non-technical examples.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.
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