Ask Anthony: What if I am unhappy in my current civil engineering position?

I have recently received a lot of requests from civil engineers who are not happy in their positions and are looking for ways to increase happiness and enjoyment in their jobs. So, I thought I would share some specific strategies in this post on how one might do that.

A lot of these requests have come from civil engineering professionals who choose a discipline upon graduation (structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, etc.) and then after practicing for two to five years, decide it’s not for them. They simply aren’t enjoying it.

Well, the good news is that because civil engineering is such a broad discipline, you have several steps you can take if you find yourself in this situation. Here are some of them:

1- First, determine whether it’s the job or the profession that you don’t like. There is a big difference here. Is it the particular discipline of civil engineering you’re in, including the type of work you do, that you don’t like? Or is it your job with your current employer that has you dissatisfied? Some civil engineers aren’t happy with their salaries, working conditions, or the types of projects they are working on, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like the disciplines they practice in. A change of employers might drive more happiness while keeping you in the same discipline.

2- If you don’t enjoy the civil engineering discipline you’ve chosen, create a plan to try other disciplines. This solution may be a tricky one in that it isn’t that easy to try out different civil engineering disciplines, unless of course you work for a firm that offers multiple services and they are OK with you working in different departments over time. I started my career in structural engineering but also had the chance to try out some geotechnical engineering, and ultimately settled in land development. This was in large part due to the fact that I worked for a multidisciplinary company that gave me the flexibility to work across teams. To be proactive in this regard, it may be helpful to specifically choose a company like this to work for early on in your career. This doesn’t have to be a huge company, either – the firm I worked for employed about 350 professionals at the time.

3- Find a mentor in the civil engineering world who can help you navigate this challenge. A career mentor can be very helpful in navigating stressful career situations like this one. Not only can they provide advice on how to become happier or how to find the right job, but they will often have a network that they can lean on to help you make it happen.

4- Become very active in your local professional association chapter. Meeting more people in the civil engineering world can only open you up to more opportunities for helping to find the pathways that will be best for your career. You might also learn more about other engineering disciplines through your volunteer work, again producing more options.

5- Stay positive and know that the absolute worst-case scenario probably isn’t that bad. At the end of the day, your degree in engineering is flexible, and if you wanted to, there are several professions you could transfer into (finance, teaching, etc.) – whereas someone with a business degree couldn’t as easily become an engineer.

So, if you find yourself feeling a little lost in your current position, try to determine why you feel that way and then take any of the steps above that might help you to create a more fulfilling career.

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