How can engineers make well-informed career decisions?

Career decisions navigationResearch shows that when most Canadians are faced with important career decisions, they first turn to family, friends and colleagues for guidance. But when you think about it, if you have a toothache, do you consult your friends or co-workers to solve the problem? Chances are you turn to your dentist, a trained professional, for relief. In much the same way, career professionals can help relieve your ‘career ache.’

What should I do to take my career to the next level? How can I navigate this employment transition and find a good job? How can I leverage my international engineering experience for a successful career in Ontario? I don’t yet have my P.Eng. license, but how would my career benefit if I did?

The answers to these career questions emerge from building a critical 21st century skill: career management. Career management skills and knowledge enable engineers to not only progress in their own careers, but also as leaders and project managers who can influence their colleagues’ career development for the better.

  • Career Clarification

There are six important factors that engineers should consider when making career decisions:

1. Desires and values: Most of us want to know that our effort at work is going toward something we define as meaningful. Sometimes it’s challenging to decide what we want, but it can be easier to identify what we don’t want. Try creating a list of ‘dislikes’ about your current job or employment situation, then clarify your desires or values by finding the ‘flipside’ of each dislike.

2. Strengths: Distinguishing between the skills and knowledge you like to use, versus those skills that you’d prefer to use less frequently are vital for making satisfying career choices. Sometimes you can feel ‘stuck’ in your career when you’ve gained proficiency in a skill that you no longer enjoy using.

3. Personal qualities: represent your personality traits, tendencies or how others describe you. These characteristics play an important role in determining the types of positions that you might find challenging, rewarding and enjoyable.

4. Natural interests: are those subject areas (i.e. astronomy, business, law) that you enjoy learning about. These can be rich sources of career ideas.

5. Other people: can have a significant impact on career logistics, for instance, if you have a spouse whose career requires that they work in a particular province.

6. Assets: such as degrees, diplomas and certifications (i.e. PMP, P.Eng.) influence which career doors will be easier to open.

When seeking new career opportunities, taking context and nuance into account is critical for obtaining quality occupational recommendations. Traditional quantitative ‘test-and-tell’ career assessments often miss the mark for this very reason. The career management field, however, is moving toward qualitative methods of career clarification, such as the OneLifeTools/ CareerCycles evidence-based narrative assessment system, which facilitates reflection on your professional and educational experiences.

  • Career exploration

Generally, the job search process shouldn’t begin and end with sifting through job postings online. While job postings are certainly rich sources of information about different jobs, requirements and employers, there are far better ways of landing a job interview than exclusively applying online.

Social science research suggests the best way to learn about a given career area is to talk to someone who has made the decisions you are considering. One-on-one ‘field research’ meetings, employee referral programs and connections with recruiters are also beneficial ways to expand your job search.

What next steps can you take to better manage your career decisions for the future?

We dedicate about 100,000 hours to our chosen careers, and yet research suggests Canadians spend less than nine hours engaged in any organized career management process. It’s never too late to start building your career management skills and knowledge.

Rewarding choices await!


Mark FranklinThis blog post was contributed by Mark Franklin, M.Ed., P.Eng., CMF, practice leader of, a career management social enterprise, and co-founder of Mark teaches career management courses at the University of Toronto, and partners with OSPE to deliver engineering-focused career counselling and professional development. His career insights have appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and the National Post. He also produces and hosts the Career Buzz radio show and podcast.

Career Cycles


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