Finding Your Career

OVERVIEW

This section outlines basic considerations for evaluating employment opportunities. Not every company, position, and career opportunity is for everyone. We encourage individuals to learn more about a variety of organizations by getting to know their people, clients, culture, and ways of doing business. Choosing a career path and an organization to work with is a significant decision, and for many individuals it is the biggest decision they will face directly after completing college. It is important to take the time and effort necessary to make an informed and thoughtful decision, which will likely have lasting impacts.

HOW DO I START?

There are several common pitfalls that plague career-seekers. The basic one is confusing a "job" with a "career." Whether an individual is about to enter the professional world or is already part of it, they should take strides to ensure the job they finally accept can lead to a rewarding and fulfilling career. Choosing a position requires research and careful decision making. Don't accept a position just because it was offered. Consider if the company you are aligning yourself with fits your needs, goals, values, work environment, and expectations. Beyond that, what benefits and value do you bring to the company? Do you have something to offer that will enable you to be a valued contributor? Will your position allow you to contribute to the profession? Will it allow you to grow, develop, and pass your experiences on to the next generation? Try to know what you want. If you don't yet know or just aren't sure, spend some time exploring a broad range of career options as opposed to "job hunting."

Before beginning your career search, ask yourself a few basic questions that will help to guide your search. For example:

  1. What kind of "corporate culture" do you seek? (e.g., environment, philosophy, attitude, size, etc.)
  2. What are your location preferences/constraints, if any, and how important are they to you?
  3. What is your ideal office environment? (e.g., small office, large office, remote location, etc.)
  4. Do you like/want to travel?
  5. Is mentoring important to you?
  6. Do you want a position that is flexible, one that allows you to learn a broad range of skills, or do you prefer a more specialized position with well-defined responsibilities?
  7. How important is community service to you? How important is it to you that the company you work for is committed to community service?
  8. Would you like to get to know your co-workers outside of the office, or would you rather keep your work life separate from your "real" life?
  9. What are your weekly time constraints? Are you willing to work more than forty hours, to stay late on occasion, or to participate in evening meetings?
  10. Are you looking for a well-defined career path or would you prefer one with flexibility (even if that means less clarity and more personal responsibility)? Now that you've considered some potential factors that will differentiate employers, it is time to begin your search.

HOW DO I FIND POTENTIAL EMPLOYERS/OPPORTUNITIES?

One great way for students to find opportunities is to speak with college guidance counselors, professors, or other students who have returned to school after working for a few years.

Professionals seeking new opportunities can also find guidance in professional societies, through outside professional contacts, and by reading professional publications and newsletters.

Note: Beware of the human resources black hole. Don't just email, mail, or fax a resume and wait for a response. Be proactive! Call and make sure the resume was received and offer a verbal expression of your interest in the company and/or position. Also, beware of the "shotgun" resume. Don't just make one resume and submit it to all companies you contact. Write a cover letter explaining why you are interested and why they should be interested in you. Tailor your resume to highlight the skills, experiences, etc., you have that will be most relevant to each potential employer.

WHAT DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF ENGINEERING ARE IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER?

PUBLIC V. PRIVATE

Private

  1. Transportation professionals in the private sector work across a wide range of geographic and jurisdictional boundaries. They might work in many different cities, counties, and states (even countries), and their clients can include private developers, neighborhood groups, institutions, attorneys and government officials at all levels.

  2. Some professionals who work in the private sector are involved in a full range of projects while others remain very specialized. The same level of diversity can be seen in the private companies themselves: Some stay focused on one geographic/specialty area, others offer a broad distribution of services.

  3. Professionals in the private sector provide advice, recommendations, and on-site assistance but they do not generally have final ownership, authority, or decision-making control over key investment or programmatic decisions related to the public transportation infrastructure.

  4. The people who most enjoy private practice are usually those who enjoy the fast pace of a service-oriented environment, revel in the geographic and technical diversity of experiences and opportunities, and are not put off by their lack of ownership and authority.

Public

  1. Transportation engineers/planners in the public sector serve in numerous municipal, regional, or federal government positions. Opportunities to work in the public arena can be found in every geographic area and the influence area of these opportunities is generally limited to the jurisdictional boundaries of the public agency.

  2. Like their private-sector colleagues, public transportation professionals can focus on a very specialized topic or can maintain a very broad range of duties and responsibilities.

  3. Many public transportation professionals interact frequently with the general public and therefore also benefit from good written and oral communication skills. Because the public agencies for which they work have ownership over certain portions of the transportation infrastructure, publicly employed professionals have the additional opportunity to exercise ownership authority and decision-making.

  4. The people who most enjoy public service are usually those who want to establish a long and sustained relationship with a specific geographic area and population, who revel in the prospect of being involved in the entire life cycle of individual projects and programs, who want an ownership level of involvement in the publicly-owned infrastructure, and who are not put off by their inability to work across a wide range of geographic and institutional conditions.

POLICYMAKING, PLANNING, DESIGNING/CONSTRUCTING VERSUS OPERATING/MAINTAINING

Planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance are all essential components to building and sustaining an effective transportation infrastructure that aims to enhance the quality of life in our communities. You might have a stronger affinity for one of these components than for the others, but you will need to be familiar and comfortable with them all if you want to maximize your impact on communities as well as your personal long-term success.

Do you like the creative side of problem solving? Do you enjoy considering a wide range of issues and a variety of possible solutions? Do you enjoy balancing competing interests and objectives to identify solutions that best meet the widest range of user needs? Do you enjoy considering the long-term needs and establishing solutions that may have multifaceted elements ranging from policy to implementation? "Policymaking, Planning, Designing/Constructing" are the areas where you can be actively engaged to consider a broad range of needs and possible solutions that lead to a specific plan.

Are you one who likes seeing a solution implemented? Do you prefer to have a plan defined and be the one who makes that plan a reality? Do you like the challenges of communicating the complex elements of a concept to those who are responsible for actually completing the solution? Do you prefer clear direction on your purpose versus the wide range of variables that can arise? Are you detail oriented and do you enjoy working out scheduling needs and unique technical solutions? Some people who are especially capable of implementing solutions take pride in meeting the challenges of implementing a project and seeing the concept made a reality. If this sounds like you, you may be more interested in the "Operating/Maintaining" category.

There are some engineers who make very good planners, just like there are some planners who successfully apply the problem-solving skills of engineers. This is one of the fun parts of our profession: the flexibility to match your interests and strengths with an employer's needs. If you prefer implementing projects, you might consider firms or agencies that focus on these areas. If you enjoy the broader planning perspective and appreciate challenges and considering a wide range of needs to develop a solution, you might wish to seek firms or agencies that are engaged in planning or pre-design activities. Whatever the case, knowing your personal strengths, personality, and aspirations is instrumental in finding the work sector, company, and job that give you the best chance for success in a personally satisfying career.

MULTIDISCIPLINARY VS. SPECIALTY

Some agencies or firms are responsible for a variety of technical needs. A small public agency may have a smaller staff that addresses a diverse range of needs. On a given day, one might be responsible for solving problems from a larger pool of options. Some private firms offer a wide range of services. These firms pride themselves on being a "one-stop shop" that can provide any service a client might need. Working for this type of firm or agency can provide a wide range of experiences and project types. However, because of the breadth in range of services and skills, it's possible a person may not necessarily attain a significant depth in one area. These individuals are especially valued for the wide range of skills and experiences they bring to bear.

Larger agencies often divide their technical needs between departments or divisions. Someone in "design" may not participate in projects that are the responsibility of "planning." Many private firms focus on a specialty such as environmental planning or traffic engineering. Whether public or private, individuals in these specialty areas may attain skills and experiences in a relatively focused specialty area. These individuals learn beyond the fundamentals of that specialty area and may attain a depth of knowledge that allows them to be especially qualified in one? area.

You should consider your own interests of being a generalist or specialist and consider agencies or firms that will create the most appropriate environment. Considering these basic needs may help you focus on a specific agency or firm.

TRANSPORTATION ENGINEERING, TRANSPORTATION PLANNING, TRANSPORTATION RESEARCH

TRANSPORTATION ENGINEERING

Transportation engineers aim to ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. Transportation engineering is primarily concerned with motorized road transportation. This includes areas such as queuing theory, traffic flow planning, roadway geometric design, and driver behavior patterns. Simulation of traffic operation is performed through use of trip generation and traffic assignment algorithms. Transportation engineering also concerns other modes of transportation such as locating and designing airports, seaports, canals, shipping ways, as well as transit planning and design (bus, subway, and commuter rail).

The design aspects of transportation engineering include the sizing of transportation facilities (capacity), determining the materials and thickness used in pavement, and designing the geometry (vertical and horizontal alignment) of roadways.

Operations and management ensure that vehicles move smoothly. Traditional elements include signing, signals, and markings. Newer technologies involve Intelligent Transportation Systems, Advanced Traveler Information Systems, variable message signs, and Advanced Traffic Control Systems (such as ramp meters).

TRANSPORTATION PLANNING

Transportation planning takes a long-term look at transportation facilities (generally streets, highways, and transit lines) and how they will operate in the future. Transportation planning defines goals and objectives, identifies problems, generates and evaluates alternatives, and develops a plan for implementation.

TRANSPORTATION RESEARCH

Research is needed in all areas of transportation. Research provides the sound technical backing for field work and represents a continued and deeper understanding of the tools and theories upon which the profession is built. Transportation solutions, goals, and methodologies must continue to be reviewed and monitored, while being adapted to our ever-changing world. The goals of efficient, economical, and safe transportation depend on more effectively managing, operating, and enhancing transportation facilities. The overriding purpose of each research project is to contribute to bettering transportation by systematically developing and applying methods for improving the performance of the existing multimodal transportation system.

At KAI, I really enjoy the collaboration and work across offices. I also like the variety of projects and the ability to work on so many different types of projects in different areas of the U.S.

Alexandra Jahnle, Transportation Analyst, Reston