January 2018


Management: Active career management

A career involves a series of decisions and experiences that improve a person’s knowledge, competencies and personal fulfillment.

Shahani, G., McDermott, J., ShureLine Construction

A career involves a series of decisions and experiences that improve a person’s knowledge, competencies and personal fulfillment. While experiences/training may be assigned by a supervisor who believes that it would be beneficial for career development, others could be an unexpected surprise. Regardless of the outcome, such experiences can put a person in the optimum position for success. It is important to actively manage a career without relying on others.

This is especially true in today’s dynamic marketplace, where oil price fluctuations have become intense and industry is being reconfigured with mergers, acquisitions and the inevitable downsizing. These trends are widespread across most market sectors, but this column focuses on the chemical and refining industries. Recent examples of high-profile mergers include DowDuPont, Bayer and Monsanto, and Praxair and Linde. In this turbulent and uncertain environment, employees may be transferred into other roles, geographies and functions, and departments may be downsized. To survive and prosper, specific skills must be developed, and all employees should have an actionable plan.

Market awareness

Throughout their careers, engineers should develop an understanding of the markets, economy, industry trends and geopolitics. In the digital world, this information is easy to obtain from the Internet, as well as numerous other information services. For example, Google provides subscribers with free email alerts on any number of topics, including specific companies, climate change, environmental regulations and political events.

Events around the world can also impact an individual’s career in this globally interconnected economy. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a broad general awareness beyond our own immediate horizons. Once this information is collected and compiled, the next step is to “connect the dots,” which entails translating big picture events and understanding their effect on an individual situation. For example, if a corporation has announced plans to open a research and development (R&D) center or engineering office in a country where costs are lower, then regional growth can be a potential result. However, it can also result in the consolidation of redundant job positions at other locations.

Skill development

To survive and prosper in this challenging environment, it is essential to continually augment a skill set. This is sometimes called “sharpening your saw,” which refers to developing adjacent and complementary skills.1 For example, an R&D engineer should make a conscious effort to study and master market research and economic evaluation, both of which are critical to developing new R&D projects. Likewise, a process engineer may seek to increase their knowledge of instrumentation and controls. This “sharpening of the saw” is an effective way to differentiate oneself in the marketplace. For some employees, the smartest career move may be to pass up a promotion and instead take a horizontal transfer to gain adjacent skills. This can prove to be more advantageous in the long term and position them for a more gratifying career for a longer period of time.

In addition to “hard” technical skills, it is equally important to master soft skills, such as report writing, presentation and networking. At the end of the day, an engineer has to sell their ideas and capabilities. The importance of networking cannot be overemphasized.2


To succeed at business, a clear and detailed plan is needed. A good plan is like a roadmap that shows the clear path to the final destination. It is also important to have a clear understanding of the required resources needed to reach that destination. In the context of career management, it is important for employees to consider how they can differentiate themselves in the marketplace by virtue of skills, knowledge and education. In the workplace, modesty is not a virtue—employees must be prepared to sell themselves. Everyone should prepare and memorize a 2-min. “elevator pitch.” It is critical to make a strong and quick introduction, describe experience and skills, and detail how that employee can help a prospective employer/customer. Employees must actively pursue what they want, and not be held back by a fear of failure. Additional tools include:

  • A single-page resume that should be results oriented
  • A minimum of three references
  • A LinkedIn profile with recommendations.

Once an interview has been arranged, it is critical to be prepared. Good grooming, punctuality and a professional demeanor determine the first impression.

Each individual should tailor their own active career management strategy. While this article is not meant to be prescriptive, it is essential for everyone to take charge of their career and be prepared. HP


  1. Covey, S. R., The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster, 1989.
  2. Rentschler, C. and G. Shahani, “An engineer’s guide to networking,” Hydrocarbon Processing, August 2016.

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