The Surprising Quality Every Engineer Needs to Have

The world of engineering is amorphous and dynamic. From cybersecurity to network engineering, the demand to “stand out” has never been more important.

SOLUTE is a San Diego-based, recognized industry leader in providing engineering, aviation, and training, and other consulting services to the U.S. government and prime government contractors. SOLUTE’s depth of technical expertise, extensive operational military experience, and successful history of contract support to the Department of Defense (DoD) provides a uniquely trusted and influential skill-set to our clients (Copied from SOLUTE).

I had the opportunity to interview Dominic Holt, Director of Advanced Concepts, and had a conversation on how recent graduates can “stand out” from the rest.


THE BASICS

Me: What makes SOLUTE unique?

Dom: SOLUTE is unique because we use newer technologies. All our projects involve research and development for government projects so our products are always on the cutting edge of technology.

Me: What are you looking for in recent grads?

Dom: Well for starters, we’re a small company so they’re going to have to wear a lot of different hats. They will have to grow extremely quickly. They might be able to move up in the company faster if they are willing to meet this challenge. We’re looking for people who are sharp with technology but who are also entrepreneurial. For example, can they figure out how to generate revenue, talk to people, and sell? Are they good technically? Can they communicate well and grow in different ways? At the end of the day, they have to be self-motivated and growth oriented.

Unfortunately, what I’ve seen in the past is that we’ve had students who were really sharp technologically but weren’t able to communicate well. All engineers have to work on teams and if they can’t communicate, they won’t be marketable.

WHAT EVERY ENGINEER NEEDS TO BE ABLE TO DO

Me: So then, how do engineers develop the skill of communication?

Dom: There are a lot of things they could do. They can work on presentations or join Toastmasters. They have to practice developing those skills, and then they have to ask people for feedback and ask if they understood it.

At my level, my partner and I will sit across from each other regularly and critique each other. We have to communicate with lots of customers and we have our own visions about how we communicate. We help sharpen each other. Communication runs deep across the entire organization.

TECHNICAL SKILLS

Me: Going back to the technical side, what are some things students HAVE TO know? How do you test their proficiency?

Dom: It depends on what kind of engineer they are. If they are a software engineers, they have to know some programming languages already. We’re looking for people who can set themselves apart. If they are looking for an entry-level position, that’s hard to do because they might not have much experience. Nowadays, there are a lot of open source platforms and it’s easy to spend time creating a project on your own. Anything you can do to show us that you’re interested in technology and care about what you’re doing.

Our interview process includes a conversation on the phone to see if they fit culturally. Then we go into an in-person technical interview at our office, which is about one to two hours and includes coding exercises. We ask questions about what they did in their last job — questions related to design and technology. At the end of the day, we want to see how they problem solve. We don’t expect them to get it all right but we want to see how they’re thinking.

For systems engineers and network engineers, we want to know if they have certifications or if they are planning on getting them. Have they architected something before? There are few who want to build products and a lot of people want to work on the operations. Here, we are focus more on building the products.

Development and Operations (Dev/Ops) is where development and operations meet. It’s kind of like a system administration combined with software engineering, and it’s becoming more and more common. Entry level is paid more but there are lots of tools in this ecosystem that can be integrated in different ways. Any experience with Amazon Web Services, other cloud computing infrastructures, or anything else that ties in with big data ecosystem is very useful.

Me: By the way, I’m not an engineer so all of this sounds like a foreign language to me but, wow, that’s super helpful.

HOW IMPORTANT IS A RESUME?

Me: Do you look at the resume first?

Dom: Yes, it’s the first thing we look at because it’s going to to be submitted online through our application process. I typically spend on average 10 to 15 seconds looking at a resume.

Me: Can I show you a resume?

Dom: Sure…

(Dom takes a few minutes to glance at this sample resume)

Just in general, we check where the candidate lives. Relocations can be expensive especially for entry-level positions and applicants will have an edge up if they live in town.

I look at profiles (or objectives) at the top of resume because it helps me get to know them a little bit. Be careful not to misspell words and be sure to write in full sentences.

Regarding college, in the real world, it doesn’t matter where you went to college unless you went to Stanford or M.I.T. or something like that. Other than that it’s not a huge deal.

I look at what degree you’re going after. Degree matters. Some people have math degrees, but I prefer software degrees. We are looking for the exact degree for the particular position.

I don’t care about coursework unless it’s something really interesting and crazy. I don’t care about your GPA but skills are really important.

But in the skills section make sure to put what level of proficiency you have. For example, how many years of experience do you have with each skill? It’s cool to see a resume with 20 different technologies but we will poke holes in your proficiency level if it’s not very deep. Meaning, if your experience is only as deep as downloading the program on your computer, we will find out and it won’t be good. It would be preferable to take two or three skills and become very proficient at them.

LET’S GET DOWN TO THE NITTY GRITTY

Me: What platforms should students use as they prepare to get a job from you?

Dom: I definitely look at LinkedIn. After people apply on our website, I go through their profile to see what’s on it. Every employer is different but this is what I do.

Me: What are you looking for in a LinkedIn profile?

Dom: First, that they filled it out. A lot of people haven’t. Also, I caution people not to use their childhood email addresses. It’s basic but we may move past your resume if your email isn’t professional.

Interestingly enough, what most people don’t realize is that these job aggregate websites pull in candidates’ social media feeds so be careful on what’s out there and what photos or posts you choose to share. They will pull up Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and if you put a lot of unprofessional stuff up there you might create the wrong impression.

Me: I’m glad to hear that your company reviews LinkedIn profiles.

Dom: If someone wrote a recommendation on your profile, I will look at it. If you link to a project you worked on, I will look at it. I do look at that stuff.

SO YOU’RE TELLING ME I SHOULD JUST BUILD AN APP?… PRECISELY!

Me: Can you elaborate on what you mean by projects?

Dom: It’s okay if you list your school projects but what I really like to see are projects that the student has done outside of school. Examples would be if someone made a game on their own or built something to help with homework. It doesn’t take much to build an app these days. I like to see more complicated ones or I want to see that they started a business with one. There are different things they can do to set themselves apart.

Me: How do they showcase this?

Dom: Anywhere. On LinkedIn or Youtube. I want to be able to see it and this will set a candidate apart.

On another note: Do not put things on here that are not relevant to the job. It’s great that you were a sales associate for Target, but it’s not a good use of space on a resume. If you don’t have anything relevant, build something and put that on your resume.

HUMBLE PIE

Me: Finally, how do you determine if someone is a good fit for your culture?

Dom: Ultimately, they have to be a good communicator because if nobody understands you then you won’t be able to be an effective contributor on the team. Beyond that, we look for people who are humble. It’s okay to be awesome at what you do but when you work and your skills shine through, you won’t have to brag about it. At SOLUTE, everyone knows how to code and if you are good at your job everybody will know it. Be a person who people want to be around. Be friendly and open to new experiences, new people, and new situations.


Danny Kim is a career coach at Point Loma Nazarene University. Using a Strengths-Based Leadership approach, he collaborates with individuals to design their call through meaningful experiences. Check out Danny’s blog at: www.dannykimm.com.

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