November 6


PhotoJudy sent me this email:

I graduated with a BSCE from UND in 2009.  I have been trying
to obtain work as a transportation engineer but with the economy basically at a
standstill the opportunities are limited.  I was wondering if you had any
advice on how I could pursue transportation engineering opportunities. 
Although the job postings I have looked at are not specifically requesting a
Master’s in transportation, it seems that is what they are looking for.

My question is this, what are the steps you would suggest in order
to pursue a career in transportation engineering? 

Here’s my response:

I don’t have any silver bullets
for you, but here’s how Lindsay de Leeuw got a good job as a transportation engineer. 
She couldn’t land a job out of the University of Minnesota in 2010, so she
moved home to British Columbia in Canada to continue her job search.  I
mentored her at the U of MN.

A year later, she saw I posted
a fulltime, six month internship at $1,000/month and she applied (I actually
didn’t and still don’t have the financial need to hire a traffic engineer, but
was doing the internship to help give someone experience). 

She worked doggedly to get a TN
Visa and ended up moving here to work with us in January 2012.  Lindsay applied
for several jobs throughout this year.  No responses, let alone
interviews.  We extended her position
through 2012. 

Lindsay got a call from a
Calgary based firm late this summer, I sent an unsolicited recommendation to
the principal, the principal turns out to be a reader of my blog, and hired her
starting this October with a great salary and benefits.

I don’t mean to scare you, but
that’s the kind of extraordinary effort it took Lindsay to land a job as a
generalist transportation engineer. 

A master’s degree may help you
get an initial cattle call interview, but I don’t think it will help you land a
job if you have no working experience.  You’ll need to do something unusual
to get that experience. 

Ideally, aspiring engineers should be working on getting real
world experience as early as high school. 
To get that first engineering job, here are five things I think a good candidate needs –

  • Good grades (better than 3.0)
  • Several internships in civil engineering
  • Proven writing skills
  • Ability to sell yourself, in plain English, in the interview
  • Solid recommendation letters from past bosses to send in with your

If you don’t have these things, you need to circle back and figure
out how to get them.  For better/worse you should be thinking about how to get that job when you're a sophomore in college, not a senior. 

I personally got my big break by networking at my local ITE Section meeting.  Any other advice from working traffic engineers?

  • Great points! I would also add that keeping a spreadsheet with columns such as “company, location, contact name, phone number, date spoken to, and remarks” can be a huge help to ensure that your following up on your applications in a reasonable amount of time.
    I believe that was a key factor in me landing my job as a transportation engineer. I was going down the list of companies that had been more then 2-3 weeks since last contact and giving them one last phone call – and sure enough one of those calls sparked into a job “we filled that position, but we are about to advertise another one!”
    When you do follow up, make sure you let them know what date you last spoke – it shows your organized and that you are on top of things. Most importantly, you can set yourself apart from other candidates by sounding professional and following through. Also, if you are flexible on location – don’t be afraid to mention that to the HR person, it can only help.

  • Claude,
    Great points. I had to do a fair amount of follow-up over a three month period to land my first job.

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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