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top 10: words of wisdom for new project engineers

theme: people

So, you have a couple years of school under your belt and just landed an amazing internship at one of the top general contractors in the region … or, you just graduated and in a few days, you jump into your first full-time Project Engineer position. Congrats!

Nervous? We’re not surprised. Both are exciting circumstances to be proud of, but lots of folks in these situations are equally intimidated and excited. Many people wish they’d had better advice when starting their first “real” jobs and in construction, some might argue the need for advice is even greater. Working among construction industry cowboys and cowgirls sometimes requires an extra coat of armor.

Luckily, we have great tips and tricks to help you avoid unnecessary sweat, jitters and “if only I’d know that before…” moments. We asked a few of our Project Engineers what advice they’d give to those just entering the industry to get them through the first couple of years on a high note. Steal their words of wisdom to jump start your own career:


  1. Ask questions. You won’t have answers for everything on Day 1—nor are you expected to. Everyone has been “green” at some point in their career and understands your situation. However, with this greenness comes the responsibility to embrace the unknown, ask questions and find the answers. You might feel intimidated, but you will be surprised how receptive and helpful people are since they ultimately want to help you improve and strengthen the team as a whole.

  2. Ask “Why?” in reply to “It can’t be done.” To emphasize the previous point even further, make sure to ask “why” if a subcontractor—or anyone for that matter—tells you something can’t be done a certain way. Often times, we learn more when understanding how processes/solutions do NOT work.

    “I can’t tell you how many times I encountered a scenario where a problem arose and I spent hours trying to work through a solution, but found that it could’ve been easily solved if I brought it to the field’s attention sooner.”
     | Myron Ramirez, Project Engineer

  3. Learn your scope of work EARLY. Whether you’re in charge of doors, frames, and hardware or concrete structure, learn as soon as possible how that scope is run and how you should manage it—what to track, how to track, what to watch out for, etc. Avoid those dreaded “I didn’t know I needed to _______.” moments. For starters, learn the processes around bidding/RFAs, submittals, modeling/work packages … to name a few … until they’re as familiar as the back of your hand.

  4. Stay organized. EVERYTHING TAKES LONGER THAN YOU EXPECT. Figure out your processes—and what routine works best for you—and stick with it. There will always be interruptions so, staying organized, efficient and capable of immediately picking up where you left off when those interruptions occur will make your life much easier.

  5. Respect the team. It takes a village to construct a building or renovate an office and each team member makes a difference. Show respect to everyone from the person sweeping the floors to the project executive. You’ll find you can learn something from everyone.

  6. Accept challenges. Don’t be afraid to take on things you haven’t done before. It’s not until you are out of your comfort zone when most of your learning and progression takes place.

  7. Get out [side]. Sure, it’s comfortable, warm, and safe behind your computer in the office. You might be productive, but you miss out on a wealth of knowledge in the field. Walk the jobsite whenever you can. Spend time in the field and see how the drawings come to life. Often times, what didn’t make sense on paper suddenly clicks when you see it live.

  8. Talk to the field crew… The folks in the field are the ones that can teach you how things really come together. So, while you’re out in the field, don’t just observe, but pick the brains of the carpenters, laborers, foremen, and superintendents.

  9. …and get their buy-in on solutions. People are more motivated to work towards a solution if they are involved in the planning. People naturally want to work WITH someone instead of FOR someone. Superintendents with 30 years of experience constructing high-rises will be much more receptive to an idea, process or correction if they have a say in its discovery or development instead of a young buck with two months of real-world experience telling them what to do. Working toward an idea that THEY had will not only increase productivity, but build their confidence in you.

  10. Write it down. Chances are, when someone is explaining something, you’re not going to remember every last detail. Show you care, and do yourself a favor by taking notes to refer back to when you need them … you most likely will.


respect the team

Respect the team. We're all in this together. Each person contributes to a project's success.

ask questions

Ask questions. Everyone on the job has been green at some point and want to help you succeed.