Advancing Your Contracting Career As An Engineer - The Quickfire Guide
Wondering how you can progress your engineering career, build your reputation, and command a higher salary?
As an engineering contractor, it’s easy to become obsessed with short-term priorities such as securing new clients. The contracting world moves quickly, and if you want to generate income (and pay your bills) you’ll need to stay busy.
However, to improve your offering and command a higher salary, you also need to think about advancing your career in the long term.
By ensuring that you’re consistently expanding your skills, growing your professional profile, and staying active in the industry, you’ll be able to attract bigger clients over time. Not only does this allow you to boost your income, but it also means that you can be more selective with your projects.
Let’s look at how you can progress your engineering career to set yourself up for long-term success and high-value contracting work.
1. Plan out actionable, realistic goals
To successfully advance your contracting career and increase your take-home pay, you’ll need to establish clear goals to work towards.
A good balance of long-term and short-term objectives will help you to make steady progress and consistently improve your skills as an engineer.
In the short term, for example, you might look to secure a new contract or complete an industry qualification. Over the long term, you could aim to increase your monthly income by a certain percentage or expand into a different area of engineering.
Whatever your objectives might be, make sure they follow the S.M.A.R.T. structure. If your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely, then you’ll give yourself a much better chance of achieving them.
2. Sharpen your engineering skills
If you’re already generating a steady stream of income, it’s easy to become complacent as a contractor. But if you want to take your career to the next level, you need to keep your engineering skills sharp.
The more versatile (and effective) your skill set is, the easier it will become to pick up high-income contracts.
Make sure that you keep up-to-date with the latest industry news and trends to stay ahead of the curve. Always watch out for new engineering accreditations, training opportunities, and legislative changes that can position you ahead of the competition and enhance your services.
(Plus, if you have your finger on the pulse of the engineering sector, you may spot a gap in the market that you can fill!)
You should also ensure that you’ve mastered your preferred engineering tools or programs.
For instance, if you’re a software engineer, you should have a thorough understanding of your chosen programming languages - and if you want to unlock new contracting opportunities, you can add more to your repertoire.
3. Polish your CV or professional portfolio
Maintaining a professional, up-to-date CV or professional portfolio is extremely important for developing your career and opening new job opportunities.
Firstly, always pay close attention to the details. Around 77% of hiring professionals put CVs and portfolios in the ‘reject’ pile if they have spelling errors or grammatical mistakes, so make sure you’re not falling at the first hurdle.
Secondly, don’t copy and paste an identical application (including your cover letter) to every potential client or recruiter. 54% of applicants do not tailor their CVs to each position, so by making your resume or portfolio feel a little more personalised, you can instantly stand out from rival contractors.
Finally, make sure you’re filling your CV or portfolio with information that showcases your specific skills and expertise. As an engineer, that means highlighting your technical knowledge, including any industry qualifications, and outlining relevant experience for the role.
4. Establish a specialism within engineering
If you’re a relatively new engineering contractor, it can be tempting to accept as many contract offers as possible, regardless of the job type.
However, over time, you’ll want to focus on identifying (and mastering) a specialism within the wider engineering space.
Establishing a specialism offers a couple of key benefits.
For one thing, specialists can negotiate a higher salary more easily. That’s because experts in a niche area of engineering are less common - and when there’s limited supply and high demand, you can increase your rates with confidence.
It also becomes easier to progress your career when you’re focusing in a specific direction, rather than trying to cover too many different roles.
If you’ve carved out an engineering speciality, you can quickly identify the training courses and qualifications that will help to bolster your knowledge. You can begin to shape your CV around your specialism too, which will help to establish you as an authority to clients.
5. Pursue courses and qualifications
A surefire way to progress your engineering career is through higher education and training courses.
Not only will the right qualifications equip you with valuable new skills, but they’re also a fantastic addition to your CV that can help you attract high-value clients. A study from the Engineering Council found that the median basic income for graduate engineers was £56,000, while postgraduate engineers earned an average of £62,000.
As a general rule of thumb for contractors, the more you learn, the more you earn.
There are many different development opportunities that you can pursue as an engineer, from time-intensive qualifications (e.g. a master’s degree) to online courses you can complete at your own speed.
The key is to select training courses and qualifications that align with your professional goals.
Look at your experiences with clients and the job openings that are currently on the market - which skills will help you to stand out and secure the best contracts? If you invest time and energy into the right training opportunities, the results will speak for themselves.
6. Engage with the engineering sector
If you feel like you’re struggling to advance your career, immersing yourself in the engineering industry is a brilliant move that can offer massive rewards.
Try to find volunteering opportunities that will enable you to share knowledge and support engineering companies. This might involve offering help to engineering non-profits, or even just promoting a conference or seminar online.
You should also look for mentoring opportunities. Helping the next generation of engineers isn’t just a great way to give back to the industry - it can also position you as an expert and showcase your passion for the role.
There are many online groups and forums dedicated to specific areas of engineering (e.g. fire safety, automotive, mechanical) and participating in these communities can help you to grow your profile and connect with fellow engineers.
If clients see that you’re actively engaged with the engineering sector, it will help you to build your reputation and grow your professional network.
7. Keep your LinkedIn profile updated
As an engineering contractor, your LinkedIn profile is a powerful tool that can help you to attract new clients and generate income.
Potential clients and recruiters will frequently check your LinkedIn page if they’re searching for candidates, so your profile essentially functions as a digital CV. A blank, boring LinkedIn page isn’t likely to encourage new business - but a profile packed with technical skills and relevant experience can be a game-changer.
There are a few key areas to focus on when you’re updating your LinkedIn page:
Experience and education
First things first, be sure to update the ‘Experience’ and ‘Education’ sections of your profile.
Add in previous roles, and include relevant details about your responsibilities - there’s no need to go overboard here, but it’s a good opportunity to show off your engineering experience.
Qualifications and skills
If you’ve completed any courses or technical qualifications, make sure you add them to the ‘Licences & Certifications’ section. This is a great way to instantly showcase your expertise and separate yourself from the competition.
Endorsements from colleagues and clients can be hugely beneficial for your LinkedIn profile. When a client or recruiter glances at your page, an authentic recommendation will immediately boost your credibility.
(And if these testimonials highlight your specific skills or specialisms, even better!)
8. Build your professional network
When you’re looking to progress your career as a contractor, a wide-reaching professional network is invaluable. Many opportunities can emerge through a business network, from recruiter recommendations to direct client conversations.
So how can you start networking effectively?
Events are a brilliant way to meet potential clients and industry colleagues. Attending in-person conferences and seminars helps you to learn more about engineering, socialise with valuable contacts, and grow your reputation over time.
However, digital networking is equally important for contractors.
Platforms like LinkedIn allow you to instantly engage with new contacts and grow your network. By sending out connection requests, interacting with industry peers, and posting informative content, you can rapidly increase your visibility as a contractor - and unlock future job opportunities.
The value of networking should never be underestimated for contract workers.
Not only can you reach new clients (and generate repeat business) through your network, but you can also exchange ideas and improve your knowledge of the engineering sector.
Advancing your engineering career is the best way to increase your salary as a contractor and attract established clients.
If you’re constantly looking out for opportunities to expand your skill set, build your professional network, and enhance your reputation, you’ll be on track to take your career to the next level.
For more career advice and useful resources click here.
Ready to look for jobs? Browse jobs
- Engineering insights
- Aerospace insights
- Automotive insights
- Maritime insights
- Infrastructure insights
- Highways insights
- Rail insights
- Building Services insights
- Water & Environment insights
- Energy insights
- Renewables insights
- Oil & Gas insights
- Power & Nuclear insights
- Engineering Technology insights
- Telecoms insights
- Technology insights
- AI & Robotics insights
- Cloud insights
- Cyber Security insights
- ERP insights
- Development insights
- Project Management insights