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5 Ways to Stay Relevant

5 Ways to Stay Relevant

My name is Meghana Kumar. I graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering back in 2014. Immediately after graduating, I began working for a company that topped the Fortune 500 list.  I grasped technical concepts quickly, and I was determined to develop my soft-skills along the way.  I assumed my drive would lead me to have a long and successful career.

I was naïve, and as you can probably guess, I was wrong.

About a year after I started working, the refinery I was employed at became sold to a smaller company.  I learned the new company did not have an employee evaluation process or a robust rotation program, and I felt my career falter.  Lay-offs began, and it felt like engineers were making a mass exodus to fill competitors’ openings.  I felt stuck in my job – there were no prospects of promotions, and rumors of a second round of lay-offs were gaining steam.

I share this part of my life to let people know that your high GPA, your glowing performance reviews, or your employer’s name-recognition is not always enough to keep you from falling into a career slump, or even unemployment.  However, we can take certain steps to prevent from falling victim to circumstances beyond our control.

  1. Join engineering social and professional groups

Remember those clubs you were part of in college?  Many of those clubs have professional chapters.  These groups can be a good way to meet people, build a network, and find more experienced engineers who can be a mentor to you.  If you’re having career woes, these groups also give you a space to talk about them with like-minded peers.  Some great examples or professional societies are the Society of Women in Engineering (SWE) and Women in Computing (WIC).

  1. Stay on top of the job market

Even if you feel that you’re currently in a stable job, it never hurts to review your options regularly.  I thought my position was highly stable, but events out of your control do happen. Find a few sources you like that provide customized job opening lists.  Many industry-specific organizations will post job openings in their newsletters.  If you have a “moon-shot” company that you want to work for one day, sign up for their job notifications.  Who knows – you might see an opening you would be perfect for!

  1. Invest in yourself through training and education

Many companies subsidize higher education.  If you are in a position to get a Master’s, or even a second Bachelor’s, you can clearly distinguish yourself from your peers.  Learning itself is also a joy and a skill, and may present opportunities you had never even considered before.

If your company does not subsidize education, they may still offer training you can participate in.   Your company may also be willing to subsidize third party training or allow you to take a few months leave of absence to pursue a certificate course. There are also several free, online (or substantially discounted) courses you can take through Coursera, Khan Academy, and online Masters programs for less than $10,000.

  1. Practice compassion

Sometimes, no matter how proactive or hard-working you are, you can still find yourself without a career or in financial difficulty.  In your lifetime, while this may never happen to you, you will probably meet a few people in this boat.   Try not to make assumptions on how deserved or undeserved someone’s fortune is.  Remember the importance of a strong network, and introduce them to the groups you are a part of and the job openings you are aware of.   After all, they may one day be able to more than return the favor to you.

  1. Cultivate interests outside of work

When things at work get rough, it’s helpful to be able to get away from it all for an hour or two.  Find a sport or hobby you can be wholly focused on (my choices are hiking, reading, or bouldering).  Giving yourself a mental break from your career worries will help you re-visit issues with a fresh mind and perspective later.

Meghana Kumar
About the Author

Meghana Kumar graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. During her time at UCLA, Meghana was heavily involved in a number of student and professional organizations including the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Computing, and AIChE. Meghana is also a bootup mentor and has been actively mentoring women in engineering since 2010.

 

Meghana is currently in the process of obtaining her M.S. in Computer Science Engineering from USC full-time.  She has previously worked for such large, Fortune 500 companies as Exxon Mobile, PBF, and Air Products in a variety of roles in the energy industry.