How to Choose The Best Engineering Firm To Work For

For most people, the compensation package is the most important factor in choosing any new job.

Other factors – such as the benefits package, company culture, and opportunities for career growth – usually carry some weight in that decision too.

But, during the pandemic, the way that we did our jobs shifted. And, during that shift, many of us reconsidered what’s important, both in terms of our jobs and our personal lives. As a result, people are approaching work differently. When it comes to seeking and accepting a new position, factors that once held lesser value, if they were considered at all, have become important, such as:

  • The size of the company;
  • The physical location of the office;
  • Flexibility of work space and time;
  • The development of interpersonal relationships with colleagues and managers; and
  • Work/life balance.

And, while emphasis should of course be on finding a good fit right now, you should also consider how a new position will impact your career in the years to come. That position will shape your network, skills, and training, and will affect which projects you contribute to.

The Compensation and Benefits Packages

Together, the low unemployment rate, strong job growth, and the Great Resignation have created a job market that highly favors employees. Employers are scrambling to attract and retain top talent.

Since compensation is such a driving factor in whether a candidate accepts a job offer, many employers are proactively adjusting their compensation rates. In some cases, they might simply implement an across-the-board raise of 2-3 percent. Or, they might start newer positions at a higher percentile than previously. But, as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports, employers are also increasing compensation in one-off and creative ways, including:

 

  • Off-cycle merit increases;
  • Ad hoc bonuses;
  • Retention bonuses;
  • Midyear salary adjustments; and
  • One-time equity payments.

Since compensation rates are very much in flux right now, it’s more important than ever to research pay rates for comparable positions at other companies. As well, don’t hesitate to ask about future compensation adjustments if you accept the position.

In addition to pay, benefits packages have long been an important factor when considering job offers. During the pandemic, many people realized that their existing benefits programs did not meet their needs. Childcare and mental health supports, in particular, have surged in importance. Taking a close look at your benefits package will show not just what’s being offered to you. It will also reveal how responsive your employer is to employee needs and how much they care about employee wellbeing.

Company Culture

It goes without saying that it’s best to work for a company where you feel comfortable and valued and where work is performed in a way that helps you thrive. Examining a company’s culture before you accept a job offer can help determine if the company is a good fit.

A piece at The Balance Careers explains that company culture refers to “the attitudes and behaviors of a company and its employees. It is evident in the way an organization’s people interact with each other, the values they hold, and the decisions they make.” In some cases, a company’s culture may be defined and deliberately cultivated; in others, it arises naturally, based on cumulative decisions. One facet of company culture, for instance, is whether teamwork or individual effort are more highly valued. Ryan Matthews points out in a piece at GradAustralia that:

Engineering firms and even individual teams within engineering firms also vary widely in their value systems. Some may value individualism, conspicuous effort, or billable hours; others may value employee and client satisfaction, work-life balance, or community engagement. 

While some companies may have explicit value or mission statements that can help define their culture, you may have to do a little digging to find that out for other companies. The piece at The Balance Careers suggests:

  • Checking the company website;
  • Doing research;
  • Asking connections from LinkedIn or your alumni association;
  • Asking to job shadow before accepting the job; or
  • Asking the employer during the job interview.

Matthews provides a long list of possible questions that you can ask to help define a company’s culture, including:

 

  • How competitive is the firm?
  • What sort of people work at the firm? Is it a diverse and inclusive environment?
  • How are decisions made at the firm? Do managers trust employees to make them independently?

While it may be tempting to disregard company culture if other factors are highly favorable for accepting the job, company culture ultimately affects job satisfaction, productivity, interpersonal relationships, and your overall happiness. It really is a key factor.

Career Growth and Advancement

Opportunities for advancement within the company are a key consideration for many people. However, as Matthews points out, the average person changes jobs a dozen times during the course of their careers. Opportunities for career growth and professional development can help advance your career regardless of where you end up working down the road.

Instead of just looking at management or executive level positions within the company, to gauge the potential for advancement, consider things like:

  • The new skills you will learn in the position;
  • The clients you will work and connect with;
  • The networking opportunities available within and outside of the company;
  • The possibility of internal transfers at large, global companies, with opportunities to work abroad; and
  • Opportunities for certification, training, and professional development.

Company Size

With so many other things to consider for a job offer, the size of the company is often low on the list. But company size can have a tremendous impact on your overall job satisfaction.

Smaller companies usually offer a chance to develop closer relationships with clients, colleagues, and management (which can contribute to career growth and advancement). The focus of a smaller company may allow you to laser in on your areas of interest or specialization and smaller firms may offer more flexibility in their work environment. On the flip side, smaller companies usually have fewer opportunities for training and internal advancement.

Larger firms often have well-established training programs and opportunities for professional development, paving the way to advance within the company ranks. The possibility for career advancement is further strengthened by more networking opportunities, the chance to work on major projects, and simply more upper-level positions to apply for. However, larger companies also tend to be more bureaucratic, with more structure in the workplace, and may be slow to adapt to change.

There are pros and cons to working at either a small or large company. It’s worth the time to consider how the company size may impact your job satisfaction and career goals.

Physical Location

Prior to the pandemic, for most people, the physical location of the workplace was a factor in deciding to apply for a job, rather than whether to accept it. Either the job site was accessible or the candidate was open to relocating. But, with the implementation of remote and hybrid work environments, there’s been a shift in how the physical location is considered.

First, for many people, one of the most noticeable perks of remote work was the lack of a commute – and many aren’t keen to give up that newly found time. If you’re required to work onsite even part of the time, is the commute reasonable and acceptable? Is the expense of a long commute something you’re willing to absorb again?

Second, if the job can be performed remotely, will it be fully remote or will you be expected to be in the office for any reason, such as training, professional development, or meeting clients?

As well, is the location you’re applying to the only location this company has? If not, would you be open to internal transfers? Or is that a perk that you are deliberately seeking out?

Flexibility of Workspace and Time

Obviously, with remote work, there are perks and required adaptations in terms of physical space. But something that is often lost in conversations around remote work is the flexibility it allows in terms of time.

While working remotely, many people managed to integrate personal tasks into their work day routines. They may have taken online exercise classes, walked their dogs, or managed childcare while also keeping an eye on their notifications or using their usual commute time to complete their daily work.

For other people, working remotely gave them the chance to more easily manage health-related issues, such as migraines or minor illnesses, allowing them to be more productive. And, without the need to check in and out at prescribed hours, many employees adapted their daily schedules to their natural productivity levels. Night owls no longer needed to show up a few minutes late with an XL coffee in tow. Instead, they logged on when they were truly ready to tackle the work day, and their productivity soared as well. As Ashley Stahl states in a piece at Forbes, “The Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey showed that 55% of the workforce was more productive when they were able to choose when, where, and how much they worked during the week.”

If you were required to work remotely during the pandemic then you already know if remote work is a good option for you. If you would like to continue to work from home, is your new employer open to that? Or, alternately, if you prefer the structure of working onsite, does the company have room for you in the office full time? As companies move to remote and hybrid work environments, some are downscaling their office size. Without all employees on site every day, there can be a significant cost saving in freeing up some real estate. To manage this shift, some companies are implementing hot desking or hoteling strategies.

“Hot desking” refers to the practice of employees showing up in the office as required/desired, and simply claiming any open desk to work at. “Hoteling” requires employees to prebook their spaces before heading in. In either scenario, the possibility of working full-time onsite may not be possible.

In the post-pandemic world, conversations about work space and hours of work are important ones to have in regards to any job changes.

Interpersonal Relationships

Your relationships with your colleagues, managers, and clients have a definite impact on your job satisfaction and career advancement. In our post-pandemic world, managing these relationships may be a little more complex.

For fully remote positions, the company should have procedures in place that engender virtual team building, collaboration, and support from managers. Despite the ease of online contact, the casual conversations that help employees feel valued, heard, and part of a community are often lacking in the virtual world.

Your relationships with clients will depend on many factors, including the size of the company, the position you are applying to, and the physical location you work at. If you are counting on networking with clients as a way to spur your career advancement, consider how these relationships will be managed in your new role.

Work/Life Balance

Even prior to the pandemic, much was said about the importance of achieving an optimal work/life balance. But this is an issue that really came to the forefront of our collective consciousness during the past two years. Some people struggled with the remote work environment, finding it difficult to log off and step away from work. Others revelled in finding time to pursue long-delayed personal projects. Stress levels and mental health concerns soared. As we each worked through our own situations, we came out with a better understanding of what our own optimal personal work/life balance is and what we can do to achieve that. As we move into a new era, it’s important to not lose sight of this. Our personal and work lives are deeply interconnected and affect our overall happiness, mental health, and well-being. Always make the work/life balance a key factor when considering a new position.