Envelope #3: What it takes to excel as an engineer

Andy Lin
March 31, 2022

Happy Thursday. This is “Back of the Envelope” (or the Envelope for short) where I show you 1 or 2 SE-related tidbits in less than 5 minutes (estimated reading time = 3 minutes and 18 seconds for this email).

Today, I am going to talk about “what it takes to excel as an engineer.”

It came from a monthly newsletter by the current SEAOSD president, Bo Jaquess. (SEAOSD = Structural Engineer Association of San Diego).

According to Bo (and I agree with him), there are three main things (in that order):

  • 📧 Availability
  • 😊 Amiability
  • 🧮 Ability (yes that’s an emoji of an abacus because that’s what we use to run calcs)

I’ll focus on the first one.

So what is “Availability”?

Basically, be responsive to clients: Answer/return your calls and respond to emails promptly.

Why is this important?

According to Bo:

“…in my experience, Clients won’t wait too long to look for new engineering firms to work with when they ‘just can’t get ahold of anyone there.’” #thetruth

But of course, this is much easier said than done.

We’ve all been there: Multiple deadlines stacked on top of each other. Everything is due today. Clients, contractors, or owners wanted everything yesterday.

The last thing you need is another call or email asking for more of you.

So what can you do to be “available”?

Here is a rough framework:

  • Sympathize
  • Acknowledge and be honest
  • Don’t wait [too long]
  • Systematize
  • Have the right mindset

1/ Sympathize and look at it from their perspective.

Knowing how your client feels could actually help you feel better about helping and returning their emails.

Have you ever been in a situation where you are waiting for someone to give you the information you need so you can move forward? You get anxious not only because you don’t have the info but also because you don’t know if the info is coming. 

That’s what your client feels when they ask for stuff.

So to help relieve their anxiety, you should...

2/ Acknowledge and be honest.

Acknowledge that you received their email, and be honest that you are swamped.

Being truthful is usually the best policy. Respond with something like:

“Hey I got your email. I got a few deadlines to juggle today but I’ll look into your questions asap. Let me know when you think you’ll need this by.”

This will communicate that:

a/ You got their email

b/ You don’t have the time to dive in right now

c/ You are not ignoring them

d/ You’d like to know if they need this right now right now or later (second “right now” added for emphasis, not a typo)

And more often than not, they actually need the stuff ‘later.’ You’d be surprised.

3/ Don’t wait too long.

Now, ideally you should aim for getting back to someone at least within a day (or two).

Replying with “we are working on this!” or “I got your email!” is also a version of getting back. You don’t need to have all the answers right the way.

4/ Have a system to keep tabs on your emails

You also need to have some ways to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, especially if you are getting like a million emails a day.

Some people (myself included) use Outlook “flags” or “categories,” or they move things into folders etc. Whatever it is, you need to have a system. We all think we can do it in our heads but that becomes increasingly difficult (maybe age has a thing or two to do with it!?).

5/ Mindset: your client’s success = your success.

Lastly, remember that your clients are not your enemies (well not all of them). Our job is to help them succeed (at least the ones you like the most) – because when they win, you win. When they make money, you make money (hopefully).

It’s a win-win when they feel confident that you are someone they can trust and know that you won’t ignore them when things get busy/crazy.

And that is all – thanks for reading! 

PS: Let me know what you think of today's email?

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