By Caroline Haatveit, P.E., G.E., Aff.M.ASCE

I wish I’d known the importance of making sure your career path aligns with your personality and your core values, what impact you want to make in society, and what type of work will make you happy and fulfilled.

Woman in green, lacy, sleeveless shirt. She has shoulder-length red hair.
Caroline Haatveit

Too often, when young adults look for their first jobs out of college, they don’t think about interviewing the companies as well as having the companies interview them. But you want to make sure the firm you’re applying to is a good fit for who you are as a person.

In my case, I wanted to make a positive impact in my community, have the potential to grow professionally, and have a voice in my workplace.

Plus, I wanted the freedom to pursue hobbies and travel — to work hard but also experience life in different ways and feel fulfilled personally as well as professionally.

And I must admit, I learned these things, in part, by starting my career at a firm that wasn’t a good match for me but also by asking good questions and having a little luck. There isn’t some secret formula to this.

When you find a place that speaks to your personality, you just know. For instance, when I interviewed with my current employer, I got high-fived during the meeting. That was so me! I knew I had found my place.

I urge young engineers to ask themselves what they want from work. Do you see yourself in front of a computer all day or do you want to get outside? Do you like working individually or in groups? Do you want to do technical work or manage projects? Or work on several projects or just one massive project? It’s not just the big-picture questions that are important but also finding out what you will be doing on a daily basis.

Think about what will make you happy and reach out to companies that interest you to find out if you can speak with employees about their day-to-day experiences. Throughout your lifetime you will spend countless hours working, so it’s worthwhile to invest the time to figure out what is a good fit for you, a place where you can grow to your full potential.

Caroline Haatveit, P.E., G.E., Aff.M.ASCE, is a senior engineer at ENGEO Inc., which has offices in California, Nevada, and Washington state as well as Guam, New Zealand, and Australia.

This article first appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Civil Engineering as “Wish I'd Known.”