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First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?
2

First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

(OP)
Let me first preface this with the fact that I am an intern. I have seen PEngs on many engineering forums get in a huff about 'students' posting legitimate questions about career, but I am using the duck-test principle here. If I get treated as, berated as, and loaded with work as a under-market-rate engineer, I'll be damned if I don't ask for advice as one as well.

Background:

I'm in the engineering sector in North America, and took a year off school to work for an general aviation company in R&D, the kind of industry where everything needs to be completed yesterday on a string-bean budget. I have a year to graduation. This was my first engineering job, and I thoroughly enjoyed it as an experience. While I treated it as a learning experience, I also realized I was hired to do a specific job, and did not play company politics or forgo my tasks to learn at the company's expense. And I was always drowning in tasks.

AFAIK I have done an excellent job at meeting expectations (I have not had a performance review due to poor management org, but have always delivered to the best of my ability, and have gotten praise from senior coworkers).


The issue:

My boss is notorious for not giving references. I learnt this in the 14th month of my 16 month contract, from a coworker who left for a better job a while ago. Upon further investigation, this has been the experience of lots of junior engineers and EITs. My boss is European, so it may be a cultural difference. Also, in the aerospace industry, references seem to be less needed, as most skilled workers' reputations precede themselves (applies mainly to experienced guys though). You either know your shit, or you don't.


Points to note:
  • I worked directly and solely for the Chief of Engineering. So while there is a 15-person engineering team who I am on great social terms with, I have never worked extensively on a technical basis with any of them. I am an intern, any senior engineer could have offloaded work to me, yet I did not do work for other members of the department to cultivate favour, but focused on my isolated task.
  • I may not stay in the industry. I have had a few people say that while they can't give me a technical recommendation, they'd be happy to forward my resume if I apply to the company they work at (most are contractors who move firms every 2 years or so). However, they will always be at aerospace firms, and I have little interest in continuing in that field (mainly due to industry organizational practices).
Question:

I am in my final month of contract. Up until now, getting a reference from my direct supervisor on a job well done was just a given in my mind. While many might not need it, I definitely do at this career stage. Do you have any advice on how to approach this, pragmatically and as early as possible so I'm not left flat-footed at my exit interview?

Is there any kind of reference I should ask for (letter vs linkedin vs phone ref), that he might be more amenable to providing?

Also, coming from a young student mentality, I feel rather betrayed on a professional level. Is this something I should just get over/used to? I abhor the idea of playing politics, but am open to changing if I get stepped on too often.

Thank you for any forthcoming advice.

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

2
While having a direct supervisor as a reference can be nice, having multiple (preferably senior) colleagues who saw your work directly is just as nice. If asked, provide the boss' contact info and let the requesting company handle it. If the boss makes it difficult to get in touch with him, the company will move on to the next person in line. About the only time I remember needing a reference in person was to get into grad school. Keep your LnkedIn profile up to date and try to add professional contacts, not just any old yahoo or random person who says 'hi' in the hallway.

Dan - Owner
http://www.Hi-TecDesigns.com

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

I agree; in some respects, references from co-workers are better, as they are more likely to have had daily interactions with you. Moreover, they're more likely to give you more positive endorsements than a VP of engineering might be expected to, especially given his position of authority means that he needs to appear impartial.

I don't see my supervisor more than once a week or so, even in passing.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

I would recommend thickening your skin quite a bit as you will be against far worse regularly when you become a working engineer in private industry. As mentioned above, reference letters are rather uncommon today outside of a few odd situations, grad school and PE board applications being the two that come to mind. Typically on job applications you simply provide your previous employers' contact info and either HR or the hiring manager calls at their discretion for more detail. Most ATSs have no way of handling reference letters. Regardless, your resume should clearly communicate work history, certifications/licenses, and specific abilities, the only thing left really is personal character which doesn't usually play too significant of a role.

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

"personal character which doesn't usually play too significant of a role"

Unless, of course, you're looking to get a job that requires a security clearance winky smile

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

I never had to get any "letters of recommendation" for the many positions I have had. Instead any knowing future employer will check you out one way or another. Just list where you were and for how long on your resume.. As an employer I did get some of these letters along with applications. In two instances I knew the person before and the letters were flowery in an effort to cover up some failings. In short, those references were of no use and, in fact, a turn-off.

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

"have gotten praise from senior coworkers"

Go have a beer with one or more of these people, and ask them if you can use them as references. They may not have directly supervised you, but may have seen your work output and/or work ethic, and should be able to cobble up a letter that states such.

As others noted, letters of recommendation don't come up much anymore. And in the aero world, which I left many many moons ago, the turnover is so rapid that most of my prior bosses were long gone a few years after leaving, in one case my direct supervisor left about a month after I did.

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

Note that many potential employers do a "deep dive" through your social media, so those need to be spotless wrt to any and all things "they" could ding you for, like racist/extremist remarks, excessive boozing, porn, etc. Whether you want to work for someone that does that is entirely up to you...

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

(OP)
Thanks all! I really appreciate the candid advice.

I'd say if I stayed in aero, I'd be fine with the relationships I've cultivated.

Quote (CWB1)

I would recommend thickening your skin quite a bit as you will be against far worse regularly when you become a working engineer in private industry.
Agreed.

Quote (CWB1)

the only thing left really is personal character which doesn't usually play too significant of a role
Pity. A team who can't socialise and work well together can itself can be the life or death of a program.

Quote (btrueblood)

As others noted, letters of recommendation don't come up much anymore. And in the aero world, which I left many many moons ago, the turnover is so rapid that most of my prior bosses were long gone a few years after leaving, in one case my direct supervisor left about a month after I did.
I half expect this from most of my coworkers, yes. Exodus in the last 6 months has been around 40%.

I make good friends wherever I work, I just don't play the blatantly sleazy 'networking game' particularly well. Again, appreciate the advice, especially from old heads whom I feel like I already know somewhat from your previous posts. I've lurked quite a while :)

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

"Pity. A team who can't socialise and work well together can itself can be the life or death of a program."

I think CWB1 was referring to ethics and morals, rather than socialization skills or participation.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

bigforrap, what do you know about team performance and the efficient operation of a business unit? You think you know so much, but you know so little. If you can remember that and do a good job at whatever you decide to do, the rest will be background noise. Come back in 10 years, nay 2 years, and re-read this thread and tell me I'm wrong.

RE: First industry-related job, might not get a reference. Should I change my ways?

Spend some time perusing linkedin or reading cover letters and you'll notice most folks put up the same charade when they describe themselves. "Hard-working, highly motivated, self-starter with a history of success...blah blah..job title...ethics." Most read about the same to include using the same verbiage, so save the effort giving anything more than a cursory description. Actions speak louder than words and often speak more toward an employee's character than their bio, so yes, personal character doesnt play as significant of a role in hiring. Evaluating personalities ultimately becomes an educated guess on management's part more than a written fact and thus unreliable, another reason it doesnt play too significant of a role. In a team environment extreme personalities can be harmful to productivity but don't let the many consultants selling productivity and methodologies mislead you, most folks are motivated to work together to earn their paycheck, even to the point of working well with people they wouldnt otherwise associate with.

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