6 Things every Engineering Student should know – Part 4: Deliver Results

This is the fourth installment in a 6 part series covering topics that every Engineering Student needs to know.  Last week, we concluded our discussion pertaining to life as a student, and today we’ll cover the first of 3 topics pertaining to life as a real-world Engineer.

Today’s topic: Deliver Results.

You Are Expensive
When you get your job, the company has to pay a lot more than your salary.  For starters, they pay for your benefits, whatever retirement contributions they make, and your training – which there will be a lot of since you’re new.

All this is on top of the cost to the company of hiring you in the first place.  Not only do they have to pay to advertise the job opening, but there is a huge time cost involved in the hiring process.  They have to pay someone to write the job description, review the resumes, communicate with candidates, perform interviews, and put together an offer for the candidate they want.  After all that, they’ve still got to pay for background checks and drug screenings, not to mention any interview expense reimbursements, relocation expenses, or hiring bonuses.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Employees are expensive

This is before we consider the overhead it takes just for you to come into work every day.  You’re sucking up air cooled by an HVAC system, sitting in a chair that someone had to buy, at a desk someone had to assemble, and using a computer that someone has to service. They’ve got to fork out money for all of that.

The total cost of an employee can be as high as two times their salary. So for the average new engineering grad making $62,000 a year, your company is paying as much as $124,000 a year just to keep you around.

Know Your Value
Bearing that in mind, understand this: The company only hired you because they expect you to deliver more value than you cost.

For you to remain employed, this equation must balance.  How to calculate your impact will change with each job, but you really ought to figure out the formula for your situation.  Ask your boss, someone in the finance department, or someone at corporate headquarters if you have to.

Tell them that you’re trying to understand how your actions impact the company financially so that you can focus your efforts.  Be nice – you might be the “annoying new guy” for a day or two because of this, but the information is worth its weight in gold.

Image Credit: Pixabay

There is no substitute for knowing your value

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you specify improvements for a production line that lead to a 10% increase in productivity.  The products sold from this line previously accounted for $18 Million in annual revenues, so guess what? You just increased annual revenues by $1.8 Million.  Your annual cost of $124k (from the example above) is just a drop in the bucket now.  Even after paying your salary and overhead, they’re $1.68 Million ahead.

There are all kinds of ways to take credit for this: Not only did you increase revenues this year, but you increased it for every year in the future.  If you work there for 5 years, you increased revenues by at least $9 million from this one project, and they only had to pay a few hundred thousand dollars for you to do it – a bargain, really.

Keep track of the value you deliver.  When it comes time to ask for a raise, bonus, or promotion, you’ll really shine.  You’ll be able to justify your value to your boss, then your boss can justify your value to their boss, and so on up the chain until it reaches the person that can approve your compensation.

Be truthful, don’t exaggerate, but take credit for everything you can.  Make sure your boss understands that the company is better off because you’re here.  Be prepared to prove it if necessary.

People can like you or not, but numbers don’t lie.

What’s Important?
In your job, you’ll have a number of responsibilities.  A key lesson for new grads: They are not all important.

Image Credit: R/DV/RS (Flickr)

Understanding priorities is key

Allow me to explain: For any one thing to be important, other things must be less important, relatively speaking.  Therefore, “everything” cannot be important, because if everything is important, nothing is important.

So if your boss tells you, “Everything is important”, she’s telling you not to drop any balls.  She is definitely not saying that all of your tasks have equal value to the organization, because they most certainly do not.

Word to the wise: Don’t try to convince your boss that everything can’t be important if that’s not how she sees it.  That’s a losing battle for you.  Instead, try asking what the priorities of your tasks and projects should be.  For example, “Am I correct to think that Project X is a higher priority than Report Y?”

If all else fails, observe.  This may take some time.  When your peers get in trouble for not doing something, you can bet that it was important.  On the same token, if there’s something everyone is “supposed” to do that no one does and there are never any consequences, it’s not important.

Use your brain here.  If, for example, “everyone” steals from the company, it remains important for you to not steal from the company.  Stay miles away from unethical, illegal, or otherwise stupid behavior.

The last thing on this point – reevaluate these conclusions over time.  Some things are not important now but become very important at key points during the business cycle.

Thinking this way runs counter to conventional wisdom, which is exactly why getting it right will make you a superstar.  People will think everything you touch turns to gold, and they’ll be right.  Not because you have magic fingers, but because you know what to touch.

Protect Yourself
The single best way to ensure job security is to deliver results.  Knowing the value of the results you deliver not only helps you when it’s raise time, but also gives you the edge when your company is going through layoffs:

Image Credit: PostGradProblems.com

Don’t be unprepared for these guys

In some situations, you may be forced to interview for your own job and sell the company on the value of the results you deliver (image right). In others, your boss will have to make a confidential list of employees, ranked in order of value.  Either way, you want management to know your value ahead of time.

Delivering results has another benefit.  It helps people get over your mistakes.  Believe it or not, delivering results covers a multitude of sins.

You are going to make mistakes.  All of us will.  The difference is how your mistakes are viewed by your boss, and how your boss communicates your mistakes to upper management.  Those who deliver results are forgiven.  All others are one step closer to the bottom of the layoff list.

So when delivering results, you’ll be protected if you know your cost, the value you deliver, and what’s important to the organization.

That wraps it up for this week.  Delivering results is your most basic and important responsibility at work, and has the excellent side effect of ensuring job security.  Next week, we’ll go over a different strategy that ensures career security by insulating you against the effects of job loss.

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