A CEO’s advice for young professionals

Jul 25, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 2.21.21 PMHere are nine tips on how to be successful in the A/E/P business. Hint, most of these tips are not specific to the A/E/P business. I have the honor of being a guest lecturer once a semester for a senior-level course at the University of Arkansas. It’s fun because I get to be with these “kids” right before they enter the workforce. After we’re done with the technical part of the class, I share a little free advice with them about what I think are the keys for success in our industry. I offer those same points here for your consideration.
  1. Work hard. It may sound old fashioned and “un-hip,” but there is no substitute for a person who gives his or her boss the extra effort to get the job done. I’ll take someone with a strong work ethic any day over someone who is supposedly “gifted” but can’t meet deadlines or take pride in the quality of his/her work. Labor Omnia Vincit!
  2. Dress for success – the “I just got back from a kegger look” won’t cut it. Mark Zweig wrote about this in the April 25th edition of The Zweig Letter, and he was right on point. Even in the business casual world of 2016, our clients expect professionalism from us, and that starts with how we present ourselves. If we want to charge those healthy hourly rates, we need to look and act like we deserve it. Make a good impression on your clients and your boss by dressing sharp for work.
  3. Establish technical expertise – become a professional. Fortunately, in the U.S. we have laws that require qualified professionals to design projects and stamp construction plans and studies. Besides basic pride in the accomplishment, being a licensed professional makes one marketable, and clients and employers need that expertise. I’ve never met anyone who said, “Boy, I sure regret getting my P.E. license.”
  4. Be a team player. I don’t think we’ve ever had a project in our business that was completely produced by one person; design and construction projects are all about working with people. You’ve got to be able to get along with people to have any chance of success.
  5. Become an excellent writer. For most in our industry, our college education is spent in classes teaching the technical parts of the profession – doing calculations and working problems. Unfortunately, far too many new graduates leave college without the ability to write a paragraph that is grammatically correct, with correct spelling, correct punctuation, etc. Don’t slip into “text mode” in business communication, including letters and email. Learn to write well and don’t be afraid of edits and feedback from others.
  6. Become an excellent speaker. Let’s face it; most folks in this profession are introverts. There’s nothing we love better than cranking out drawings and spreadsheets all day. But, to be a successful architect or engineer, you’ve got to learn to be comfortable speaking in front of others. It doesn’t come naturally for most people, so it takes practice, practice, practice. When an NBA player hits a clutch shot at the last second to win the game, he didn’t make that by accident – years and years of practice went into preparing him for that moment. The same is true with speaking in public – it takes practice, so look for ways to hone that skill and it will serve you well.
  7. Establish relationships with clients. The lifeblood of this business is revenue, and revenue comes from clients. The person who can form and foster relationships with clients, bringing new work to his or her firm, will always be highly valued.
  8. Look for challenging opportunities. It’s easy to fade into the woodwork. Just show up for work, do the hours and leave at the end of the day. Don’t be that guy or gal. Ask your boss for challenges and difficult projects. When the office needs someone to organize a fund-raiser, step up and take it on. Be the person who stands out because of your enthusiasm for any task.
  9. Become involved in your community. Life is not all about you. Invest time outside work hours in things you are passionate about: church, professional or technical societies, social clubs, Big Bros/Big Sis, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, coaching youth sports, etc. Find something that you are genuinely interested in and give back. Your life will be richer for it.
I’m sure many of you have helpful advice for people entering our profession, and I would love to hear what you have to say. Matt Crafton is president and CEO of Crafton Tull, an architecture, engineering, and surveying firm based in Rogers, Arkansas. He can be reached at matt.crafton@craftontull.com.

This article is from issue 1155 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.