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Software and hardware engineers are in demand. To get the lowdown on exactly what we saw last year, check out this recap: The Top Senior-Level Tech Skills of 2019.

Regardless of this demand, the best consulting engineers face downtime between engagements. It’s important to take active steps to stay marketable, whether you’re in the thick of a high-impact project or in the process of exploring different career options. 

Before I share some of the best practices the top senior-level software and hardware engineers do to maintain their competitive edge, it’s important to point out some common myths about not working. Although there’s a fear of staying on the market too long, holding out for the right projects is not a bad thing. In fact, I’ve seen engineers have to turn down amazing consulting opportunities because they can’t leave their current lackluster project high and dry (a good thing not to do). The bottom-line is: your level of skill and the demand for your experience does not fade overnight. Sure, I don’t recommend going months or years of not working, but being selective is smart.

Before taking on a new contract, make sure it meets your criteria. If you’re not sure what you should prioritize, check out this article on What Engineers Want in a Contracting Opportunity. This will give you a good place to start on evaluating your own career path.

Competitive Edge: How the Best Consulting Engineers Stay Marketable

When you’re an engineer on a high-profile project—like one where you get to work with the latest stack of technology or manage a team of other engineers—you’re constantly sharpening your skills. But for those consulting engineers in between projects looking to stay marketable, here are six things you can do:

  • Get certified. For example, LabVIEW, C++, Cloud, web and PCB are all great certifications to pursue as a senior engineer. Use your ‘down time’ to your advantage. There are always new programming languages and systems to bone up on.
  • Revamp your resume. A great resume takes time to build, and it’s never truly ever finished. Consider your resume a living, breathing document that needs regular attention. Contracting engineers especially need to ensure all of their most recent projects are listed on their resume. For some quick tips, here is What You Should – And Should Not – Have on Your Senior IT Resume.
  • Work on your interviewing skills. If you are a seasoned engineer, you likely do not think you need to work on your interview skills, which is precisely why you should. And even though a lot of interviews happen over the phone these days, it’s still important to hone the skills. Read up on the latest interview techniques and styles and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. To get started, here is an article on The 5 Soft Skills Hiring Managers Want to See Most in an Interview.
  • Consider new locations. If you’re consistently having a hard time finding local work, it may be time to look elsewhere. Senior IT professionals, specifically hardware and software engineers, are in demand – but that doesn’t necessarily mean your skill set is in demand where you live. When you’re in between projects, use your time to research new places to live and work. A lot, but not all, IT contracts today offer the option to work remotely, so it’s a good idea to have a shortlist of places you’re interested in and open to relocating to (even if it’s in your mind or something you only discuss with your family). Proactive beats reactive, every time. Know what you want and where you’re willing to go.
  • Take a contract out of state. The best part about a contract is that it’s not permanent. Maybe you don’t have your shortlist of locations you’re willing to permanently relocate to drafted yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give new places a try. Taking a contract position that is out of state is a great way to expose yourself to new industries and companies, as well as new people and ways of life. You don’t know until you try!
  •  Consider taking a role that isn’t an exact match. It’s important to know what you want and to not accept every contract that comes your way. But, it’s equally as important not to be too rigid in what you will consider. It’s a balance. If this seems a little tricky to navigate, consider discussing contract details with a mentor or a recruiting partner so you can weigh the pros and cons.

Staying competitive boils down to a commitment to always be learning something new. In fact, it’s one of the most sought-after qualities hiring managers look for in today’s IT professional. It can be hard to quantify, but when recruiters and hiring managers meet senior engineers who have demonstrated an ability to learn and adapt throughout their career, those are the engineers who don’t last long on the job market.