A top recruiter says engineering positions are getting more specialized, which doesn’t bode well for job seekers
Mike Delaney, an EE and founder of the recruitment firm Global Network
Recruiting (GNR), which specializes in the high-tech industry, recalls
what the engineering job market was like when he first got into the
business in the early 1990s: “We were going through this tech bubble
and things were just exploding. There was a ton of money and a ton of
engineers. Everybody was changing jobs--I was taking engineers from the
defense industry who were doing chips and embedded software and putting
them into telecom jobs and vice versa.”
And that doesn’t bode well for engineers who’ve been caught up in a
lay-off or are simply looking for a change, as their skill sets alone
(with the exception of analog power management, which is in huge
demand) may no longer be enough to impress hiring managers. Delaney
does note that individuals fluent in embedded software, C, and core
processors are likely to have better luck, as these skills are more
transferable and in demand.
But with seemingly their pick of qualified candidates, Delany says that
companies are increasingly less willing to cross individuals into
industries. “There’s a learning curve with anyone starting a new
position, and it’s exaggerated when that person is also moving into a
new industry,” says Delaney. “Ideally, hiring managers want to hire
people from the same sector.
Delaney says that some hiring managers think that because of the high
unemployment rate, the ideal candidate will be more easily found. Not
so. “Everybody with that specific skill set is currently employed in
the industry and valued and making a competitive salary,” says Delaney.
So what’s an engineer to do?
While not always of interest to engineers, moving into a non-design
engineering position may be one option.
At Texas Instruments, for example, Manager of Staffing Brian Rankin
says that field application and systems engineers are more in demand
than designers. Currently, he says, TI has 60 to 70 open positions in
these two areas. “We’re looking for engineers who have worked for our
customers, as they have a unique perspective on what our customers need
and how we can support their revenue growth,” says Rankin.
Delaney suggests that to boost their marketability engineers might
consider taking additional coursework to update their skills or even
earn another degree, which he says is going to carry some significant
As for the future, Delaney says he sees no reversal in this trend,
pointing to the fact that technology is getting more complex. “We talk
about the wireless world. In the past we had a bag phone, and now we
have PDA devices that stream video across your phone. Like it or not,
engineering jobs are getting more niched. “
I've actually seen this happening in the EDA world. Several field app guys have come on board who were formerly designers with customers of the EDA company. As the semi companies shed designers the vendors are snapping them up. But semi companies seem to be making more use of design "consultants" rather than hire in house. It might make sense for out of work engineers to start using social media, like Linkedin, to find more freelance work and, in the process, develop the skills they need.
I've given up on trying to figure out what motivates hiring. I have 30 years experience... I think that seeing my resume and cover letter, they see how broad my experience is and they just cannot accept that one person can know that much experience with great depth (which I do), so they hire someone with a narrower skill set as they believe that they will have greater depth (again not true). What they miss is the broader experience allows one to see new ways and algorithms towards solving old problems in new ways. The answer all seems to point towards trying to find a way to start your own business. Problem is earning enough to get that going.
I am in the same boat. 30 yr designing hardware, writing embedded software. Started as an analog guy. Took a diags software job at AMD about 13 yrs ago for 6 yr and after that everyone thought I was a software guy. I only got into that because sw people just frustrated the heck out me. even tough everything I was doing was for hardware; bringup, validation, ect.
Recently, I did a yr and a half contract at AMD again but this time in per-silicon verification. After that I applied for a contract in board bringup that was very similar to the job before that: response from hiring mgr: "we are lookin for someone with more recent board experience".
I am currently at a job 1500 miles away from home. When it got offered I didn't even think twice about it.
This website is as stupid as hiring managers!! My well thoughtout response to you was obliterated as the site decided that I wasn't signed in.
This is certainly an example of the level of awareness that we are dealing with.
Do not ever tell a hiring moron that you have 30 years experience. That tells them you are 50+ years old and bordering on senility, ie too old to be considered. Against the law to discriminate based on age? Can you prove it in court?
Look at any typical job post for an electrical engineer. The hiring morons want proficient in software, proficient in digital hardware, proficient in analog hardware, and proficient in PCB layput tools, all in the same person. They have no clue that these are very different disciplines.
Twenty years ago hiring was done by real hiring managers whi actually looked at resumes and understood the skill sets of the applicants. Today applicants are selected through keyword matching tools.
I think the problem with your case is you have too much experience - and higher pay demands comes with much experience. The thing is most job positions can be filled with candidates with 3 to 5 years experience (unless it is an executive or very senior role). I agree you may do a better job than someone with less experience, but you would demand more money.
In addition, someone with 5 years experience may have the same capabilities as you do on current systems and technologies. This is because these systems and technologies would have changed so much since 30 years ago and all that knowledge and experience you have on antiquated systems may not be needed anymore.
I have also faced similar situations in the past - headhunters especially, are willing to sacrifice quality in order to recruit candidates with low wage demands. Most of the time, employers may even be willing to up the rates but the headhunters preclude contact between the employer and the candidate.
So the main problem in these situations are the headhunters, and the only way for experienced professionals to stay ahead of the competition is to steer their career towards management positions in their respective professions. Otherwise the pay kind of flattens out.
zeeglen, your comment is quite hilarious but you do raise a valid question. Tunrayo also moves towards my direction of thinking. If someone has a broad experience then it makes sense to manage the complete projects. I think that is a better way to use the experience and be more productive to the company.
I disagree with Tunrayo that someone with 5 year of experience may compete with someone with 30 years of experience. A person with 5 yr of experience might have some specific knowledges and upgraded theoretical knowledge but practice makes an engineer perfect.
I think it depends on the engineer. Some guys have 5 years of experience where they learn and grow each year. Others have one year of growth and just hang around for the remaining four years. So you could have 5 years of experience or 1 year of experience 5 years in a row.
I see every what Tunrayo is talking about. We have specific prog. run by in-house managers. They are always using the less exp. eng. on the low end of the pay scale and they are always behind schedule and over-budget. You get what you pay for.
I have seen the very same experience in the hiring process: they scan the resume for the right buzzwords and score it based on words found. Once past that gauntlet, the phone conversation with a recruiter (internal or external) with no technical clues occurs. If you get pass that brick wall, then you may, again may, get to speak to someone who understands engineering. Most companies do not yet understand and truly value broad-base skills/experience in applicants. As a result, most older engineers are culled out, instead younger "perfect fit" / lower cost individuals are selected which results in potential loss of experience, depth, and understanding of the bigger picture. I can only hope that this trend reverses or it will be very difficult for future engineers.
zeeglen, haven't you been paying attention these last 10 years?
Look at any typical job post for an electrical engineer. The hiring morons want proficient in software, proficient in digital hardware, proficient in analog hardware, and proficient in PCB layput tools, all in the same person. They have no clue that these are very different disciplines.
The companies know they will never find such an animal. If something like this did exist and was truely proficient in everything, he would likely be working for his own company. These ads are part of the H-1B scam. Once this ad is placed and nobody can fill it, the company will then claim some H-1B from India can and will then hire an H-1B, nobody from the US government will check that the Indian has these skills.
Hey Mark, I really don't find it might be a H1-B scam... because similar ads have started appearing in India too, and I really don't think India is outsourcing or hiring engineers as she produces quite a plentiful every year with quite lower costs.
I think this is an new trend that has been setup by smart HR managers to workaround with salary packages, diminishing your work experience and fill in lower end of the pyramid -- all in all to buy an expert at lower targets.
I recently read an email from job consultant expecting me to answer following questions (a) Total work exp. in yrs (b) Work exp. in Assembly/Embedded C (c) Work exp in Analog electronics (d) Work exp. in FPGAs and (e) Work exp. in application languages (VC++/VC#/Java)...
Even if I might be able to work on all of these, I really cannot blow up my "total" relevant experience into (b.c.d and e.)
Employers are doing themselves a huge disservice by doing things like this. Intelligence and creativity are far more important that specific narrow skills. Someone who wants to expand their knowledge and learn new things is typically a far better employee who is stuck in a rut.
I agree completely. If some intelligent creative person wants to build software to perform a specific function he will tend to keep working at it until it's done and will pick up whatever knowledge is needed to do the job. This is how the PC software industry mushroomed in the first place. Companies don't need to invest in training so much as they do in people who are creative enough to get the job done without training.
Yes, specialisation is what companies are looking for now as they do not want to invest in training etc. before someone is truly productive. From what I can see and hear, companies are hiring these people as consultants on fixed contracts, which is understandable in such unceetain economic times.
Both generalists and specialists are needed in successful engineering projects. However, the projects are complex enough today that the proportions have changed, significantly favoring the specialists. That's painful enough, though it could be addressed through continuing ed and alert career management. The problem is where are the next good generalists going to come from if good engineers can't evolve out of their starting specialties. Also what's the impact on entering engineers if they have to pick a specialty to get hired (an MS/PhD having a higher initial investment cost, while reducing the payback window if there is a higher risk of individual obsolescence?
I have 40+ years of experience as a generalist. I have no specific knowledge of a particular chip, or software language.
Yet, I am still working.
Why? What is my value? I know how to think and solve problems. And have done so in many different industries, with many different products.
I know what I don't know. I know what questions to ask, who to ask, and know how to evaluate and apply the answers.
I can work closely with the people who have the skills I lack, and synergistically, increase engineering production.
I have worked with bit jockeys with EE degrees and had to teach them basic electricity
That is the value of generalists, jack of all trades, that management is not understanding.
Specialization vs. generalization is not today’s issue. It has been many years, at least 10 years that I can say, as I was getting off with some experience. I was asked once from my colleagues if he needs to be specialized or generalized. I had a no clue what he was talking about. I stay put and think about it. I also observed others.
I see the most success, when one first specialized in one area for a good. Later in career, that person has a capacity to become a generalized with a margin. It is like, PhD can work on anything, and rather MS can work on a specific thing. Like a previous commenter said, I know how to think and solve problems. More importantly, I learned how to work and help with people who can listen. I also learned how to deal with people who does not appreciate a colleague.
I have to agree with Tunrayo. It is indeed more an economic choice than a change brought on by technology. How does one become a generalist? In most cases, generalization implies experience. Demanding specific skill sets for a position is a method of targeting younger, less experienced engineers who demand less pay than a more experienced "generalist". Demanding specific skill sets is more palatable than simply stating "We want skilled engineers, but are not willing or able to pay much for them."
Just as important as hard skills are soft skills, an engineer that can network and communicate will have fewer problems finding a job regardless of age and industry sector. In my company we place as much emphasis on soft skills as hard. You could be the world's best designer, but you won't get hired if the soft skills aren't present. About %70 of our design team is over 50.
Hey, I was just talking with an engineering manager of a semi company looking for designers about this. Tried to get him to go on anonymously but he wouldn't do it. He said the biggest impediment to getting a tech job in this country is the HR and recruiting people. He said the qualifications they list as requirements are meant to discourage a lot of applicants and start out as "wish lists" from management. He said he rarely hires people sent to him from recruiters but often tells the recruiter who he wants to hire after thy have come to him from other sources. His recommendation is to network, uses social media and try to find away around the HR brick wall.
Check out that company before you submit a resume! Has it ever been convicted in the civil or criminal courts? Does it advertise positions for "ghost jobs"? (Many companies post non-existent jobs in order to give the appearance of expanding business). Be careful, be very careful my friends that you don't end up in a company run by idiots!
Very interesting article, as recent graduate of EE I am now getting more used to this kind of mindset. I chose control systems and robotics as my stream (however, I am having feelings I should have taken power stream), and it seems that control engineering jobs are rare these days. It seems that in shaky times like these employers are unwilling to hire and train new graduates.
@Rich, you are correct. I know of a friend's firm where there is a hiring freeze for the last 18 months. Yet, if you visit the career webpage, you will see many jobs. The reality is that no one looks at those resumes which are being submitted. Because there is no opening to start with. Being honest is not just in P&L for the SEC, firms must learn to act responsibly and stop deceiving people. Also we have job seekers that just taunt employers sending resume when they are not even interested in the job just to waste the people's time. Moral and business ethics is not about money, this job posting and applying matter a lot.
I have 15 yrs experience in the embedded sw side of these industries: telecoms (switch, wireless, IP), television (IPTV, set top box), GPS, Security, RFID. Yet when I lost my job over a year ago I tried to revector higher up to app level. I tailored my resume and got an interview with a telecoms billing outfit for a position in a real-time billing app. I prepared meticulously and did what I thought was a superb interview. The interviewers were very impressed with my presentation and knowledge too (and even called me to say so). But they said they regretted they could't hire me because they weren't prepared to take the hit on my ramp up time (it would have taken a good number of months to gain useful system and domain specific knowledge). In the end I was fortunate enough to pick up a job in my old game: embedded sw. But the message is: after a long number of years, you do get pidgeon-holed, and it is very hard to make a transition given that companies are no longer prepared to make investments in people like they once were. (In contrast, I changed jobs voluntarily in 2000 and the only problem was managing my time to do interviews and deciding between an attractive array of offers). I agree with the commenter who said, in the end, you are better to move into management. Over the next 5 years that's where I hope to be headed.
One thing is certain, getting past, around, through, whatever regarding HR is the key. It is sad that it is next to impossible to get past the HR gate keepers to talk with the hiring manager. Hopefully some day the practice of having job fairs and getting face-to-face contact with the hiring managers without the HR filters will return.
Background - 20 years experience in ASIC, mostly consulting over the last 10. I also work part time in the entertainment industry.
I work closely with a couple of contract placement agents - 90% of my work over the last 10 years has come from 2 or 3 agents. After working in the entertainment industry, I began to see a similarity - a successful actor usually has a successful agent behind them. I think the same is true for a successful Consulting Engineer.
I was considering putting one of these agents on a permanent retainer - let him handle all of my contract affairs, for a cut of my salary, whatever I am doing - along the lines of an entertainment industry agent. A crazy idea, unheard of in this industry, but the times they are a changing. Getting through the "HR Brick Wall" is starting to look a lot like getting through the "studio brick wall"... Plus, that beats getting a contract through a "bodyshop" where they take a ~50% cut - which I find is outrageous!
I am a Component Engineer. Whoever writes the job requirements/descriptions for Component Engineering positions often has no clue what a Component Engineer is, or what one does. I often see Component Engineering combined with positions that are totally unrelated disciplines. Is that because the department is too cheap to hire two qualified people? And just because for instance, a few Component/Reliability Engineers do exist, it does not mean that that is the norm.
In general, I have a feeling that some hiring managers are like ladies that have seen too many romantic movies, or read too many romance novels.
They will remain unattached forever, because they acquire too many unrealistic expectations: Mr Perfect, "the man of their dreams" simply does not exist. (Same goes for guys looking for Ms Perfect.)
I personally often have trouble with the Walking on Water Test.
I am always reminded of "Up the Organization" where the author suggests to hire the first person that meets the job qualifications. At that point, stop interviewing and stop wasting your and everyone else's time.
20+ years experience in 10+ jobs. It is close to impossible to explain to someone what I am capable of. But, with my 20+ years of experience, I have enough contacts in my social networks that I can find the hiring manager and bypass the HR. Linkedin is your friend. HR is your enemy.
The hiring process, even with the best intentions, has become distorted, misused, and comical if it were not also tragic in its lack of appropriateness for either the prospective hire or recruiting firm. The one statistic that stands out is 70% of hiring comes from personal networking. What has been said above reflects astute observations and reasoning. The personal referral is effective because the hiring persons trust the referral from someone they know, trust, and respect.
In my long history of hiring and being hired, I have one metric/guideline that I look for and that I try to follow and it comes from one of my management heroes, Dee Hock, the founder of Visa International and it applies for us technologists or managers alike. It is the closest I have ever seen 'proven and tested' rule. Here is the gem:
"Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience.
Without integrity, motivation is dangerous;
Without motivation, capacity is impotent;
Without capacity, understanding is limited;
Without understanding, knowledge is meaningless;
Without knowledge, experience is blind.
Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities."
In these tough hiring times, it is imperative that managers take time to identify true achievers and talent without being hung up on formulaic tight descriptions. Teams are strong if they have diverse complementary skills not cookie cutter robots who can speak the language but not convey the essence or the results.
Indeed, it takes a skilled manager to successfully run a company. Sadly, those kind of people are so very few...
It first starts with inegrity, which has been placed lately on the "prohibited use" list. Unless one does not intend to be hired...
The rest is just a matter of luck!
All comments are very interesting and we seem to agree upon the point that the culprits are HR people who have no clue what to look for. Shouldn't the engineers be in more demand in next 10 years or so because of the scarcity of engineers as the baby-boomers retire? Then it makes sense for the companies that they do not become choosy and invest in people. I do not understand the foresaid trend of the companies becoming more choosy!
Reading all these comments makes me strongly convinced once more, that the only way experienced engineers can have a bright future is by becoming masters of their own destiny, that is by moving towards the path of entrepreneurship. We engineers apply our design skills to create new products and solutions that have a positive impact on the world. And yet we get pigeonholed, working for others, over a long period of time. Why don't we focus on creating complete solutions as independent owners of our own companies? The world is always going to need services of creative engineers. By becoming entrepreneurs, we can avoid becoming obsolete and yet find self-fulfilment in all the innovative solutions that we create.
My Blog: www.uspurtek.com
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I guess that a lot depends on how you exactly define "being choosy", as there are various shades of it, often abused. If it is being used for precise emphasis on the very substance and/or high degree of verifiable specialization in the technical expertise sought, it may be regarded as the long overdue "rational factor" in the choice of hiring engineers. But, when the economy is bad and the supply is abundant, the modality of "choosiness" would naturally emerge and be exercised in various degrees of shades. As laborers, we can only hope that it would be deployed or exercised as rationally as possible as the time goes on. Knowing what exactly a company needs in the candidates and how to spot it, are still black art and would remain so for some time. I can only hope that there is an increasing realization of a company hiring nothing else, but a technical worker (i.e., the engineer), and they would be utterly alone with his/her technical productivity and effective expertise at the end of the day, not his/her charm or political abilities, or age, or his/her previous economy compensation, or his/her "15+ years at the John Deer Tractor Factory" in this so called "choosiness". The role of HR is determined by the middle technical management, and the role only reflects or mirror images the middle management. They can use it as a meaningful aid for collecting resumes or a wall of frivolous screening, about which we, the candidates, can do nothing.
In sum, as a bottom line, I second Mr. Camille K. above.
I have been a hiring manager in the semiconductor industry for 20+ years, and never cared much about any input from HR, until the final decision point (at which time I asked them to do the standard criminal, etc., background check). I looked at all resumes myself and decided whom to interview. Also, I worked directly (not through HR) with a very limited number of qualified recruiters who knew what I was looking for and understood that I did not appreciate them making screening decisions. I assume that most of the hiring managers who have experience work this way.
Simon and Isaac bring up good points about the screening process needing to be transparent and clearly delineated about filtering protocols. Sometimes the best insight about a candidate fit comes outside the formal interview process in social settings (like lunch) where you get to observe the thinking, decision making and insight in day to day operation where, contrary to the box of chocolates saying, you know what you are going to get in terms of passion or knowledge or fit. Getting to the interview is usually the biggest hurdle for a candidate. (And thank you Isaac for the kind words).
"The role of HR is determined by the middle technical management, and the role only reflects or mirror images the middle management. They can use it as a meaningful aid for collecting resumes or a wall of frivolous screening, about which we, the candidates, can do nothing."
Who are these middle management? Are they generalist or specialist?
I propose to everyone who is bugged by the "middle management bug" in the recruitment system should read through a rare but interesting article from CIO.com with title "Job Search: What to Do When You're Overqualified"
Its time to think of turning this "New Abnormal" to something sensible. I believe over the last 30 years or so, the so-called Middle-Management has been very effective to fatten up the organization at the Middle.
The time could not be far, when this breed of "Middle Management" would need to find jobs for themselves, which they are presently preserving ,at the cost of massive organizational inefficiencies and denying or delaying the impending changes.
Here is a short story that I had fun writing. It is just a story.
I hate to admit it but when I say jump, most of the time I really just want to see someone jump. I appreciate when a go-getter asks if they jumped high enough. Engineers with decades of experience usually don't jump and endeavor to tell me why running is more appropriate. Once we "agree" on the objective of jumping, they invariably go away and run to achieve it. Great. Meanwhile, my willing jumpers have gotten good at jumping and recommend we try running and then jumping. Why, that is a new idea, let's try it! The experienced guy, after providing us the requisite education on why that has never worked in the past, agrees on the new direction and, of course, goes away to run and run some more. This is the other edge or the experience sword. Try not to be "that guy."
Have enough faith in yourself to take a leap..it's amazing how little cash you need to start your own business. If you don't take a leap of faith now - you never will.
Consulting works great also..build a reference database...check in often..lots of work if you'll call and ask.
I am an electrical and electronics engineer having 3 years of experience including 1 year in gulf country.But still now i didnt got a job of my satisfaction,means fully electrical or electronics field.Now i am working in street lighting project.But this job is not enough to use my knowledge into work.Just can anyone guide me for better career.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.