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I work in a mechanical engineering design role in the UK, I love design and I'm not much of a people-person so I would be happy staying in the bottom end of the company which focuses on the applications of engineering to a project rather than roles in management of employees or liaising with other businesses. I have no salary ambitions either so non-manager salary is good for me.

I have been told by friends that companies hire the design engineers with the idea that they will progress up to management so if I'm 35 years old and I haven't moved up the corporate ladder then nobody will be interested in hiring me. They say that the junior roles are for young energetic people while the more senior roles are for people with a lot of experience in the industry, as I get older I won't match the jobs I'm looking for.

The last thing I have heard supporting this is that if I have 15 years experience and I'm not searching for a very senior role then I'll be overqualified for the jobs I want and a hiring manager may think I'm looking for a temporary job at his company because I'm applying to a job below my worth.

How can I ensure that this doesn't make me unemployable if I refuse to move into managerial positions?

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I don't know much about the industry practices in UK or Mechanical Engineering, but at least in IT, there is such a thing called Technical Career Path. Here's one quick article I found: talentmgt.com/articles/not-all-ladders-lead-to-management However, as you go higher up the technical ladder, you will end up doing management of some kind (people/project/client/...), even if the role isn't explicitly called such. – Masked Man Mar 28 at 11:03
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I made a slight edit to keep this a bit more on topic here. If that changed your intent too much feel free to edit and clarify. – enderland Mar 28 at 12:06
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As someone who largly agrees with you but is older, I'd say you may find you are more open to management roles after ten to twenty years of working "in the trenches". Not that the trenches get bad, but I've found myself feeling like I could do more and be more effective by mentoring and leading people who are doing the work, even though I always swore to myself I would never want to manage people. – Todd Wilcox Mar 28 at 14:41
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There seems to be a logical flaw (besides the Peter Principle aspects) in the idea that all engineers should progress to managers. If we assume graduation at 25, retirement at 65, and management role at 35, we wind up with (assuming no premature deaths) three times as many managers as productive workers. – jamesqf Mar 28 at 19:10

It all depends on how you promote yourself and describe yourself.

  • "I never wanted more responsibility than I had when I started my job X years ago"
  • "I am super passionate about mechanical design and want to continue doing this"
  • "I don't want to be a senior ever since it's hard"
  • "I've found that I contribute the best when I am doing design work and want to focus on becoming an expert in it."
  • "I find I really like solving the day to day problems involved in design and am best at that. Getting too involved in management related things causes my overall effectiveness to drop significantly"

There are a lot of ways to approach this but the important thing is to show a compelling reason why you are not at where people "expect." If you do not answer this unspoken question people will fill in their answer with whatever they think the reason is.

Pursuing technical excellence can be a good, marketable reason. Suggesting you are interested in a technical career path is a reason people will find good. Keep in mind most technical promotions still have some element of management, perhaps mentoring juniors or leading projects.

Now, if you are basically staying at entry level positions because you do not like people and do not want any responsibility that will get more difficult to sell as a reason because... honestly avoiding those are not really good things in general for an employee.

Also, assuming you are doing this for a career, you will develop connections from previous coworkers/colleagues. These connections can be invaluable for getting jobs as your career progresses. Keep this in mind - even someone who is a self-claimed "not much of a people-person" might still consider caring about this.

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+1 Very thorough and with examples – Richard U Mar 28 at 12:17
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@user25299 you must be Chris? I'm a bit confused. – enderland Mar 28 at 13:32
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@user25299 It appears you have two accounts, and you should be able to merge them together (and change the name). Of course, you don't need to do this. – Tas Mar 28 at 22:33

You are the Dream Employee. You don't need to do anything but show up and do a good job.

When interviewing somewhere else you simply state that money isn't your #1 goal and you love your work. You may have a couple of people scuff at "too good to be true, there must be something wrong with this guy" but any good hiring manager would be giddy after meeting a good prospect with tons of experience that doesn't want to climb the company ladder.

I have hired people like you at age 55 to 30 years-old. Your stance is actually quite common with the tech industry. I can say unequivocally that your type is one of the least common and most sought after.

However I would note that I really hope money isn't a concern because it is easy to say that if the company that you are working for now truly values you and gives you great raises to keep you on the line but you might not expect the same pay or a raise somewhere else. At larger companies, like mine, it isn't an option for me to pay a tech 1.5 times because he will be twice as fast - even if I could prove it.

Note: 20 minutes after writing the answer I talk to a good friend who runs a grant department for a local university. She hired a lady in her early 60s that wanted to do just 1st level work - about 3 months ago. The story she told me is that she told her she was hired 10 minutes into her first interview. Now already her best employee. She said that hiring her was almost instant. The lady simply said she didn't want to manage people, just liked doing the grant work, getting paychecks/benefits.

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Do you have any evidence that mechE has a similar culture as "tech," by which you probably mean high tech? Silicon Valley has opened to this career path -- ish, it's still assumed you take larger responsibilities -- but I'm not sure about other industries. – djechlin Mar 28 at 19:38

Not wanting to climb the organizational chart is different from not wanting to grow. Make sure you project yourself as someone who is willing to grow and be a leader, even if you're not interested in being a manager.

I led a team where we had one or two resources who had not had a single promotion or merit raise during their years with the company. The bar for receiving a small raise was very low, so never getting a raise essentially meant you just didn't care about being mediocre. These resources had a poor attitude toward learning and contributed little to the team's progress.

Close to us, however, worked another guy who had no management aspirations but was technically competent and wanted to learn new things. That is a much more valuable resource to the company.

Your future potential employers have probably already experienced the former type of employee. Make sure that when others see your lack of promotions, they also see someone who can be a good specialist, not someone who just doesn't care about his job.

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