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currently, I've been employed for a few years as R&D-Engineer in a medium to large company. Pay is decent, work is mostly interesting, the colleagues are great and the hours are ok (leaving me enough time for my family). Unfortunately, my boss and his boss (and that's about the hierarchy in our company) are both unable and unwilling to organize anything but rather tinker with technical details of our work. Deadlines, budgets and people-hours are completely meaningless, if we can just do another revision to squeeze the final .1% out of any design. Needless to say, nothing much gets done and always our department is to blame. This is so frustrating to me that I consider quitting any day now.

And now to the question - what is supposed to come after? From school over my PhD to my current work, I have always tried not to focus too much on any single field of competence. And so today I'll probably write some lines of program code, design, assemble and test a mechanical device tomorrow and yesterday I might just have rendered a beautiful animation of one of our products. (Note that while I can do all those things and more, I am necessarily a lot slower than any specialist in the respective field!)

All standard career advice seems to point me into the direction of seeking an entry-level (or higher) management position next. Unfortunately, I know myself to be as bad in organizing as my current boss and I really don't like being responsible for other peoples' work.
Other suggested career-paths appear to be specialist or consulting positions, which don't really seem to fit my profile either.

My concern is, that for a position that is somewhat comparable to what I am doing now, at nearly 40 I might already be viewed as slightly too old (read: inflexible) and my pay expectations may be too high.

So, where should I look for a job that gives me the freedom to make use of all my talents but is hopefully better organized (and paid!) than the current one? Or more specifically: What keywords or position designations in job offers should I look for?

I know, I know, I'm having a bit of a luxury problem here, but still I'd be grateful for any advice!

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    Welcome! I feel your frustration, but I have to ask: what is your question? What do you want to do? – spuck Mar 12 at 17:22
  • Thanks! I hope it is now clearer what kind of advice I am looking for! – haarigertroll Mar 12 at 18:05
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Don't sell yourself short

You have experience and you did stuff. Now you need to define what is this stuff.

Begin listing all your achievements this last years, have someone review it and again don't be too humble. This work will allow you to find out (hopefully) that you're not en entry level engineer but someone competent and experienced that deserve a better position or a better job.

Job seeking

As for finding the job you want there is no magic formula. Look at a lot of job ads, be proactive, do a lo of interview if necessary, ask the question that matters to you.

If you can do a lot of things it means you have a lot of possibility that's good for you. It also means you have good adaptability and that may be something sought after by potential employers.

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Have you considered a sales engineer or professional services role? These require people with wide-ranging engineering skills capable of talking to both customers and the company's engineers, and putting together demos and prototypes at short notice.

Typical downsides include sales compensation (good when you hit your quota, bad if you don't), potentially a lot of travel, and having to endure lots of meetings, but there's a lot of variation in these roles depending on company, field, skillset, etc.

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  • In my experience, R&D-engineers make bad salespersons and vice versa. I am trained to spot the flaws in our designs, not conveniently overlook them ;-) – haarigertroll Mar 13 at 13:44
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    Most companies distinguish between pure sales folks (who do the pitching) and sales engineers (who need to make it actually work). I'm referring to the latter. – lambshaanxy Mar 13 at 14:10
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    Thanks, I hadn't thought of this so far! I'll have a look in this direction! – haarigertroll Mar 16 at 7:53
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University research engineer?

The jobs I see advertised there often require a flexible engineer who can help design, build and program experimental devices and test builds.

They often don't advertise their jobs on the normal job boards - you have to apply directly.

(I live in UK, so maybe things are different where you are).

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  • Considering that here most research positions at universities or comparable institutions are fixed-term and somewhat less well paid than what I am doing now, this option is sadly not overly attractive... – haarigertroll Mar 13 at 12:32

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