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Background

I got my bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. While I was in school, I got an internship doing Instrument and Controls Systems engineering. I never planned to stay there, but when graduation came around, the engineering market wasn't doing so hot, and my only offer came from the company that I had the internship with. I stayed there and have been working in Instrumentation full time for the past 8 months (I also interned with them 2 years). Now, my company is starting to lay off because they are running out of work.

The Problem

Now, I'm out looking for jobs again, and while I would love to switch to a job doing Mechanical work, all of my experience shows Instrumentation. The market in my area still isn't doing so hot, and it looks like the only job that I can get is another Instrumentation job. I'm happy to take any work right now, but I'm afraid that this is going to become my specialty, and if I keep taking these jobs, I won't ever be able to switch into Mechanical Engineering. Is this really a problem or is it all in my head? Does anyone have any advice on switching specialties?

  • 2
    Pick up a copy of "What color is my parachute". This book is designed for that question. – Richard U Jan 25 '17 at 14:14
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For some background; I am a mechanical engineer who has been working in industry for 20 years. I have done lots of purely mechanical work and also plenty of instrumentation and other things. I have switched between design engineering, test engineering, project engineering and even manufacturing engineering on a plant floor...I have switched industries between home appliances, automotive, oil and gas, medical device... Well, you get the idea.

Honestly, you're really overthinking this, especially so early in your career. The key is to figure out what you want to do, how the skills and experience you do have transfer to the job you want and how exactly to communicate that to the people who interview you. Use the experience and skills you have acquired from doing instrumentation as something to give you an edge over someone who doesn't have similar history.

  • Thank you! This makes me feel a lot better about my future. – Faulkner Jan 25 '17 at 19:44
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You are early enough on in your career that switching shouldn't be a huge problem. Basically you are going to be entry level wherever you go. The issue comes when you have several years experience and the expectation is you won't work for entry level wages.

To smooth the transition, highlight the mechanical portions of what you do in your resume. Assuming your work is similar to that of the instrumentation guys at my plant, valve work will often be applicable to both mechanical and instrumentation.

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Is this really a problem or is it all in my head?

I don't see your specialisation being a problem because:

  • You have a degree in your desired field
  • You have experience in an engineering business
  • You are still quite new to the workforce, therefore you are unlikely to be pigeonholed by recruiters

Does anyone have any advice on switching specialties?

As mentioned, you have relevant qualifications and industry experience. If you can demonstrate experience working in cross departmental teams with mechanical engineering components, then that is even better.

PS: in the world of freelancing, specialists command higher rates of pay than generalists, provided there is a market for the skills. The same tends to apply for employed roles. So specialisation isn't a bad thing per se, as long as that specialisation suits you.

PPS: if your local job market is shrinking, consider searching non-local markets. Engineering tends to flourish in certain parts of the world for cultural or socio-economic reasons.

  • As far as switching locales goes, I'm kind of stuck where I am because I have a young daughter and she goes back and forth between me and her father. Thanks for the advice :) – Faulkner Jan 25 '17 at 14:32

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