drawn designs and engineering instruments

Engineer Your Career

As a matter of introduction

I was the first in my extended family to go to college and obtain a degree. There was no master plan, no strong sense of direction. Planning was often vague and incremental. Similar to taking baby steps while feeling your way through a dark room. 

I graduated from Southwest Missouri State University in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing. Wow - that was 41 years ago. During my career I have held 13 titles within nine different organizations. I have ENGINEERED and RE-ENGINEERED my career many times - in many different ways. 

Do I like change? No. I despise it as much as you do, but the willingness and the ability to change are requirements of corporate survival. It happens in every office in every organization. Of course you do have the option of resisting change, but resisting change has its consequences. Be prepared to get left behind. To get poor performance reviews. To be paid less. To get laid off. To be terminated.

After 40 years in the corporate world there are a few important lessons I've learned regarding change. Here are two: 

  • Change is rarely as bad as you think it's going to be.
  • Change, survival and success go hand-in-hand.

Change is rarely as bad as you think it is going to be

I've learned (over time) to embrace the ideal of being a "life-long learner." As a life-long learner your mind is open to new ideas, new challenges and new experiences. In the process, change becomes less dreadful. How many times have we all fretted and dreaded a change imposed on us by management or life circumstances? Ultimately we find the change "wasn't that bad," and often a great improvement. A right attitude toward change is essential. 

IF​ change is inevitable, ​THEN​ accept it early on and get ahead of the pack. 

Change, survival and success go hand-in-hand

Life in general, and the corporate world in particular, require/demand change. YOU need to embrace a mindset NOW that change is not a choice by rather a requirement to survive. The corporate world is fluid with occasional flash floods: new technologies, new management, new policies, new laws, new social trends and the list goes on. I classify planned decisions made along the way as ENGINEERED decisions. If circumstances altered my course then my career path had to be RE-ENGINEERED. Below is a summary of my career path decisions. These are classified as ENGINEERED or RE-ENGINEERED.

Career Path Decisions


  • E - Decision to get an associate degree at a community college
  • E - Obtained the associate degree
  • E - Decision to continue my education at SMS
  • E - Declared my major in marketing
  • E - Graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing


  • E - Accepted an entry level Sales Associate job for a Fortune 500 company
  • E - Promoted to Assistant Sales Manager (1 year)
  • E - Promoted to District Manager, youngest District Manager in the country (1 year)
  • RE - Realized I disliked my management job and needed to RE-ENGINEER my career


  • RE - Decision to apply at a highly-regarded manufacturing company
  • E - Accepted an entry level position in Production Control at the manufacturing facility
  • E - Promoted to a team leader role
  • E - Accepted a special assignment working with an out-of-town supplier managing their Production Control operations (technically, I was on loan to Purchasing)
  • RE - Made a decision to apply for an opportunity within the Purchasing Department


  • E - Accepted an Associate Buyer position
  • E - Quickly promoted to Buyer (1 year)
  • RE - Production Control asked me to take a management position
  • RE - Accepted a Production Control Manager position (4 years)


NOTE - Upon graduation from college, I vowed NEVER to take another college class as long as I lived. #YoungAndFoolish


  • RE - Began taking weekend classes to get a master's degree in management
  • E - Obtained a master's degree in management
  • RE - Began teaching occasional evening courses at a local college; currently in my 29th year
  • RE - Attended a 40 hour training course titled, Interpersonal Problem Solving


NOTE - The Interpersonal Problem Solving training helped transform me as a person as well as a manager - a different article for a different day.


  • E - Began teaching Interpersonal Problem Solving course for my company while continuing to perform my regular duties
  • E - Promoted to Project Manager (14 years)
  • RE - Massive lay-offs began taking place and headcount dropped from 8,500 to 2,500 in a matter of three years.
  • RE - To my disappointment, a corporate "de-layering" initiative altered my job design. Project Managers became Project Specialists. Although we kept the same projects, we were no longer managers.
  • Concerned the Project Specialists were vulnerable to lay-off, I made an inquiry about returning to Purchasing.
  • RE​ - Accepted a Senior Buyer position and returned to the procurement world (9 years)
  • RE​ - Made a decision to take classes to prepare for taking tests to become a Certified Procurement Manager (C.P.M.)
  • E - Obtained my C.P.M. credential
  • E - Secured 80 service points with the manufacturing company. My seat belt sign went off and I was free to "roam about the cabin"


  • RE - Submitted resume on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com
  • RE - Accepted a purchasing position with a prestigious engineering firm (10 years)

As stated earlier, I've worked for nine different organizations - a true but misleading statement. I spent 29 years working in the same building and parking in the same lot. However, the building sign changed four times as a result of corporate takeovers. Three other organizations include college campuses I taught for. Two years were spent with a sales company and the past ten years with an engineering firm. 

Corporate survival requires change. Change can mean shifting a career path within the organization or leaving the organization for a new opportunity. Much has been written in regards to job hopping, but do not overlook potentials and benefits of changes within your current organization. As you ENGINEER and RE-ENGINEER your career, take advantage of opportunities around you. Embrace new technology, take available training, obtain professional certifications, add a degree and accept new assignments. It is also critical to evolve as a person; particularly in the areas of communication skills and interpersonal skills.

This article was written by L. Chip Chesnut who works for Burns & McDonnell Engineering and is an adjunct instructor for Columbia College. 

Change, Career Change

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