by Alan O’Reilly (BA, BAI, MSc, RSACert, CEng, MIEI)
From the very beginning, when I joined PMCE in 2013 as a Graduate Engineer, becoming Chartered had always been an important goal for me. At that very early stage in my career, I was encouraged by Peter Monahan (Managing Director, PMCE) to keep a record of all the Projects I would work on, and keep note of each training course attended. Chartership was regularly discussed within PMCE, with active milestones set and discussed each year in my annual Performance Review. It was obvious that I’d not be short of the support and encouragement needed to achieve this goal.
I received the Professional Title of Chartered Engineer from Engineers Ireland in December 2019 but, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was officially conferred during a virtual ceremony in November 2020. As a result, it doesn’t seem like two years since receiving the good news. Given the pressures and challenges associated with the Chartership process, I thought it may be beneficial for others if I were to explain my reasons for wanting this title, and the approach that I adopted when completing my application.
Personally, I wanted to become a Chartered Engineer as I saw it as a milestone in my engineering career. The fact that it is reviewed, and awarded, by Peers within the industry also appealed to me as it would be a formal recognition of my professional achievements, and allow me to benchmark myself against other engineers in the Construction Industry. Professionally, it would lead to further roles in my career, for example becoming a Road Safety Audit Team Leader (CEng typically a requirement), and taking on new Line Management responsibilities within PMCE. Personally, it would give me greater confidence, self-belief and demonstrate my willingness to grow and develop as a person.
I first decided that I would submit my application for the June 2019 deadline after attending an evening lecture at Engineers Ireland (EI) in Clyde Road in December 2018, which was delivered by three Chartered Engineers, of varying levels of experience, who spoke about their applications and tips that they found useful when completing their application.
Shortly after this lecture, I expressed my interest in applying for the Professional Title of Chartered Engineer on my profile on the EI website and downloaded the application. Prior to starting my application, I reached out to some of my friends who were also engineers, in different disciplines, who had recently been successful in their Chartership review, and asked if they could share their experience with the process, and pass on any advice. Thankfully, they all obliged.
After receiving advice from friends and colleagues, I tailored an approach that best fit my personal and professional commitments, which included the following: –
- Commit to spending time on the application every weekend until it was complete, even if only for thirty minutes. I set up appointments in my calendar to remind me of this commitment, and to create greater accountability.
- Print out the application form, and for each Competence Essay, prepare a handwritten bullet point list of the Projects that I had worked on during my career that would satisfy that particular Competence. Luckily, I had taken Peter’s advice and kept a record of the Projects I had worked on for the previous six years. Also, in PMCE we have an excellent Document Management System which keeps records of every Project undertaken by the company. This was a fantastic resource during my application process and made finding information on various projects very easy.
- Once these bullet point lists were complete, I decided to focus on one essay each weekend. For the first draft of each essay, my aim was to write a completed essay disregarding the word count. I would then edit each essay to ensure it was at, or below, the required word count. I didn’t write these in the application form at first but instead in separate MS Word files, as I found this easier to keep track of edits and different versions of each essay.
- While completing the application I would send the completed essays to colleagues and friends who were also engineers, and to friends and family members who weren’t engineers. Some of the best comments came from non-engineers, who would raise questions on readability and the narrative structure. These reviewers were particularly good at identifying ‘waffle’, which was key in meeting the word count.
- When I had all the essays complete, reviewed and within the required word count, I copied them into the application form.
- Having completed the application form, I sent it to both engineers and non-engineers for a final review (better safe than sorry!) before submitting it via the EI website.
In July 2019, I was notified that I had been approved for interview. My Professional Interview was scheduled for November 2019. I had never been a confident interviewer up to this point, or at least I’d always told myself I wasn’t. Whenever I had an interview, I would stress myself out beforehand, but once the interview started I would settle down quite fast and relax. This was no different. At the start of the interview you have ten minutes to talk about yourself uninterrupted. You can bring documents, drawings, or prepare an MS PowerPoint presentation to assist with this part of the interview. The remainder of the interview involves the panel asking questions regarding your application, and also your opinion on various engineering topics, particularly topics that may be relevant at the time of your interview.
When I finished the interview, I wasn’t sure how it had gone. I knew it hadn’t gone badly, but I wasn’t initially confident that I’d be successful. It felt like a chat between three engineers rather than an interview for a Professional Title. I thought it would have been more formal, almost like an interrogation. This worried me a bit. However, the more I thought about it, I realised that the Chartership Review is, like I said earlier, a recognition by your Peers that you have reached a level of competence as an Engineer. A chat between three engineers, or three Peers, seemed like the most appropriate feeling to have after leaving the interview.
In December 2019, I found out that I had been successful in my application. After asking me if I’d heard anything regarding my application, my colleague Aly sent me a Microsoft Teams message saying it would be worth checking my profile on the EI website. I did, and it now said ‘Chartered Engineer’ next to my name. I had not expected to find out like that but received a more formal email confirming my successful result later that day.
I think a trait of most Irish people, myself included, is to be naturally modest. It seems to be instilled in our nature from birth. However, I consider becoming a Chartered Engineer as one of my proudest achievements.
To finish this article, I thought it best to give some tips which I found worked for me during the process.
- Keep a record of everything that you have worked on in your career, including drawings or documents that you have produced.
- Before committing to submitting your application for the next deadline, review a blank application, or a friend’s successful application and read the literature that is available on the EI website explaining the Chartership process, and the different essays required. This will very quickly highlight any gaps you may have in your experience to satisfy the relevant competencies. It may be beneficial to wait until the next submission deadline, or even until the following year, to focus on gaining further experience in some areas and give yourself the best possible opportunity of a successful application.
- I chose to complete the Competency Essays first and complete the Career Summary Report last. I saw this as the easiest section of the application to complete, despite being the longest, as it’s simply a record of your career to date.
- Keep a record of old versions of the application, or essays, when going through the editing process.
- Ask as many people as possible to review your application, particularly non-engineers. Don’t leave this until the final version or a few days before the deadline.
- Be selfish (this was the best advice I received)! The application is about your career and your work as an Engineer. We, as Irish people, have a tendency to shy away from talking about our own achievements. Refrain from using words/phrases like ‘we’ or ‘the team’ in your application.
- Don’t treat the Professional Review interview like a Job interview, or at least don’t expect it to be the same. As a Chartered Engineer, you should feel comfortable discussing engineering projects and topics with other engineers. Treat the interview as a chat with a group of Peers, rather than a panel of assessors.
- If you bring documents or drawings into the interview as an aid, make sure that you can comfortably talk about all aspects therein, even if you may have not been involved in preparing a particular aspect.
- Read your application before the interview. Then read it again. This may sound obvious but don’t assume that you will remember its contents simply because it is about your career.
- Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t understand a question, or to ask the interviewers to repeat the question, or to state that you weren’t involved in that aspect of the project. Don’t try to answer a question on a topic that you may not be experienced in, as you could land yourself in trouble.
- If a colleague tells you it might be worth checking your EI profile, do it! They might be just hinting at something!
I hope this has been interesting and helpful to anyone who is considering applying for the Chartered Engineer title, or is currently going through the application process. Good luck!
About the Author: Alan O’Reilly is a Senior Project Engineer at PMCE. Alan joined PMCE in November 2013 after completing an MSc in Transport Engineering at Trinity College Dublin. Prior to this Alan completed a BAI (Hons) in Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at Trinity College Dublin, also receiving a BA in Mathematics. Alan is a Chartered Engineer, with expertise in Traffic Modelling, Road Safety Engineering, Design, and Traffic Impact Assessments. Alan is currently a member of the Roads and Transportation Society at Engineers Ireland.