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Undergraduate Career and Employment Guide

This page is dedicated for undergraduates and jobseekers (for construction industry) where tips on preparing resume, following up application, interview preparation and employment in updated periodically. 

Structural Integrity & Investigation

posted Jul 20, 2019, 7:43 AM by jeffery jim

Many engineers asked me what is the hardest discipline in civil and structural engineering. The answer is quite easy, everything is very hard to masters within the period of 5 years. But if you insist on a single answer, it would be structural integrity and investigation which is required for professional diagnosis and prognosis of a degraded or dilapidated structure.

This particular discipline is the mother of all disciplines in civil and structural engineering. It involves relevant interpretations in material science, construction method, and others which answer evidences retrieved and tell-tale signs. Further to that it involves all sort of perspectives during planning, execution, testing and reporting. There is no definite answer but it involves learned estimation in order to put things in place chronologically. In some cases, remodelling is required which serves as reverse engineering backed by testing; an opposite journey for engineering philosophy.

In the market, there are several consultants or professional engineers who are able to do decent reporting ever since the utilization of emergency grant to make good schools a decade back. Nevertheless, these reports are rather simplistic.

In order to make conclusive prognosis, there are several things which are required. Among these are;
- Geology, geotechnic and soil taxonomy, 
- Geophysics and seismology,
- Hydraulic, hydrology and geohydrology,
- Micro and macro climate and weathering,
- Material Science, chemistry and testing,
- Structural and fire engineering and physics,
- Project and construction management,
- Statistics,
- Guts and sense

Without these, validation of findings may not be tied down accurately. Interpretation is limited and thus, it will reduce the capacity of putting processes and events in chronological order for scientific explanation.

In no way, a justification should be based on common occurrences, and limited perspectives and understanding. This contributes toward cognitive bias and self-deception which in a way limits the possible chances in exploring the unknown and uncommon. It is almost as close as guessing soil condition without executing ground exploration or worst, guessing a spot to drill oil in the vast sea.

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Fresh Graduate's Resume

posted Jul 20, 2019, 7:40 AM by jeffery jim

I hope this article benefits students, diploma or degree or even master’s degree graduates especially in engineering course or program. It is definitely absurd to write proper curricular vitae (CV) or worst, a resume when you are a fresh graduate. Forget about tailoring words and phrases which hot-sell yourself like some in LinkedIn; you don’t even have anything to offer except for your result in an academic transcript.

I saw a lot of online resume templates after all these years as I give career talks around, from the old school dot-your-‘I’s-and-cross-your-‘t’s to modern minimalist infographic styled. None of these formats is wrong and none of these formats is a winner. The clear winner is still content and composition. Apart from that, you have to choose wisely between a CV or a resume. That also depend on which particular firm or company as well as field you are apply for opening and vacancies. Always customize your resume or CV to fit an organization. Remember the golden rule of any resume; HR or Managers have only 30 seconds before deciding whether to keep or to discard your submission. Always keep it short for large corporation or you can go slightly longer for smaller companies since most of the employment is reviewed by the Managing Director. If your resume start failing on you, start to declutter the content size, manage placement which ease the eyes and the use of appropriate font and size; nothing less than 12pt.

The rule of thumb is as follows;
a. Consultant – 1 page resume-CV hybrid
b. Contractor – 3 page CV 
c. Government – None
d. Sales – 3 page CV

Most consultants love resume. It is short and simple, and straight to the point. Applicant should highlight their ability in sound engineering design practices as well as an intermediate operator for design software or in manual calculation. If an applicant has no previous job experience, your industrial or practical training is your gold mine and at times, attachment to a good firm provides better chances to secure a job more than your transcript. Applicant is encouraged to drop or even ditch the minimalist infographic styled resume and adopt a hybrid approach which combines skills as sub-headings with two bullet form sentences describing your ability for that particular skill together with supervision/construction experience. Never rate yourself, instead get a competent person or a referee/referees to sign off at the skill rating attachment. That makes you look like a LinkedIn pro. Remember, highlight your skills which will cut short the process for a firm to teach you from scratch.

Contractor on the other hand will try to probe you more if you are a fresh graduate and you don’t have any experience. Again, your industrial training is the basis to make judgment and assessment. Fancy header on your resume only clutters the reader’s focus; try to avoid it at all cost. You can state your leadership quality and so on (which I often refer as pointless fillers) but it should not overshadow the technical ability from your past experience or lesson learned during industrial training. Instead of mentioning “team player” and what not, try to incorporate the quality as part of your work scope. You can always rephrase or express such terms and qualities indirectly (similar like paraphrasing) such as “coordinate”, “liaise”, “manage” and et cetera. The clear winner among all applicants is the one who did supervision or coordinating during practical training and able to converse like a rookie in construction industry during the interview. So the trick here is to build a CV with some key points which serve as navigation route for readers and interviewers. Another way to impress the interviewer is by bringing a construction drawing from your practical training attachment and show them basically what you have learned about sequence, trouble shooting and your ability to read and interpret drawings.

The CV for vacancy as sales engineer is similar to contractor; however a short course in marketing or finance-related is another great advantage since you will have to do a bit of proposal, pro-forma, and quotation and so on. Another advantage you can use to strengthen your resume would be the ability to do taking-off which is very much related to proposal and quotation preparation.

There are more but I will have to stop here. Good luck in job hunting!

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Geotechnic Engineering - Use your imagination

posted Jun 10, 2019, 7:57 AM by jeffery jim

Many geotechnical engineers are well verse with all sort of calculations but there is one thing lacking; imagination.

The biggest problem in geotechnical engineering is the operator or the designer who often use their right brain in computing a result. Traditionally, geotechnical is not that empirical when it comes to result. It is based on the closest or proximate situation when making presumption.

Similar to its close cousin, geology; no one can exactly predict the exact behavior of soil especially in chaotic geological condition. Unless we are talking about monolithic engineering fill, geotechnic requires raw information to be interpreted into a shrewd manner when executing analyses.

For example, when designing for slope stability.

Most of the time engineer will just go with data acquired from site investigation especially water table, cohesive and friction angle to analyse the stability of a slope. This is inefficient and insufficient! The right way of doing slope stability analysis requires the more than a single stage of possibilities. Conditions and astute understanding of predictive precursor(s) play important roles in making good judgment or prediction.

In this scenario, conditions of a slope stability should be undermined with the in-depth understanding of geology when it comes to composites and movement including creep, and soil taxonomy for superficial disposition. There is more to it than just parametric derived or sampled from the site. Soil taxonomy tell a story about the soil historical formation and composition beyond parametric and the possible behavior under certain stresses or thresholds. By understanding these non-parametric properties, one can make good if not close assumption about possible behavior of the slope under duress when soil is at rest, passive or active.

These are the things that most academicians have failed to instill in the mind of undergraduates. It is never about fancy Greek alphabets or a set of fucked up formula to calculate; it is all about making good prediction with your imagination.


posted Jun 10, 2019, 7:56 AM by jeffery jim

Writing a new year resolution is something a 4-years old can do; what Santa often get and elves have to work on by October. To peruse through it all year long, that will take a man with guts, bloods and tears.

1. You often get advice to write down challenging or pragmatic goals. Is there something wrong to this advice? It depends on the magnitude and the path you take. Most of the time, it will be something challenging or at times, fucking unrealistic. Should you halt your dream or continue to pursue it regardless of hindrances?

2. The key in achieving your goals is trying not to achieve your goals. What you did for your new year resolution are not goal(s), they are merely objectives. One need to differentiate between goal(s), visions and objectives. The fulfillment of goals which are usually aspired by stories with vividly painted imagination which is your vision. Now, everything is sweet but should an objective be sweet as well? Here is the turning point. Vision should be adjective-oriented while your objectives should be verb-oriented. That is usually the problem when building up your new year resolution.

3. The one biggest deep hole that many have failed to comprehend when working with their objectives is to take calculated risk as well as to disembark on economic risk. I don't mean economic risk as in macroeconomics or microeconomics in the open market. It is quite close to self-reflection of your own risk profile. Most will try to averse from taking risk or even to be in a situation where things are out of control. The moment you draft a new new year resolution with thoughts of having things in ceteris paribus, you are bound for failures and multiple disappointments and heartbreaks.

4. Learn to fail. Learning to fail allows you to understand parameters or variables which are working against your action(s). It is the continuous modelling of a paradigm to your own view or call for action, or even to societal's view and comprehension. Failure will teach you the most valuable essence of being successful; that is to be agile. Without agility, you will not even nudge any progress for anything in your new year resolutions list. Agility promotes self-consciousness and self-awareness which are essential in repositioning yourself and calling for a review on your set objectives. Repositioning may cause distraction no doubt but it is important in making judgment of each call regarding losses or gains in time quantum or magnitude of efforts. Secondly, repositioning enrich your database of experience in taking calculated risk.

5. Between Failing and Planning. A goal may stretch up to 10 year or even 20 years but objectives may change depending on situations and scenarios. Focus! One have to focus in their main goal and realign their objectives not only annually but quarterly depending on the sensitivity of each objective. Failing is part of the plan since there is no such thing as fixed plan. Probe your actions and gauge your ability as you move forward. Over-analyzing is not good - just measure your actions. By doing this, you will now have a good grasp of variables which affect your moves. It is time to drop ceteris paribus and go in meticulous details. Be proud. Failure elevate you to another level of planning and have better view of your crosshair on your goals.

6. Constructing your life. Planning of your individual goal(s) is very similar with planning in construction. Every planners have unique approach with different styling and school of thought. No one is wrong and it is wrong have one style fits all. The followings are some of the things you can adopt from construction planning in your individual goal planning.

6.1 Start with Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Breaking down your vision(s) and objectives into structured list. This will allow you to see if one action hits more than one objectives. One good move allows progress if your planning is Waterfall type. One good move will reduce the magnitude of efforts if your approach is the Monte Carlo circuit type. By doing so, you can see and prioritize and even allow for slacks and lags when rephasing a single category or in this case, a goal.

6.2 Your plan should be a close-end planning. This allows you to see your predecessor(s) and successor(s). Have a clear view of what you need to do in order to reach your goal. Instead of having annual vague objectives, it is best of have relationship(s) between objectives which clearly highlight the continuity of each achievement as you progress forward. Each objective should carry its own weight. Similar to research methodology, weightage helps a lot when you conduct your EFA prior to CFA.

6.3 Agility. Conventionally, construction planning involves a lot of agility when making calls after risk are identified. You have to move forward after gauging yourself and bridging away from underlying risk. If you are not groom to do so, stick to Agile Project Management technique. Build up an inventory of your abilities. Stage up your sprint, use your inventory by listing the actions needed and time available. Squeeze, sprint and battle it uphill.

6.4 Risk. It is something hard to comprehend as it is intangible. Nevertheless, there are measuring scales and tools when reviewing risks. Knowing and identifying risks should be the major component for each goal. If you don't understand how you achieved your goal(s), it is likely you will not able to survive long. The wealth of knowledge you accumulated as you are reaching your goals is the only investment you have in order to sustain your goal(s) or to leap forward with bigger goals.

7. I hope this will help you with your new year resolution. Always plan at the middle of the year. Allow yourself to study the goal for 6 months before execution.

8. Don't write; act! Remember, a good way to achieve your goal is to have it 80% on paper (planning) and 20% execution (sweat, blood and tears).

Being a Resident Engineer

posted Jun 10, 2019, 7:48 AM by jeffery jim

For those who are in construction industry, the Resident Engineer (RE) is known as the most hated person in the site. He is the person who changed designs and making important calls when it comes to contractual or technical know-how. Sounded like an individual who deserves a lot of credit but in many case they are not. Why?

Usually REs are known as con-setan (contractor's devil) who makes life difficult, especially for Chinamen or even incompetent Bumiputra contractor. The problem with REs and Clerks-of-Work (COWs) or Inspectors (IOWs) is nothing more than the lack of humane and leadership skills.

Knowing contractors who are majority basketcases when it comes to quality, REs try to use the fear factor to ensure compliance which usually resulted as a futile and causing cracks in relationship throughout the project. Shouting, cursing and evwn threats are action which is out of the pretext of a good project management; moreover such actions is outdated.

I have no problem in most of the projects i supervised. I get resistance in the first 5 or 6 months and eventually turn around. What is the right approach?

When every time a contractor shows the inability to comprehend the needs of a test, keep cool and open the specification and make references. Secondly, explain to them why such test is beneficial in validating their claim rather than to suffer during the maintenance period or in any even of opening up due to inconclusive result. Second, i often mix around with contractor's QAQC team. In a friendly manner and in impromptu basis, i quizzed them on the reason behind each step or procedures for QAQC. I gave them the technical reasons behind it and somehow i bait them into craving to learn more.

When these sub-ordinates learned more each day, it would likely be smooth execution instead of having big boss who have no clear reason to even to start a conversation; worst, an argument.

These are some of the soft skills you need at site. Humane skills to show authority indirectly and a leadership by example even if they are at the opposite site. It is called transformational leadership to be exact.

Making Choices on Learning

posted Jun 10, 2019, 7:43 AM by jeffery jim

Yesterday, i dropped by my office and ask if any of the design engineers willing to be stationed at site. Looks like none is willing. It is okay, probably they just like to deal with software.

For me, a great design is beyond design brief. It is about constructibility. If a sophisticated design is erratic, the design is great on paper but it will lead to construction flaws. Men have certain limit in interpretation, now talking about semi-skilled or not highly educated individuals working who have low wage in the industry.

After lunch meet up, I met the old bridge designer who is close to 70 years old. I am amazed. In solitude, I have been hunting knowledge and this humble old man did not brag about his achievement. Instead, he did the opposite. He told me that certain things that I asked are too detail, he even submit to the fact that he have limited knowledge about it. It is a specialist work, of course. Those questions I posed require 3 years course in the States and can only be interpreted by competent person. He passed and mentored me on some of those questions for a while before a brief exchange.

Deep inside, I am quite blessed since I manage to ask to that extend but part of me is dying to have answers. 41 and I still feel I am the dumbest person around. The tree of knowledge is so tall, some could not even see branches; leave alone the fruits.

Geotechnical Engineer

posted Jun 10, 2019, 7:41 AM by jeffery jim

I received two job offers from close friends. First offer is geotechnical engineering checker and the second one as engineering manager. Both posts require me to go back to my home state, Sarawak. It certainly looks like not many good geotechnical engineering workhorse around. Nevertheless, there are reasons why I opted not to take any of it and stay. The first reason is about knowing the boundary and your limitations, and second, understand your efficiency.

The main problem as a geotechnical engineer is your capability in making good assumptions lies on your hands-on experience with laboratory testings and values derived. To be stationed in a 'foreign' land and not used to conditions will be the biggest hinderance when making decisions.

Geotechnical engineering is more than just empirical approach where calculation is very straight forward. There are stark differences between design engineer and software operator. One resolved the problem and the other complicates the problem.

The main issue with geological, geophysics and geotechnical engineering is the range of result proximity where there are needs for data appropriation (after considering time series changes, quantitative changes, qualitative changes and elimination of anomalies and the inclusion of statistical considerations). That has yet to consider the cost-benefit optimization of a design and the level of data required in making pressumably the most accurate model and summation for design recommendations.

Although geotechnical engineering is guided by codes of practice, there is always considerable risk when working on design where trial and error method is permissible with conservative or conventional assumptions and rule of thumb. There are so many methods and approaches when selecting ways through determination via empirical solutions. None fits all and one doesn't resolved all.

Geotechnical engineering has a bright prospect in the country. It is also a great career where a geotechnical engineer can hardly be replaced by hardware or software automation. As one great geologist mentioned before, it is an art of critical thinking.

Resume - Skills

posted Sep 9, 2018, 8:04 AM by jeffery jim

The one thing that many graduates have failed to do for many years after reading online materials, books or even to the extend of being coached personally by headhunters; they failed to be the preferred candidates for the final face-to-face interview phase.

We all have gone through the phase as jobseeker and looking for opportunity for a launchpad for our career. Apart from your hard earned degree scroll and transcript, your resume is the best tool to market yourself.

Resume is the brief or a summary about yourself. Unlike the CV which is used to describe in depth about your academia mileage, resume should omit your autobiographical details and other whimsical details which may cause bias for the reader. Avoid anything like your date of birth and ID number as these only shade away the importance of your key points. Secondly, cluttered spacing and utilization of space on a piece of paper is a big no-no for a person who only have 50 seconds to decide whether to put it into the tray or the rubbish bin.

Most articles in the internet and Pinterest show you some of the most wonderful and latest formats of a resume.

Infographic, wow. New age! A lot of pie charts flying around like a statistics guru - self proclaimed some what likert scale readings and probes. It would be great to have mean, median, max, min and standard deviation as well. The resume's format is close to those buntings at the hospital describing samples of the population infected with HIV. Sadly, the only great thing you can achieve would be you as part of the descriptive statistics for failure in getting a job for the year.

Minimalist is great, color shades and tones are wonderful, spacing is amazing, and tiny bits of tweaking and nudging your photo within the resume template will score high design point. Some went to the extend of ensuring great emotional contact with selection of colors and icons that greatly help with semiotics. Well, guys. Sorry to tell you that you have just scored A+ for design and effort; not the job. Do these headhunters and recruitment agents really know what they do? If yes, they would be doing something better as part of their career to be honest.

As for fresh graduates, the competition is never being fair as the greenest pastures usually crowded with old cows. At times, the competition is really fair when the organization's policies allow the recruitment of greenhorns. So how do you outsell yourself from the others? The only thing that is left to compare apple to apple between two or more resumes would be the skills section. Zero experience and a degree with first class honors - you have nothing great to offer. Pretty face is great for pricks who are trying to have you as their door rug or with a hole, wrecked. It certainly allows you to go places and not staying at a place.

Traditionally or conventionally, many recruitment agents will advise job seekers to fill this section with things which i considered ridiculous. It is great to tell others that you are a leader - yes, top notch in transformational leadership, a motivator, work under pressure, and bla bla bla. To top that up, you have interest in yada yada yada yada. Guys, you are wasting your space, effort and opportunity. Every single space is gold when you have only 50 seconds to make a great impression. No one cares about your leadership since you are going to commit or enslave yourself to the organization and micromanaged by a manager. The only person who need your motivational advises would be the janitors and you are expected to work under pressure (that is the freaking job scope and ultimate sacrifice). No one cares about your interest in fishing and photography, your weekend, your time. At work, you do what you are told to do. Full stop! Period!

In most of the career talks, i always emphasize on this key point. Skills! Skills are the abilities which are related to your work. Most of the HR managers or bosses are interested in your body of knowledge which ticks the training matrix boxes for your core competencies. These key competencies can only developed during industrial training or freelance work with seniors within the industry. So take your industrial training seriously.

Say, you are applying for a job as a civil engineer. What are the core skills that they are looking at? Emphasize on supervision skills when you are trying for a contractor and design skills for a consultant.

- Understood project specific or national specifications
- understood typical method statement for certain type of constructions or projects
- Understood basic sequence and execution of works

- Understood national and international specifications
- understood design process and sequence for every component or phase
- literature of your final year project or mini thesis

These are some of the skills which you should include and if possible make it a point that it is subliminally visible at the right area which amplifies the overall presentation.

Remember, skills - dire importance.
Resume - clean, crisp and highlighted selling key points.

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