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The Consulting Engineer’s Guide Book

The CONSULTING ENGINEER’S “Guidebook” is an excerpted and extended version of the new book The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING by John D. Gaskell, Retired Professional Engineer. It is the result of requests from many readers to narrow the focus to the goals of:

  • Becoming an “outstanding” consulting engineer.
  • Gaining a reputation as an “expert” in their specialty; and
  • Obtaining the engineering “management skills” needed to advance their career and make the firm stand out from their competitors.

This is both a detailed handbook for new engineers and a constant reference manual for seasoned professionals.

It is likely that consulting engineering firms will present this guidebook to all of their engineers as a learning guide to influence their leadership and sharpen their management abilities.

It is anticipated that companies which provide products or services to engineers will present this guidebook to engineers as a Premium-Gift to promote new business and to thank engineers for their past support.

If purchased in substantial quantities, a Special Edition named in honor of the sponsor could be printed:  (Sponsor’s) CONSULTING ENGINEER’S “Guidebook”.

The book is divided into “three parts”: Consulting Engineering; Your Image; and Engineering Management. The following are a few of the highlights:


  • Consider consulting engineering: Carefully ponder the pros and cons of being a “consulting engineer”:

Benefits: Full involvement with all aspects of interesting projects while not being tied to a desk.

Drawbacks: Being in an adversarial position in a cyclical industry, the stress of deadlines, the pressure to be profitable, and the dilemma of either too much or too little work.

  • The job search: First, prepare a “resume” stressing CAD and BIM, if you can. Make a list of consulting engineering firms in your area and deliver your resume in person. If you don’t quickly get a job, stop back to see the same people, employment needs can change quickly.
  • The interview: Be prepared by researching the company’s website. Make lists including: five skills and qualifications of yours, likely questions that you might be asked and enquires about the company. Ask if you can meet someone in a similar position and the person who will be your immediate supervisor. Send the interviewer a “Thank You” note or e-mail.
  • Start the job right: Once you have a job, do your best to be “exceptional.” Arrive early and leave late. Start a notebook to record information, such as formulas, code rules, contacts, and anything that you might need again.
  • Get known: As soon as you graduate, start attending meetings of local engineering/industry organizations. This will give you an opportunity to meet fellow engineers, contractors, manufacturers’ representatives, architects, inspectors, distributors, and other contacts that will help you during your career and maybe even help you get a job.
  • Contact list: Collect business cards and start a contact list, including both business and personal information.
  • Gain credentials: Get elected “unopposed” to engineering society boards and gain a credential as a past president.
  • Win awards: Get nominated for prestigious awards that will distinguish you from your firm’s competitors.
  • Public speaking: Your work as an officer of professional organizations will give you many opportunities to hone your skills as a public speaker. In your consulting engineering career, you will be required to speak before both small and large groups.


  • Write an article: Consider writing about one of your most recent interesting projects or about a timely issue in your industry. Verify that your client and the building owner/developer will not object to the mention of their project.
  • Get your article published:
  • Select the most popular magazine in your industry.
  • Study previous articles, and “format” your article to match the magazine.
  • Include many pictures with captions and a “headshot” photo of yourself.
  • Include a brief biography (the same length as normally used in the magazine).
  • Include sketches and 1-line diagrams, if appropriate.
  • Call the magazine editor to introduce yourself.
  • Don’t submit the same article to more than one publication at a time.
  • Have “reprints” made: Design your reprint to be “one piece,” including the cover of the issue and your company description on the back page. Print in black and white on glossy paper with enough copies for your initial mailing, plus “stuffers” for your brochure.
  • Distribute reprints: Place your reprint unfolded (easily filed) in a 9 x 12 envelope (it looks more important in a large envelope). Mail it to your entire mailing list, even if the contact may not be interested in the topic or may not be a potential client. They will remember you as an “expert” and recommend you. Retain the remainder of your reprints to include when you distribute your company brochure or apply for a related project, and always leave a copy of each on the table in your reception area.
  • Enjoy the notoriety: Everyone will consider you to be an “expert” in your field.


In the early years of your career as a consulting engineer, it is important to concentrate on your specialty and the tasks previously described. This effort should move you into the position of project manager. In this trusted position, you should be handling all aspects of the projects assigned to you with the minimum of supervision. As you become more skilled and experienced, you will be assigned larger, more prominent and interesting assignments. When your career reaches this point, I hope that you will feel as pleased and satisfied as I did.

However, to advance in your present firm or to be sought after by other firms, you need to hone your skills as an engineering manager. This will allow you to bring your engineering problem solving skills to the organizational and administrative functions needed in all consulting engineering firms.


    • You help to guide the destiny of your firm.
    • You will have a higher earning potential.
    • You gain the benefits of being one of the bosses.
    • You become less likely to get laid off.
    • You may get to pick and choose the most appealing projects for your firm to pursue and for you to personally handle.
    • You spend time socializing with clients and potential clients.
    • If you become a part owner, you will share in the profits.



  • Be prepared to make “Sacrifices.” Most building committee meetings are at night, which will interfere with family and social commitments.
  • You will likely be responsible for many of the “Firing Decisions.” This is particularly hard during the holiday season.
  • You will become more involved with managing employees. The biggest headache in running any business is managing human resources. Often, employees don’t get along with each other or with the clients, and, sometimes, they don’t even care about the success of the company that employs them.
  • If you become a part owner, you will share in the losses.

As your managing skills become more important to the success of your firm, you will inevitably have less time for engineering. Most dedicated engineers find this to be a dilemma. I found engineering management to be as challenging as many engineering assignments. I recommend the following:

  • Study the ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT parts of this book carefully.
  • Make a gradual transition to management.
  • Keep your “hand-in” ENGINEERING by personally being the project manager on some of the more interesting and challenging projects.