Rebecca A. Bowman, Esq., PE
One of the most important general skills for a business owner is the ability to plan ahead. What that really means is the capacity to anticipate future events. One of the important things that all we engineers can reasonably anticipate is being called upon to defend our work.
One component of defending our work, whether in negotiation, a deposition, arbitration, or court, is documenting evidence of our competence. Whether you call the documentation a resume or curriculum vitae, you should have it ready at the drop of a hat. For ease of discussion, I’m going to refer to the document as a resume.
Now, your mother probably taught you that it’s not nice to brag on yourself (to use a quaint Pennsylvania expression). That’s usually true. Nice people let others brag on them. However, that is not always true, and this is an example of when it’s not true.
Just in case you were worried, having your resume ready is not a sign is disloyalty to your employer or your business. It is not a sign or signal that you’re restless and looking for a new opportunity. It is a sign of your wisdom in anticipating the need.
Furthermore, marshaling some of the information you should have on your resume isn’t always easy to do on the spot. If you taught a professional development class three years ago, can you produce the date, topic, sponsor, and location? This instant? Probably not. However, if you maintain a resume at all times and update it with each new accomplishment, you won’t have to scramble.
With the current Pennsylvania law regarding professional development, you should have information like that gathered already for your license. However, that file may be a paper file (with certificates attached, of course) and not an electronic file, so you may not be able to access it on the fly.
Companies come and go. Several times in the past few years, I have had to assist engineers in reconstructing information about their former employment because the company was gone and they didn’t have the necessary reference information for their resumes. If you maintain a resume, you won’t have that problem.
Now, if you’ve been around the block several times as I have, your base document may be many pages long. I maintain a base document that includes every assignment I have ever had, every article I have ever written, every lecture I have ever taught, and every case for which I appeared as an expert. When I need a resume to support my status as an expert, I go into that base document and select examples relevant to the situation. In general, a resume to support your qualifications should not be more than four pages long. You can summarize data. For example, “I have appeared as a boundary expert in 26 cases in Pennsylvania, 14 in Ohio, and 6 in Federal courts” is a useful summary sentence. If someone challenges that qualification, you need to be able to document those cases, but you don’t need to list them. One exception would be a situation in which your testimony resulted in a change in the common law (pattern of decisions established by cases, not legislation). That would be something to celebrate separately. I typically show interesting work in the past five years and summarize what came before, unless it’s something special.
If you think that I’m exaggerating the importance of this preparation, I was a part of one case in which the expert (not I) was being challenged. The challenging attorney had subpoenaed the expert’s Professional Engineering licensing exam. Waving that exam, the challenging attorney tried to argue that the expert was not an expert in the particular field because he had not selected the exams questions in that field for his responses (i.e. he answered the soil questions and not the water questions). The attempt to disqualify him failed, but it was a shocking example of how deep the opposition may dig.
Lest you think that I am not consistent, I tell the students whom I mentor that they should start to gather this information with the first (non-participation) award they receive, even if that is in third grade. On applications, colleges want to see that a student has been consistent in participation or shown a pattern of academic activities, a pattern of success. As with we grow-ups, that information can be hard to gather after the fact. And most scholarship applications require some sort of resume.
Even if you think that you will never be called to appear before a fact-finder, you may want to apply to graduate school or for some program for which you need to demonstrate that you have fulfilled the pre-requisites. Again, you may not be able to scramble to gather the necessary information.
If you consistently maintain your resume, you will always be ready. Otherwise, you may be putting yourself in a Risky Business.