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Giving credit, getting credit

You’ve likely had a lot of engineering projects in your entry-level engineering courses. Most of those projects were probably teamwork based. There were smaller individual parts to make the whole project work. You’ve gained valuable, real-world experience that can be transferred into a company setting. When you’re in an interview or even talking to potential employers, how do you talk about these projects? Are the recruiters looking for a team-player or someone who did the whole project? How do you phrase what you did verses what the team did?

The key is honesty. Give credit where credit is due. Employers will be able to tell if you are not telling the whole truth about your role in a project. It may feel awkward to talk about yourself, but the interview is a time where you need to sell yourself to the potential employer. The employer needs to be convinced that you are the best person for the role. You need to be able to define the “I” in your “teamwork” projects. How did you add value? How did you contribute to the greater good of the project? Everyone in the group cannot be the leader. That’s OK. Talk about what programs YOU learned, how YOU applied them, and what YOUR results were from the project.

For example, think about the following question, “Describe a time when you worked on a complex project?”

  • (Situation) In Engineering 1181, my entry-level engineering course, I was required to work in a team of four
  • (Task) to create an advanced energy vehicle that would follow a certain track
  • (Action) I had never been exposed to the SOLIDWORKS program prior to this class. One member of my team had used the program prior to the class. I knew it was going to be a challenge for me, so I asked her if she would be willing to explain the additional steps since she was our lead programmer. Although I did not fully program the entire vehicle,
  • (Result) I was able to learn and understand SOLIDWORKS so that I had working knowledge of the program for the future. Overall, I ended up receiving an “A” in the class, and I have been able to apply my SOLIDWORKS knowledge to other projects in my current classes.

Notice how this example outlines the individual duties that helped the team project succeed. It is important to properly give credit. If you say you had experience in a certain program during an interview, but you are not able to perform the duty at work, that will be a red flag for the employer.

For example, you are writing a report for a class, you are asked to cite your sources to avoid academic misconduct. Assigning credit in the real world should be no different. Almost everyone at some point in their career has or will experience credit that was assigned improperly. Think about how that would make you feel. In a Harvard Business Review article, Sachin Jain, Chief Medical Officer at a division on Anthem, said, “Getting the assignment of credit right is important to everyone. It is a driver of high performance. It is a key to making people feel fulfilled and motivated. The very best leaders and organizations get this and spare no effort to get it right.”

“The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.”
-Brian Tracy

About the author

Lauren Verhoff

Lauren Verhoff is a Graduate Administrative Associate with Engineering Career Services.