How to become a high performing Field Service Engineer

High performing field service

This article discusses the impact of four important issues on field service engineers and technicians.
How to grow as a field service professional.
Where to find support.
What and where are the resources.
How to achieve a work life balance.

John Missihoun Field Service Engineer Miltenyi Biotec

How to grow as a field service professional

What are the best ways to keep learning as a field engineer?

Being inquisitive and having the hunger to learn is the first step to continued learning. Having a mentor who has been in your field or industry for some time and has gathered the necessary experience to do well at the job is important. Personally, I believe there is no better substitute for learning through first-hand experience.
I know for some, time may be an issue. However, being allowed the extra time to interact and play with the equipment you will be working on is essential. I am naturally inquisitive, so I try to get a deeper understanding of how my equipment works. The reason for this is not only to be more efficient, but to hopefully provide solutions to problems which other service engineers may face while on their jobs through my extended experience with the equipment.

How important is it to improve technical skills and soft skills equally?

EXTREMELY!
Both technical skills and soft skills are needed to be successful at this job. So, it is extremely important to have both these skills to become a high performing field service engineer.
The technical skills will allow you to be a good TECHNICIAN and solve problems with the equipment.
However, the other aspect of the job is customer service. This is because you will be dealing with a lot of different people. Not only customers, but co-workers and even in some cases key figures at institutes. Being able to communicate effectively along with other soft skills can make the job easier if you’re good at them.
I don’t believe you can be in the field service career field long term without having both skills. You may be able to do the job, but to truly standout, both skills are needed equally.

Do you recommend further study?

Studying in the sense of getting inside your technical documents browsing and spending time learning more in-depth information about the equipment you work on will only benefit you. Even if it is spending 10 minutes a day looking through a technical manual; having spent that time to at least know where to find important and useful information will prove to be valuable down the line. This is something I pride myself on as a field service engineer. I may not have all the answers, but I at least know where to find them.

How can you grow in other ways?

I think this will come down to having a good mentor when it comes to the job. Learning from someone more experienced and asking them questions on how to be a better field service engineer will be helpful. Often when we are new to a job, we don’t know the right questions to ask or the right paths to follow. Having someone that has already been in your shoes and succeeded will help provide a shortcut to success in your industry. Find a mentor or someone with more experience than you have and shadow them as best you can.

How can you improve and refine your customer and people handling skills?

The best way to do this in my experience is with practice. Soft skills like this simply require time, effort, and continuous practice. There are many ways to do this, and it will be different for everyone. However, the more practice you have under your belt interacting with customers and dealing with difficult situations, will mean that your soft skills will improve exponentially.
I also recommend for anyone that uses or is interested in social media (younger generation especially), start a YouTube or be more active as far as content creation on whatever platform you choose. YouTube for me has been a great way to help me with my communication skills as it requires a lot of public speaking and writing. The evidence is apparent when watching my older videos compared to now. Public speaking is a transferable skill no matter what career you’re in.

Does how you grow change at different stages of your career?

Definitely! This comes down to what your job title and focus is. As you progress in this profession, the administrative aspect of the job will be more important than the technical skills. This will impact the way you grow and progress professionally.
I believe there are two routes any field service engineer can take in this career path professionally.
You’ll either want to continue to develop your technical skills which in turn will mean dealing less with customers and focusing more on product development.
The second route being management, where the technical skills are less of a priority, but the soft skills like communication and time management are more of a priority.

John Missihoun

Where to find support

Why do field engineers need support and who can provide it?

I think no matter what industry you work in, support is always needed. No matter how good you are at the job, you’ll eventually encounter a situation where you’ll have to reach out for help. Support may be needed for many reasons. It can be technical, admin related, or logistics to name a few.
Being a Field Service Engineer requires you to work alongside others, who aren’t FSEs, as a team.
You’ll interact with admin personnel when it comes to parts and job assignments. You may have Technical and Service Support who will field trouble calls in hopes of minimizing on site troubleshooting by providing offsite customer support. You may also have to reach out to them for instances where you are stuck during the troubleshooting process.
Simply put even the best of the best need help sometimes.

What and where are the resources

What is out there for field engineers?

This is a good question and I think this will come down to one’s employer. This is because some companies may be more established and have a larger budget at their disposal. They can then provide more resources for their field service engineers. It also depends on what your career path entails as you’ll probably have access to more resources the higher up you are in the corporate ladder. No matter what it is you are trying to achieve, it’s always best to ask someone with more experience as they can help you get those resources you’re looking for.

How to achieve a work life balance

What are your tips for dealing with pressure?

When under pressure, it’s important to take your time and focus on one thing at a time. Often with increased pressure, we may feel the need to rush to handle the situation while dealing with a lot of other stressors. This is when it’s essential to stop, come up with a game plan and try to execute one thing at a time. Humans aren’t the best at multitasking and under pressure it’s even worse. This is the worst time to try to do multiple things as with limited attention on tasks, mistakes can happen causing rework. Doing your best to complete assignments in a timely manner but being reasonable with one’s capabilities is essential.

If you have had a difficult day, how do you personally ‘switch off’?

For me physical activity like working out or riding my bike, walking, and photography are a nice way to destress after a difficult day. This is something I’ve been doing consistently for almost 2.5 years now and it has been extremely helpful. This is also something I can do while on the road as I can use hotel gyms and like to explore and document new cities for my YouTube channel. Everyone has their own thing they like to do to destress, why not kill two birds with one stone: have a hobby and destress.

What are your tips for maintaining a good work life balance?

This is something that I am still learning for myself.
My current employer is in the process of changing the career path for our Field Service Engineers. With this change, I have been motivated to work towards that next promotion. Though this is something that can mean more pay, I’ve come to learn that setting aside personal time and being able to say no to more work is important for your long-term health and mental wellbeing.
Those that have been field service engineers know how stressful this job can be. As someone that is motivated and determined, saying no when needed, especially when off the clock can be hard to do so as not to fall behind. I’ve started to unplug after hours and avoid checking my work phone / emails to have personal time and focus on other aspects of life. Being able to do this as a field service engineer will help improve work life balance. There is always more work to do, but time spent with loved ones and friends is equally important if not more.
Our time on Earth is limited, once I really understood that perspective, my opinion on work changed improving my work life balance.

How important is exercise?

I’ve made a video on this topic on my YouTube channel because I think one’s health is extremely important when it comes to being a Field Service Engineer. Your health is your wealth. If you can’t perform at your best as a field service engineer, mentally and physically, you must take measures to make the appropriate changes. Adding exercise will make a big difference in one’s life especially for us field service engineers that travel often and may not have the best of diet. Exercise is something I recommend to everyone that is an FSE due to the stress we deal with and dietary concerns on occasions. If you pay attention to your physical fitness, you will improve your overall long-term ability to do this job.

The author

John Missihoun started his working life in the US Navy and is now a Field Service Engineer for Miltenyi Biotec. He is based in Houston, Texas in the USA.
John is also the Creative Director of Untitled Label and produces videos about working as a field service engineer. He is also working to provide video guides for companies that are interested in creating visual guides for easier and more accessible recall by their field service engineers while on site.

Further reading

John Missihoun Field Service Engineer and YouTuber
How to support your field engineer team

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