Need advice on engineering career change (long)...

I'm a fairly recent mechanical eng grad (BS, May 2001) and am once again finding myself having to change jobs. Here's a summary of my
post-grad work experience:
1)After graduating, I accepted a position with a jet engine designer/manufacturer in the mid-west. I started a couple weeks prior to 9/11, when the industry was fairly strong (though some would argue it was on the decline). After 9/11, the company was instituting massive layoffs of all employees. The company was also offering a fairly generous incentive package to any employees that would voluntarily quit. As I was unsure of the future of the industry, I decided to accept the voluntary offer to leave the company after working there about 4 months. I should also add that a large factor in my decision was my desire return to the western US, where I've lived most of my life. I felt the quality of life was significantly better there.
2)Upon returning to my home state (Colorado), I accepted a position with a small accident reconstruction firm. At the time it seemed like very glamorous and rewarding work. However, I quickly became uncomfortable with that area of forensic engineering for a variety of reasons. We did about 50/50 plaintiff/defense work, but I was troubled by the fact that engineering "analysis" had to be performed with very little evidence and with what I felt to be unreliable witness accounts. Although not blatantly implied, we were obviously obligated to prove a particular angle of the case to favor whatever side we were working for. I was also troubled by the lack of personal responsibility by many of the plaintiffs, who had made a mistake and wanted to blame somebody else for it. Working closely with lawyers is just barely tolerable sometimes, if you know what I mean.
Our accident reconstruction firm was very small and I developed a friendship with my boss, so I felt very uncomfortable with leaving the firm. I had a fairly large amount of responsibility there, and if I left I felt like they would have a difficult time transitioning to a new employee. So I've stayed for over 1.5 years, just trying to do the best I could regardless of my personal feelings about the work. Needless to say, this was very difficult and stressful to me personally. In hindsight, I know I should've made my feelings known from the beginning, as the longer I stayed the more difficult it became to leave.
While working on a recent large project with the firm, my boss lost his temper several times and directed his anger towards me. Later he apologized, but several days later he again lost his temper and acted in a very unprofessional manner towards me. It was just too much, so I told him I was quitting and turned in my letter of resignation. There's always two sides to every story, but my version is that his anger was not a result of my work product. I have always tried to do a thorough, complete, and reasonably quick job in my engineering career. The whole situation is rather long, too long for a newsgroup post.
So now I'm out in the shaky job market again. I love engineering and I know that's what I was meant to do. There are several firms (aerospace, oddly enough) in the area that are hiring and that I have strong interest in. But I'm also concerned about my past employment history. I'm afraid that it may portray me as someone that is not reliable, and that my diversified professional experience will disqualify me. My first job was in aerospace of course, but it was so short it may raise a red flag regardless of the circumstances. My departure from my second job may also be difficult to explain.
Fortunately I had very good grades in college and was very active in several successful design competitions. I also had a lengthy engineering internship with a local medical device design consultant, and am still on very good terms with the employees and management there. I was actually offered a job with that company upon graduation, but they fell on very hard times just prior to my graduation and had to layoff approximately 50% of their engineers and staff.
I would like to honestly know what you, as professional, experienced engineers, would think about someone like me in an interview. I'm not sure if I should elaborate on all the circumstances, as it may look like I'm just trying to make up excuses or something. At this point I'm just trying to get as many opinions as I can. Thanks for any comments or suggestions you may have!
Sam
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Two suggestions for the future:
1) Always look for a new job before you quit the present one
2) Don't dwell on past problems. Talk about what you can do for the potential employer in the future.

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Try discussing your previous experience in the context of what you learned from it, or what skills you developed and/or sharpened.
Example: My own experience is in the fields of fluid power hydraulics, blood cell counters, and exhaust systems for marine Diesel engines. There is a common thread to what at first glance seems like a haphazard career path; I work with fluids flowing through pipes. The decimal points move around, but the equations are the same.
-Mike-
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Sam ( snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com) wrote:

Sam,
While I view myself as primarily a chemical engineer, (also have an M.E. degree), the technical content of my job or, for that matter your job, is irrelevant to the types of questions you are asking.
Occasionally I've been a hiring supervisor, and quite frankly, I'd love to be interviewing somebody with your honesty and fairly cogent self-analysis. Interviewing is generally stressful enough on both sides, that people who can genuinely communicate do well. I try to get the interviewee to relax, find out what some of the good work environments have been for him, what he has done in those environments, and why those environments were good for him. I try to keep these discussions as positive as possible.
Your concerns about the ethics of the forensic consulting seem quite plausible. Personality conflicts can really poison the atmosphere at relatively small firms, leaving no recourse but to leave or be fired. For myself, I've stayed in some situations for far longer than I should have (family reasons irrelevant to the particular company).
You certainly don't strike me as having any bitterness, or at least not expressing it in your post. Bitterness would probably poison any interview, and you can expect questions about how and why you left. Some times in a career it is simply necessary to change - it can be an opportunity for growth for both the company and the person leaving.
A positive attitude, enthusiasm, counts for a lot in interviewing. One approach I have taken in jobs that I am pursuing very hard is to give (in the interview followup letter) what my approach would be on some of the projects that I would be very likely to be working on (if you can learn enough about the firm ahead of time to do this before the interview you are way ahead of the game).
Hope this helps
paul m bizot
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