A successful mechanical
engineering career is the result of a building process that starts during
the undergraduate years, if not earlier. Once on the job, the process
continues through networking, on-the-job training, graduate studies, and
continuing professional education.
Practicing engineers tell us two things: First, today's engineer is
expected to be more self-reliant and more self-managed in planning and
doing work. Second, and more important, employers will not plan your
career -- nor do you want that to happen. Once you find a company and job
that you like, you still need a strategy for moving ahead. Your career
building efforts will be more successful if you understand how your
aptitudes mesh with your surroundings. Are you doing the work you are best
suited for, or are you headed that way -- if not, what additional
experience and training do you need to secure the right job?
You are in charge of managing your career, before and after your first
Day One, evaluate your options within the company, looking for interesting
work and good career-building assignments. Find out where that work is
located, and what you must do to position yourself for opportunities. You
must take steps to manage your own career. Be constantly on the lookout
for more experienced advisors and mentors. Tactfully make management aware
of your capabilities and interests and illustrate how you think you can
benefit the company in a new assignment. This must be done as a result of
a serious examination of yourself and the needs of the company -- in that
order -- and by keeping your eye on the big picture of where the company
What if your current employer cannot move you into more desirable work?
Well-planned and timely job changes are part of the mechanical engineers' career strategy
for broadening one's experience and advancing in position, responsibility,
and salary. Most mechanical engineers gain an understanding of their field and true
interests in their very early career experiences. There is a dramatic
increase in job changes in years 3 to 5, with related salary gains.
Long Do Mechanical Engineers Stay in Their First Job?
About 43% of the mechanical engineers surveyed were continuing to work for their
original employer five years after graduation. Another 25% were with their
second employer. We were not able to tell how many, if any, of the changes
of employer were due to company mergers or sales.
a mechanical engineer, you will shape future technology by using the
latest developments in current technology. You will be employing
technologies and ideas used elsewhere as solutions in your own projects.
You will find yourself being challenged to keep abreast of changes in
engineering and technology.
The fundamentals will always be with you, but technological information
and resources change continuously. Once you enter the engineering
profession, new, self-directed learning becomes a daily objective. You
must look for learning opportunities on the job through company resources,
advisors and mentors and company training programs. You will also need to
look outside the company to resources provided by suppliers to your
company, technical societies, professional development programs,
publications and products and to graduate studies to meet your learning
Continuously take stock of your learning needs as your career progresses.
Ask yourself "what must I know to do my job today, what will I need to
learn to the reach that level, how much can I learn on the job, and where
can I find the rest?"
Graduate studies can be an important part of an engineer's career building
plan. In the early stages of your career, a Master's degree can make you
more competitive for key positions and better salaries. When evaluating
job offers, find out about employer support for graduate course work and
proximity to graduate schools. Within the first year or two on the job,
step back and assess your interests and what type of graduate studies
could help you to move to the next level or into specific jobs.
If you are still in school, seek the advice of professors concerning
opportunities at the graduate level and programs that mesh with your
interests and capabilities. Remember that faculty recommendations can be a
deciding factor in gaining admission to the right graduate program. Get
acquainted with the research and teaching assistants in your department,
for they can direct you to research jobs that provide the hands-on
experience that graduate schools and employers like to see. And if you
decide to work for a few years, keep in touch with your advisors.
There's a difference between current job requirements and mid- to
long-range career requirements. Taking the longer view, you should be aware
of licensing as a Professional Engineer (P.E.). The P.E. license won't be
needed for your first job (you need engineering experience before you can
sit for the P.E. exam), and it may not be an issue in every engineering
occupation. But a few years down the line your employer may land a
contract that requires P.E.'s in key positions, or you may need a P.E.
credential to work for a government agency. You may need professional
recognition in another country where you have been asked to lead a
project. Look at the number of Engineering Service firms in the Employer
Data Base -- in a few years you might be applying for a consulting
position in one of those firms, or starting your own consulting business.
In either case, the P.E. could be a job requirement. Before you can take
the P.E. Exam, you will need to take the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering)
Exam. Many students take this exam while in their senior year.
Employers often support efforts toward the P.E. You will need four years
of supervised professional experience to qualify for the P.E. exam. The
licensure procedures vary somewhat from state to state.
Adaptability is an important attribute for a mechanical engineer. A
mechanical engineering education will provide the essentials - subject
knowledge, problem-solving skills, and a capability for future learning.
When you first start out, it's important to be curious and open-minded
about new learning experiences, and to network within the profession and
in your industry. It's up to you to keep current so that you have the
knowledge base needed to take advantage of changes in technology and the
marketplace. Adaptability is a function of time, knowledge, and contacts.
Flexibility is important too -- engineers often have concurrent projects,
each calling for different types of knowledge, hands-on skills, and
Case of Adversity
projects are often based on a given set of assumptions, specifications,
and defined variables. Career planning starts out the same way, but life
seldom runs along a predictable path. In reality, change actually becomes
a constant, coming from many directions- customers, economic and monetary
policy, global markets and overseas competition, company priorities, and
required job skills. All can affect what your job consists of, and where,
when, and for how long you do that job.
Working mechanical engineers stress the importance of a positive, flexible,
forward-looking attitude, of being prepared for the next job, whatever and
wherever that may be. They speak of how networking and professional
contacts have enabled them to turn downsizing, layoffs, and gaps between
projects into positive job changes. As difficult as these potential
occurrences might seem, they are also significant opportunities to
redirect and energize one's career.
active in a professional society is a key
part of networking. Skill in
networking is an important attribute, a basic skill of the successful
engineer, a skill that you should begin to develop during your
undergraduate years. Networking can help you to land your first job and it
becomes more important in every subsequent career move. Start today: make
a list of the people who can help you advance your career. They can be
faculty, students, members of student organizations, and working
engineers. Over time, build your own network for the exchange of
information, advice, and job leads.
Note: Some resources in
this section are provided by
and the US Department of Labor, Bureau
of Labor Statistics.