A couple of decades ago, your parents would have been thrilled if you were to become a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer.
A lot has changed since then, and some other career paths have become more popular. However, engineering is one of the few career paths that has managed to keep up with the times and adapt well to the change in humanity’s landscape. Some of the job market trends we expect to see in 2020 will certainly apply to the field of engineering as well.
If you’re looking to join the ranks of engineers around the globe who are shaping our reality, read on to find out what kinds of qualifications are necessary and what you need to do to increase your odds of landing that dream engineering job.
Engineering Specializations: Directions to Choose
Engineers can choose to specialize in several different fields, depending on their affinities and interests:
- Civil Engineering: civil engineers work in the construction industry (one of the more lucrative industries), and their job involves many aspects of both architecture and design.
- Chemical or Process Engineering: involves working with the processes required to turn raw materials into the products we use every day (like plastic or fuel, as well as food),
- Electrical Engineering: working with electrical systems and components,
- Mechanical Engineering: working with mechanical processes across different industries,
- Computer Engineering: usually requires a degree in computer or software engineering, and involves creating computer programs, or alternatively, working on developing computer hardware,
All of these specializations will require specific skills and knowledge and will mean you’ll have to take on certain courses at a higher education level. Make sure to check the specific requirements for your chosen location, as they can differ from country to country and university to university.
Before You Choose to Become an Engineer
One of the basic prerequisites for a successful engineering career is being good at math and science (including subjects like physics, chemistry, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus).
If you struggle with these hard sciences, you might want to reconsider your choice of career – not that you can’t become a good engineer, just that you might be better suited for a different career path.
Another skill that would be good to have is problem-solving: this means you are able to identify the source of a problem and work on coming up with a viable solution. Think of it as solving puzzles, but with a lot of complex calculations and natural laws involved.
Critical thinking should be another of your fortes, as should working with other people.
If all of the above sounds appealing to you, let’s explore how to get an engineering education.
Engineering Education: Where to Start
The first thing you will need to become an engineer is a BA in an engineering program, with a major in the branch of engineering you want to work in (listed above).
In order to get into one of these programs, you will need to have a certain level of education already (i.e., have a high school diploma) and pass a standardized test, like an SAT or ACT. Additional qualifications may also be required, so make sure to check with your chosen program what they are and how you can acquire them.
The courses you choose will mostly depend on your specialization but count on advanced math and science courses, as well as some basic language, humanities, or social science courses as well.
Most colleges allow you to choose at least some of your coursework, alongside certain core subjects you need to have in your curriculum. When making your choice, try to focus on courses that will help you in the engineering career path you’ve chosen.
After You Graduate
Once you’ve graduated from an accredited engineering program, you will need to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (or FE) exam. This is an eight-hour exam designed to test what you’ve learned so far and whether you’re ready to enter the world of engineering.
If you fail the FE exam, you can take it again, but make sure you devote more time to prepping for its peculiarities. The FE is different from the exams you’ve gotten used to in college, so you’ll naturally need to put in extra effort to tackle it.
If you pass the FE exam, you can begin to work either as an engineer intern or an engineer-in-training. You’ll need to acquire four years of experience in these positions in order to receive a full engineering license.
After that, you’re required to take the Professional Engineer (or PE) exam in your chosen discipline. This is also an eight-hour exam, and you will need to demonstrate the knowledge you’ve acquired during your four years of training.
Preparing to Land Your Dream Job in Engineering
Now that you have all the necessary qualifications to start working as a certified engineer in a specific industry, the time has come to work on all those things that differentiate average candidates from exceptional ones. Here are our key tips:
1. Know What You Want
As we’ve already mentioned several times, there are very different engineering career paths you can opt for, so determining early on what you want to achieve will be a great stepping stone for further progress. Not only should you determine a specialization, but you should also have in mind the type of role you want to have.
Do you want to be a manager and leader, or would you rather work on projects behind the scenes? Would you rather work for a huge international company, or a smaller, local one? What kinds of projects are you looking to work on?
Knowing all of that will help you focus on your career path and choose the kinds of opportunities that match your interests, instead of settling for any job.
2. Never Stop Learning
Even after you’ve passed the PE exam, you need to keep working on your skills and knowledge. The world of engineering never stops advancing, so keeping up to speed with the latest developments is a must. Attend seminars and webinars when you can, try out new courses or training options, look for additional certifications, and try to read as much online as you can.
Make sure you don’t focus on your own discipline alone and try to branch out into related fields as well. This kind of approach will make you a valuable asset to certain kinds of projects.
3. Find a Mentor
This can be a senior engineer who can teach you more about the actual job, but you can also find a mentor who can help you in other aspects of your career, like leadership, management, or research.
4. Network With Fellow Engineers
Networking is about more than just looking for a job. First and foremost, it’s necessary for keeping up with the latest trends. And perhaps more importantly, it can put you in touch with like-minded individuals who can be an excellent sounding board for your ideas. Of course, you can also gain access to new projects through networking.
Make sure you keep in touch with college classmates and former colleagues, attend conferences, and join any professional organizations in your area.
Don’t forget that you need to be there for others as well. In other words, don’t just look for help: you need to be ready to provide it, too.
5. Work on Your Soft Skills
While it’s certainly true that your engineering skills are what’s most important in your career, don’t forget that your soft skills also come into play. Depending on where your interests lie and what you’re good at, make sure you don’t neglect to work on your communication and leadership skills, as well as your problem solving and research abilities. These skills can make you stand out in a sea of other candidates vying for the same position.
6. Build Your Portfolio of Work
In the digital age, it’s becoming increasingly important to have a portfolio you can showcase. This can be your LinkedIn profile, a dedicated website or anything else you can think of that will show others what you’re good at and what kinds of projects you’ve worked on previously.
Make sure to list more than just the names of projects or companies you’ve worked with. Go into more detail about the tasks that were involved, what you enjoyed most about the work, and what you’ve learned from it.
7. Blog About Engineering
Another great way to showcase your knowledge is to start a blog dedicated to engineering. This is where you can share some of your personal experiences and offer advice to others. You can also make your blog space where fellow engineers can meet to swap stories and look for help.
Engineering can be an amazing career to pursue. But it is also a very competitive field, where you will need to hone your edge in more ways than one.
Hopefully, our advice will help you not only get the engineering education you need, but also work on your hard and soft skills to land your dream job. Be diligent about your work, give your best day in and day out, and you’ll be proud to see the results.