Engineering Careers

Image by Evan Polenghi © The Balance 2019

Do you like solving technical problems? Are you good at science and math? You might consider becoming an engineer. Engineers are problem solvers who use their expertise in science and math to do their jobs. They work in various branches of engineering. Let's take a look at several of them.

Types of Engineering Jobs

  • Aerospace Engineer: Designs aircraft and tests prototypes to make sure they function as designed
  • Agricultural Engineer: Solves problems related to agriculture
  • Biomedical Engineer: Designs prosthetic limbs and artificial organs, as well as the material used to manufacture them
  • Chemical Engineer: Solves problems that involve the production or use of chemicals
  • Civil Engineer: Design, builds, and supervises construction projects and systems
  • Electrical and Electronics Engineer: Designs and tests electrical equipment and systems
  • Environmental Engineer: Solves problems in the environment 

Before you go any further, find out if a career in engineering is for you.

Engineering Careers: Quick Facts

Median annual earnings for several branches of engineering (U.S., 2018) include:

  • Aerospace: $115,200
  • Electrical: $99,070
  • Civil: $86,640
  • Mechanical: $87,370
  • Environmental: $87,620
  • Nuclear: $107,600
  • Biomedical: $88,550

In 2018, 1.7 million people worked as engineers, according to the National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. Most of them were electrical and electronics engineers (320,610), mechanical engineers (303,440), civil engineers (306,030), and industrial engineers (305,780).

Job outlook differs by branch. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment of architecture and engineering occupations is projected to grow 4% from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 113,300 new jobs are projected to be added. Most of the projected job growth in this group is in the engineer occupations, as their services will be in demand in various areas such as rebuilding of infrastructure, renewable energy, oil and gas extraction, and robotics.

How to Become an Engineer

To get an entry-level job, you will need a bachelor's degree in engineering. Sometimes a college degree in physical science or mathematics will suffice, especially in high-demand specialties. Some students specialize in a particular branch of engineering, but then work in a related one.

You will have to get a state-issued license if you want to offer your services directly to the public. Doing this will allow you to be called a Professional Engineer (PE). To become licensed, your college degree must come from a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

You also need four years of relevant work experience and must pass a state exam. Requirements vary by state.

A Day in the Life of an Engineer

What is it like to be an engineer? We found some answers by looking at typical job duties listed in employment announcements on

  • "Prepare roadway plans, detail drawings, project specifications, and cost estimate." (Civil Engineer)
  • "Provide civil engineering and design support for large earth structures including dams, landfills, mining projects, and power projects." (Civil Engineer)
  • "Design and execute engineering experiments, and statistical parameter control." (Mechanical Engineer)
  • "Prepare engineering calculations, diagrams, and technical reports." (Electrical Engineer)
  • "Write technical and regulatory documents in compliance with quality management system." (Biomedical Engineer)
  • "Oversee and manage the setup, performance, and reporting of the laboratory testing. Ensure that projects are completed on schedule and within budgetary constraints." (Environmental Engineer)
  • Document and present analysis results to technical leads, management and/or customers." (Aerospace Engineer)
  • "Research, draft, and coordinate acquisition packages for materials being purchased or upgraded." (Materials Engineer)

What Soft Skills You Need

In addition to your education and an aptitude for math and science, you also need specific soft skills, or personal qualities, to succeed in this occupation.

  • Active Listening and Verbal Communication: These communication skills are essential for working on teams, which will be a significant part of your job.
  • Critical Thinking: You will need to use logic when testing products and solving problems.
  • Reading Comprehension: You must have the ability to understand written documentation.
  • Active Learning: You must be able to incorporate new findings into your work.

How Engineers Advance in Their Careers

After entry-level engineers gain experience and knowledge, they may work more independently, making decisions, developing designs, and solving problems.

With further experience, they may become technical specialists or supervisors over a staff or team of engineers or technicians. Eventually, they may become engineering managers or may move into other managerial or sales jobs.

What Employers Expect From You

To find out what qualities, in addition to education and technical skills, employers were looking for when hiring engineers, we again turned to Here's what we found:

  • "Strong communication and interpersonal skills are required."
  • "Ability to organize work and deliver on time work products."
  • "Goal-oriented, able to set goals and achieve them."
  • "Ability to take ownership of assigned tasks in a timely manner, and learn new principle ideas and concepts."
  • "Organized, self-motivated, and detail-oriented, with the ability to adapt quickly in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment."
  • "Ability to read and interpret product drawings."

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Your interests, personality type, and work-related values are some of the factors that will determine whether being an engineer is a good fit for you. This career is suitable for people who have the following traits:

  • Interests (Holland Code): RIC (Realistic, Investigative, Conventional)
  • Personality Type Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI): ENTJ, INTJ, ESTJ, ISTJ, ESTP 
  • Work-Related Values: Independence, Working Conditions, Achievement, Recognition