Are you thinking about launching a career in mechanical engineering? Learn about what mechanical engineers do and discover ten tips to help you get your first job.
Mechanical engineers design mechanical devices, mechanical systems, machines, and tools. It’s one of the most popular engineering disciplines that spans many different industries, including automobiles, heating and cooling systems, health care devices, and robotics. These engineers are involved in all stages of the process, from research, design, and development to building and testing.
As a mechanical engineer, your day-to-day tasks might include:
Analyzing problems to identify mechanical solutions
Designing and redesigning devices, systems, and subsystems with the help of computer-aided design and analysis
Developing and testing device prototypes and using the results to improve the mechanical design
Leading the device manufacturing process
Improving maintainability and reliability to reduce downtime of systems and equipment
Researching and meeting with stakeholders to understand needs, requirements, and expectations
Mechanical engineers are highly skilled professionals. These ten tips can help you prepare yourself for an engineering job.
Mechanical engineers typically need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Coursework usually includes life sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, engineering, and design. Another degree path, mechanical engineering technology, focuses on applying engineering principles in a practical way more than mechanical engineering theory.
If you want to go into a more specialized area of the field, like robots or automotive technology, you'll need to get a master's degree. If you have an interest in teaching or research, you should pursue a doctorate.
Beyond skills specific to mechanical engineering, you might catch employers’ eyes if you have a good grasp of business basics. Engineering firms are looking to hire skilled engineers who understand how total production costs affect the decisions that they have to make. Being able to navigate income statements and balance sheets might give you a competitive edge.
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Today’s mechanical engineers are often tasked with innovating solutions and creating designs that require skills beyond what you gain in mechanical engineering programs. Some of the design issues you might face or the software you'll have to use could be outside of your specialty. Top engineering organizations recommend gaining some training outside of mechanical engineering, too.
You'll be using computers regularly as a mechanical engineer, so it makes sense to gain proficiency in relevant areas of IT and computer science. Having strong tech skills will be particularly useful down the road if you're working on integrating sensors into machinery or using technology to analyze designs or run simulations.
If you want to be more independent or achieve higher leadership levels, you should consider getting licensed in your state. To do so, you’ll need to have a set number of years of relevant work experience and pass a licensure exam. Start gaining valuable experience with internships, boot camps, and entry-level jobs.
When you're just getting started, it can be helpful to work with someone who has more experience in the industry. This person can help guide you and shape your career path. Check with the HR department at your job or internship, join engineering societies, or connect via social media to find a mentor to guide you.
Communication is key, and employers look for candidates who are capable of explaining their designs and concepts to colleagues and clients who may not be familiar with mechanical engineering terms or systems. You also might be tasked with writing reports, so you'll need to be proficient in written communication too. Other skills you’ll likely need include excellent organization, time management, problem-solving, and attention to detail.
Write a resume that highlights the skills that are most relevant to each engineering job you apply for. Highlight relevant work experiences and education as well. Be sure to craft a resume that's rich in keywords and industry-specific phrases, which will help your resume make it past automated systems.
Going to your first interview doesn't have to be nerve-wracking. Go over some common interview questions ahead of time to build confidence so you can go into an interview feeling prepared. Although every interviewer has their own style, these are a few questions you’re likely to encounter:
General questions to get a sense of your background and expertise, including questions about the first thing you designed or how you'd explain complicated designs to people without an engineering background
Behavioral questions designed to get a sense of how you work, which might include questions about mistakes you’ve made in the past or examples of situations in which you had to provide data to support an important decision
Technical questions geared toward your discipline or the specialty required by the job, with possible questions about cold drawing processes or the purpose of heat treatment.
Your alma mater, mechanical engineering societies, and networking events can all be potential sources to lead you to your next great job. Stay connected and actively seek out new connections to extend your network. Additionally, it’s important to continue learning even after you get a job so that you can remain on top of the newest technologies and techniques.
See if a career in mechanical engineering is right for you by enrolling in Introduction to Engineering Mechanics from Georgia Tech. Alternately, build your job-ready technical skills with the Autodesk CAD/CAM/CAE for Mechanical Engineering Specialization from Autodesk.
As of 2020, the median annual salary for a mechanical engineer in the United States was $90,160, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) . Those working in the field of scientific research and development tend to earn at the higher end of the scale.
Mechanical engineers work mostly in an office environment, although you may have to visit worksites from time to time. Some of the common industries that employ mechanical engineers include architectural and engineering services, machinery manufacturing, and transportation equipment manufacturing.
Although you typically don't need a license or certification for entry-level jobs, you will likely need one or more for high-level mechanical engineering jobs. Examples include a Professional Engineer (PE) license, manufacturing engineering certification, and certified systems engineering professional credential.
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Mechanical Engineers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineers.htm." Accessed March 22, 2022.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.