A degree in mechanical engineering is the doorway to many unique opportunities. Mechanical engineers have made some of the greatest modern marvels of the world, and your degree puts you in the forefront to be a part of a team that can create similarly innovative products. But getting your first role as a mechanical engineer in the professional job market also requires more than earning your degree. It is essential to put in the effort and take critical steps for securing a job in the field. Here is some engineering career advice to help you learn how to secure entry-level mechanical engineering jobs.
Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam
One of the first steps worth taking to get your first mechanical engineering job involves taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. While not all entry-level mechanical engineering jobs require the FE exam, taking the exam indicates to future employers your intention to get your license as a professional engineer (PE). As a PE, you can manage other engineers and larger projects. Some employers who are looking to hire mechanical engineers who will eventually become managers of other engineers may find this an attractive quality. If you plan to take the career path to become a PE, then it's necessary to get a passing score for the FE exam so that you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. As of July 2019, 82% of test-takers who participated in a mechanical engineering degree program passed the FE exam. It's best to take the FE exam while the information is fresh since the test is designed for those who have graduated within 12 months of taking the test. So, taking it in your senior year of college or even as a recent graduate is ideal.
Develop Your Personal Brand
If you're wondering what to do after getting your degree to be a competitive candidate for mechanical engineering jobs, consider developing your personal brand. Have future employers associate you with mechanical engineering by writing about or discussing the topic. Create your own website, start a blog, write articles on LinkedIn, or create a YouTube channel. Start discussing mechanical engineering topics and focus on one your "superpower"---that one great skill you have to offer. Build your own community by starting a Facebook or LinkedIn group. Share free content via social media to drive engagement. By putting out content that reflects your connection to mechanical engineering, you can develop your personal brand and stand out as a candidate for entry-level mechanical engineering jobs.
Building Relationships and Network
As an aspiring mechanical engineer, it's crucial to network. But make sure you build relationships along the way. Building relationships gives you time to build trust and establish rapport. Reach out to your professors and have conversations. Find a mentor and touch base with them to get valuable engineering career advice. After establishing a relationship, reach out to your connections. Take the opportunity to do informational interviews to get more insight into whether a career path or company you're considering is a good fit for you. You can even transform this into an opportunity to give value to your mentors or connections by offering a service you can provide. Reach out to past classmates and use your alumni connections to get your foot in the door. Some may be willing to refer you based on prior experience. Consider joining engineering associations to build relationships, network, attend career events, and get access to volunteering opportunities. Some engineering associations to consider include:
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers
- Society of Manufacturing Engineers
- Engineering Without Borders
- Society of Women Engineers
- National Society of Black Engineers
- Chinese Institute of Engineers USA
- American Indian Science and Engineering Society
- Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
Get Certified and Invest in Learning
If you plan to focus on a specific field or industry, you may want to consider getting a certification. You can get certifications for career advancement via an association, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers or the Society of Value Engineering. For instance, the Society of Value Engineering offers a Certified Value Specialist (CVS) certification for entry-level engineers who may work abroad and want to demonstrate their understanding and expertise in Value Methodology (VM). You may also want to further your education by taking online mechanical engineering and communication courses at a massive open online course (MOOC) like Coursera or edX. You may even find specializations you can take to achieve a certificate of accomplishment from these MOOCs to demonstrate your competence or expertise in communication and engineering.
Apply for Mechanical Engineering Internships
An internship is one of the best ways to gain real-world experience as a mechanical engineer so that you can put yourself in the right position to have a job before you graduate. This is how John Hopkins mechanical engineering graduate Kielan Crow got his start at GoPro as a mechanical engineer. After participating in the company's first internship program for three months, Crow was offered a full-time position as an associate engineer. But even if you just recently graduated with a mechanical engineering degree, you can still get engineering internships.
There's no doubt that mechanical engineers make above-average salaries. Mechanical engineers in the United States made a median annual salary of $87,370, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Even PayScale reports that entry-level mechanical engineers bring in an average of $61,538 per year. But it's also essential to look beyond a mechanical engineering title for your first professional job. For instance, you can use your mechanical engineering degree to apply for entry-level engineering positions, including a position as a product automation engineer, quality engineer, test engineer, or project engineer. So, when you apply for your internships, consider this engineering career advice and look beyond the job title of "mechanical engineer."
While earning an engineering degree is a great accomplishment, it's still essential to have a plan and put in the work to secure your first role as a mechanical engineer. Take this engineering career advice into consideration, reach out to your network, further your education. By taking these actions, you can stand out among the competition for entry-level mechanical engineering jobs and get your first role in the professional job market.