Earning your degree in electrical and electronics engineering is a great accomplishment.
It opens doors to a lucrative and long-standing career that can provide you with the chance to make or enhance engineering marvels like solar panels and the hydro-electric generator. But getting your degree is also just one of the first steps you'll need to get your first professional engineering role in the field.
The great news is that you have several options for getting your first electrical engineering job.
Take the fundamentals of engineering exam
While you're not required to have a license as an entry-level electrical or electronics engineer in the United States, you may want to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam if you plan to further your career.
The FE exam is the gateway to becoming a licensed professional engineer. Achieving a passing score for the FE exam is essential for moving on to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam — the second exam required to become a professional engineer. You can take the FE exam after earning your bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited school.
Once you pass the exam, you can work as an engineering intern or engineer-in-training (EIT) and develop the four years of work experience that most states require before you can take the PE exam to become a licensed engineer. Once you pass the PE exam, you can manage large projects and oversee other electronics or electrical engineers.
Use your network
Attending college offers more opportunities than earning your electrical engineering degree. It's a chance for you to build a network, too. Whether you're in your last semester of school or you're a fresh graduate, you can tap into your alumni network for job opportunities.
Contact your career services department at your school for electrical engineering career advice and see if there are exclusive job opportunities for electrical engineers at companies where alumni work.
Sign up for an internship or cooperative program to get started in the field. You can also use the career services at your school to help you with polishing up your resume and practicing interviewing skills.
Also, consider joining a professional network to connect with other electronics or electrical engineers in the industry, such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). You can use these professional networks to find mentors who can give you valuable electrical engineering career advice or refer you for a job.
You may even consider using your school's lab resources to begin your own entrepreneurial venture, which is how MIT electrical engineering alumnus and Adafruit founder Limor Fried started her company. When you use your network, your job opportunities expand significantly and allows you to gain engineering career advice.
Go where the demand is
According to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for electrical and electronics engineers are expected to grow by two percent between 2018 and 2028. The BLS expects that as much as 8,000 more jobs will be available for electrical and electronics engineers by 2028. While this projected growth rate is slower than average in comparison to other jobs in the United States, there is still a demand for electronics and electrical engineers.
However, the BLS is expecting more demand for electrical engineers (5%) compared to electronics engineers (-1%) by 2028. So, it's essential to have a strategy and go where the demand is for the role you seek.
Consider searching for roles in states that have a high concentration of electrical or electronics engineers as these states may have more job opportunities. According to BLS' May 2018 report, New Hampshire (1,970), Alabama (4,540), Michigan (9,190), Massachusetts (7,520), and Vermont (640) have the highest concentration of jobs for electrical engineers in the United States. For instance, there are 3.01 electrical engineering jobs per 1,000 jobs in New Hampshire compared to California's 1.56 electrical engineering jobs.
It's also worth looking into the industries that employ a high number of electrical and electronics engineers or pay the most for these engineers. According to the BLS, the federal government ($112,970) and manufacturers of navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments ($108,200) paid the most median annual wage for electronics engineers in May 2018.
On the other hand, electrical engineers earned the highest median annual wages working for companies in research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences field ($108,130) and manufacturers of navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments ($100,630).
Consider taking courses after earning your undergraduate degree
After earning your electrical and electronics engineering degree, it's also a good idea to further your education by taking additional electrical engineering or electronics engineering coursework to set yourself apart from the competition. But always consider your career goals. For instance, if you want to be a part of innovative programs and research or plan to teach electrical engineering, then you may consider pursuing a doctoral degree.
On the other hand, a master's degree in electrical engineering and electronics engineering may be sufficient for managing other engineers on large projects. You may also want to consider focusing on a specific concentration, such as systems engineering. Some of the top schools offering these types of programs include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Standford University, and the University of California Berkeley.
It also doesn't hurt to take individual courses or certificate programs to help further develop your skills. Data from PayScale place entry-level electrical engineers average salary at $62,796, as of 2019. But the data also highlights some of the top skills electrical engineers have that may impact their wages, including skills in C++ programming language (11%), Matlab (6%), and simulation program with integrated circuits emphasis (SPICE).
Electrical engineers also need to have excellent writing, math, and interpersonal skills, so it's worth taking courses on platforms like Coursera or EdX or even taking a certificate program with your ABET-accredited school to further develop these skills.
Getting your first job as an electrical or electronics engineer requires preparation. But with a strategy in place, you can obtain your first professional engineering role.
Just follow this electrical engineering career advice and the tips mentioned here, and you'll be on your way to achieving your engineering career goals.