Engineering is widely considered a rewarding and potentially lucrative career choice, with a broad spectrum of disciplines in which to specialize, along with annual salaries that may exceed $100k with practical work experience. Engineers generally tend to earn more than the national average salary and engineering salaries are expected to rise over the next several years.
In my experience in the engineering staffing industry for almost two decades, I’ve learned first-hand from employers and candidates about the many factors that can affect engineering salaries. It’s such a hot-topic that people often ask for advice as to how they can increase their engineering salary.
To that end, I offer the following in this article: General factors and opportunities that can influence the salary of an engineer in any discipline, as well as specific salary-boosting considerations for engineers in five of the most common career categories in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. This includes Mechanical Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Quality Engineers, Manufacturing Engineers, and Robotics/Automation Engineers.
As always, I remind readers that compensation plans vary greatly by employer. These salary-determination factors and income-boosting tips are best considered as general guidelines based on candidate experiences that my team and I have witnessed in our work supporting small to mid-size engineering firms and divisions in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
General Ways You Can Influence Your Engineering Salary
Gain Relevant Experience
Especially if you’re seeking an entry-level engineering position, your demonstrated successful experience with relevant cooperative education (co-ops) and/or internships can help you negotiate a higher engineering salary. Be sure to make good use of your summers and any other opportunities to accumulate real-world experience in the engineering field.
Earn a Masters Degree
Earning a Masters Degree in an engineering discipline enhances your technical skills – as well as your resume. A Masters Degree can also help to shift or focus your skills, enabling you to differentiate your capabilities and expand your value to employers. For example, someone who earns a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering may choose to further refine his or her technical skills by pursuing a Masters Degree in a related discipline, such as Structural Engineering, or a specific technical track like Transportation/Traffic Planning.
Earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree
Depending on your chosen career path, but particularly if you seek management opportunities, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree may have an even greater impact on your salary than a Masters Degree in an engineering discipline. An MBA is typically considered a foundational business-leadership tool, so engineers who excel in their engineering discipline, and have also completed this formal business course of study, are often well-positioned to expand their career path into more business-strategic roles, assume management responsibilities, and potentially increase their salary. Moreover, earning an MBA with a technical, operations, or international focus might help to establish a niche that could be quite valuable to employers.
Earn a Professional Engineering License
The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam (sometimes referred to as the Engineer in Training/EIT exam) is generally the first step in the process of becoming a licensed Professional Engineer (PE). The FE exam is designed for recent graduates and engineering students who are close to graduating.
The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam tests an engineer’s ability to competently practice in a specific engineering discipline. This is the highest standard of competence within the engineering field. The PE exam is intended for mid- to senior-level engineers, as it requires years of working under a PE. Professional Engineers are certified by their state Board of Registration. In Massachusetts, the Rules and Regulations Governing Professional Engineers are determined and published by the Massachusetts Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.
The degree to which PE Certification will help increase your income often depends on the area of engineering expertise. However, regardless of your industry or field of expertise, certain job titles and promotions (typically in management roles) are only available to engineers who have earned the designation of Professional Engineer.
DID YOU KNOW:
- Massachusetts reported 8,278 Resident PEs and 6,685 Non-resident PEs in 2013
- New Hampshire reported 1,812 Resident PEs and 4,741 Non-resident PEs in 2014
- Rhode Island reported 811 Resident PEs and 2,259 Non-resident PEs in 2014
Develop Your People Skills
While engineers are skilled at methodical thinking and critical problem-solving, historically they have not generally been considered great communicators, or very social beings. Throughout the past decade or so, however, engineers with “soft skills” or the ability to communicate well, build relationships, and develop rapport with others have often been rewarded with higher salary opportunities. Today, engineers across many industries and disciplines are often expected to regularly interact with people in two ways: Internally with cross-functional teams, and externally with clients, prospects and vendors. If an engineer desires career advancement and substantial salary increases, it is not normally enough for him or her to sit alone in a cubicle working only with a computer. Engineers with people skills, who can represent themselves and their firm well to various audiences, and can be entrusted with networking and relationship-building responsibilities, are often rewarded with higher salaries. Furthermore, demonstrated people skills can position an engineer for a leadership role, which is a well-documented way to increase earnings.
Enhance Your Business Development Skills
Beyond developing and honing their general people skills, fewer engineers will discover that they have an affinity and skill set for business development. For those with the skills and aspiration to serve in a business development role, career opportunities with a commission-component to overall compensation may be available to them, thus increasing their total earnings potential.
Consider Your Engineering Industry and Discipline
Some industries routinely pay higher salaries. For example, firms in industries such as robotics, medical devices, pharmaceutical, and consulting typically pay their engineers higher salaries than firms in many other industries.
Consider Working in or near Boston or Cambridge
Firms in the areas immediately within or near Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts generally offer higher engineering salaries than firms along or outside of the I-495 belt. Of course, if you live outside of the city, you must factor in the costs (in money and time) of commuting, parking, and more, to determine if the anticipated salary increase is worth the effort and impact on your lifestyle.
Consider Changing Jobs
Clearly, you don’t want to be perceived by employers as a job-hopper, but calculated job changes at various stages of your career can help to increase your salary, often more quickly than if you had stayed with the same firm.
Discipline-Specific Factors that Can Increase an Engineer’s Earnings
Now that we’ve reviewed many of the general factors that can affect an engineer’s earnings, here are some specific salary-enhancers for five of the most common engineering fields:
How Mechanical Engineers Can Increase their Income Potential
Mechanical Engineers who seek to enhance their earnings may consider the following tips:
- Become a Sales Engineer, and draw upon your mechanical knowledge to enhance your effectiveness in the sales role.
- Develop Electro-Mechanical expertise to complement your mechanical engineering expertise.
- Take on a project-based role, as a Project Engineer or Project Manager. This career path will involve you in broader scope of activities, and expose you to a wider range of responsibilities – for which you can be more highly-compensated.
- If you enjoy being a design engineer and seek to maintain that role, become certified. For example, if you are proficient with SolidWorks, earn certification as a Certified SolidWorks, Professional (CSWP) or choose from other certification options.
How Electrical Engineers can Increase their Earnings Potential
Electrical Engineers who seek to enhance their earnings may consider the following tips:
- Develop your expertise with embedded controls/firmware.
- Consider the path toward a role as Program Manager, which will afford you the opportunity to coordinate cross-functional teams and projects. Engineers who have developed management skills have higher earnings potential than their non-managerial counterparts.
How Quality Engineers Can Grow their Income Potential
Quality Engineers who seek to enhance their earnings may consider the following tips:
- Earn certification by the American Society for Quality (ASQ). You will achieve formal recognition of your demonstrated proficiency with one of 18 ASQ Certifications. Examples include Yellow/Green/Black Belt certifications and Certified Quality Engineer (CQE). ASQ certification can open up the potential for promotion and exposure to new opportunities, since specific certifications are often a requirement of higher-level (and more lucrative) job titles.
- Pursue work in a highly-regulated environment, such as the medical device market, as these environments typically command higher salaries.
How Manufacturing Engineers Can Achieve Higher Income
Manufacturing Engineers who seek to enhance their earnings may consider the following tips:
- Develop the ability to program machines, either PLC based or C#.
- Earn Lean Certification or Six Sigma Certification.
- Work into a Project or Product Engineer role if this interests you. Your manufacturing background may be appealing for projects where a goal is improving the manufacturing process and not just the design of the product. This role will require people skills and will involve working with engineers from a variety of functional areas.
How Robotics / Automation Engineers Can Accelerate their Income
Robotics/Automation Engineers who seek to enhance their earnings may consider the following tips:
- As this field is rapidly changing and expanding, keeping abreast of industry trends will allow you to best position yourself to take advantage of growth opportunities as they arise.
- Maintain hands-on skills as well as computer-based skills.
- Consider research and development opportunities, as start-ups in this field specifically have proven to be successful and generally offer high salaries.
- Consulting in this field can increase your earnings potential.