Inside Mechanical Engineer Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you

Biggest Surprises

"It Is Easy To Shrink Your Future Options...
I was surprised by how easy it was to get pigeon-holed into a very small specialty within mechanical engineering. This is probably less the case for those that do design work but I was in research, mostly doing fluid flow simulations and testing flow-based prototypes." (Research Engineer; 2013)

Career: 14 years of experience, currently based in Washington, female
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at Washington State University in Washington; completed Doctorate degree in 1996

"Academic Skills Less Important Than Familiarity With Real World...
It's surprising how little an engineer uses the things learned in college. Students worry about doing well in Calculus but in the real world it's not needed. Even subjects that seem more relevant are seldom if ever needed beyond a familiarity with basic principals." (Engineer; 2014)

Career: 15 years of experience, currently based in West Virginia, male
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at West Virginia Institute Of Technology in West Virginia; completed Bachelor degree in 1994

"Wide Variety Of Clean Machines...
I was pleasantly surprised at how clean the machines were and how many types of machines there were to learn how to repair. I am more challenged then I thought I would be due to time restraints to get the machines up and running again." (Press Operator & Repair Tech; 2014)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Wisconsin, male
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at Fox Valley Tech in Wisconsin; completed Certificate degree in 2010

"Slowdown In Production...
Things don't always work right the first time, and designs are changed often. There are many revisions that slow down the work process." (Cad Drafter; 2014)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Wisconsin, female
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at Blackhawk Technical College in Wisconsin; completed Associate degree in 2010

"Learn A Lot...
You have to constantly learn even after college and stay up to date on new technologies." (Mechanical Engineer; 2013)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in Tennessee, female
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at Chattanooga State in Tennessee; completed Associate degree in 2011

"Our Union Keeps Us Apprised Of The Advancements In Technology...
My profession has a steady flow of work mostly from the government. Job security is an important process in belonging to a Union. Your guaranteed work threw your hall. There is always work somewhere. This will probably require you to do some traveling, sometimes for long distances. The pay is the reward. Being certified is the key. It no doubt that the work is hard but the skill and the pride that goes into the work we do is unmatched by any other accomplishment you can think of. Our work stands for it's self. People are in the dark about there surroundings. They have no idea in what it took to build the place they report for work to every day. We are the backbone of America and have been so for hundreds of years and will continue so for many years to come. Our reward is "PRIDE"." (Steamfitter; 2013)

Career: 10 years of experience, currently based in Maryland, male
School: Studied Steamfitter at Steamfitters Local; completed Certificate degree in 2000

"Work Attitude...
I was surprised at how sociable all of my co-workers are. Very few of them fit the traditional "nerd" stereotype." (Engineer; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Michigan, male
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at University Of Kentucky in Kentucky; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Engineering Has Touched Almost Every Part Of Daily Life...
I was surprised by how much that the things everyone uses in their daily life has been brought to them by engineers. An engineer has thought about, designed, tested, redesigned, and improved almost all the parts that make up the devices and things we use in our daily life, from the car you ride in to the tiny screw that holds your mobile phone together." (Engineer; 2014)

Career: 17 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, male
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at GMI-EMI (Now Named Kettering University) in Michigan; completed Bachelor degree in 2000

"Demand For Mechanical Engineers...
The demand for mechanical engineers are very high. Many companies from car companies like Audi to general companies like GE require many mechanical engineers." (Mechanical Engineer; 2013)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Florida, male
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at University Of Central Florida in Florida; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"On-The-Job Training Is More Important Than Coursework...
I was surprised at how little the courses I took in school apply to my day-to-day work. Most of my actual job skills were learned after graduation." (Engineer; 2014)

Career: 18 years of experience, currently based in Texas, male
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at University Of Texas in Texas; completed Bachelor degree in 1994

"What surprised me about my profession was how easy it was. While I was at college, everyone was saying to drop out of my major while I could because the profession would be hard, but I blazed through it and I have a fun and easy job now!" (Auto - Engineer; 2013)

Career: 20 years of experience, currently based in New Jersey, male
School: Studied Engineering. at University Of Alexandria. in New Jersey; completed Master degree in 1980

"The amount of paperwork required. I thought I would be doing primarily technical work, but it is mostly administrative." (Engineer; 2013)

Career: 25 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, male
School: Studied Materials Engineering at Univ Of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania; completed Bachelor degree in 1987

"There is a lot more than just designing parts involved in engineering, a lot of it is analysis of systems and cost analysis. And writing lots of reports, and generally having a knowledge of the entire line on which you're assigned, not just part of it." (Quality Assurance Engineer; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, male
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Selling Is Part Of The Job...
I never realized how much waiting for jobs to come in I would do. I was also surprised to learn how much of this job is selling the company to potential clients" (Consulting Engineer; 2012)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Minnesota, male
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering at Rose Hulman Institute Of Technology in Indiana; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"More Than Just Mechanical...
I was most surprised that being a mechanical design engineer involves all aspects of engineering, not just running calculations to determine whether or not a design will perform as needed mechanically. Electrical engineering practices and standards are also part of my career, as well as some civil engineering needs required by building sites and geographical locations. Dealing with other people who have almost no engineering expertise is something that you won't learn in school, but I'm faced with on a daily basis. I also have to be skillful in working with those who make parts for my designs, and I have to build a good relationship with them to make sure I get what I need." (Mechanical Design Engineer; 2012)

Career: 13 years of experience, currently based in Kentucky, male
School: Studied Mechanical Engineering Technology at Cincinnati State Technical And Community College in Ohio; completed Associate degree in 2005

"Giving Speeches...
I was surprised by the amount of communication in my profession. Being an engineer, I thought I would not have to write or present anymore but my job requires me to write persuasive letters and give speeches." (Mechanical Engineer; 2012)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Washington, male
School: Studied Engineering at University Of Washington in Washington; completed Master degree in 2010

Best & Worst Things About This Career

Systems Test Engineer: "The best parts of my job are the freedom I have in deciding how I want to design an experiment and the problem solving skills I get to use. I am able to apply what I learned at college, things that no one ever thought would be helpful, such as calculus and statistics. I also use what I learned in my engineering classes. Each day presents a new, but rewarding once the job is done, challenge. The worst part of my job is that it is not a set work schedule. Sometimes I am able to work 8 hours a day, but often the tests I am performing require me to stay later." (2011)

Principal Engineer: "The best part is seeing our new products get out of the research lab and go to real customers. I'm lucky to have a job that advances technology and makes the world a slightly better place. I go home almost every day feeling like I did something important. The worst part is when it's hard to solve an argument between engineers on the team. I like to find a solution that makes everyone happy, but it isn't always possible." (2011)

Automotive Engineer: "The best part of my job is getting to work with the newest and coolest cars coming out of Japan and Europe. The worst part by far is doing all of the emission standards testing and various other certifications that are required for some of our parts to be sold legally within the United States. But this is something that all manufacturers producing performance goods must do." (2011)

Professor: "The best part of my job is the chance to positively impact the lives of students. I have had the opportunity to open up students' minds, provide them incredibly learning opportunities, and help them choose a career. The worst part of my job is when I have to spend time on paperwork. There are times in everyone's job that require doing repetitive work. I am grateful that this is a small part of my job." (2011)

Consulting Engineer: "I enjoy eliminating, or at least mitigating a client's problem with its gas facilities. Investigation of causes of incidents, such as gas-related fires and explosions, can be rewarding when the recommendations I submit to prevent a recurrence are instituted by my client. This may decrease the probability of injury or loss of life to their customers and general public. The worst part of my job is defending my position with opponents to my recommendations. It can be a trying experience to stand up for what you believe is right." (2010)

Career Background

Mechanical Engineer

  Job Tasks
  Work Environment
  How to Prepare for the Job
  Job Outlook

Career Video

Career Tips

"Quality Tools Matter...
Make sure you buy quality tools, they will pay for themselves. There is not a lot you can do when your only tool to finish the job breaks." (Press Operator & Repair Tech; 2014)

"Move Forward...
Don't expect to find the perfect job right away. Begin your career path anywhere you can, you can always move forward." (Cad Drafter; 2014)

"Figure Out How Things Work, Then Make Them Better...
If you want to be successful as an engineer, then study how the world works around you, and how all the small parts and pieces come together to make it all work. When you know how something works, then you can begin to figure out how to make it work better." (Engineer; 2014)

"Real World Experience...
If you get the chance to do a work-study take it. Any opportunity you get to work in the real world you should take." (Engineer; 2014)

"Broaden Your Horizons...
In your early career, work to gain exposure to as many facets of your industry as possible. Having a broad range of experience will pay off when there are inevitable changes in industry." (Engineer; 2014)

"Look Before You Leap...
Don't take the first job offered, look over a few places, compare them, and then make the best decision for you" (Mechanical Engineer; 2013)

"Think About The Future...
Take advantage of every opportunity to learn a new skill or to meet new people (networking). Even if you enjoy your current role, it may not always be there. You have to consider future options as well." (Research Engineer; 2013)

"Broaden Your Interests...
Mechanical engineering is a broad field so I'd recommend trying to become a jack of all trades. General public think mechanical engineers have to deal with only automotive business but that by far wrong. We have work from Aerospace to bio mechanical jobs." (Mechanical Engineer; 2013)

"Getting Credentials...
Get the best possible grades in your major courses. Companies really care about the difference between an A- and a B+" (Engineer; 2013)

"Job Safety, The Key To A Successful Project...
As for any trade the most important thing I can pass down to anybody wanting to pursue a career in the trades is "Safety". Above all safety is the key. Safety for you and everybody else around you." (Steamfitter; 2013)

"Broad Knowledge Useful...
Work experience can never be overrated, even if it's an unpaid internship. Companies recognize related experience, and it pays off in the long run. Take classes in a wide variety of related topics. My advice is to not be an expert in just one area, but instead try to be a jack of all trades. "Know just enough to be dangerous," as they say. During college, learn from your mistakes. Understanding why you got a question wrong, versus just memorizing the solution, is more beneficial in the long run. Although the glamorous jobs in engineering are the design jobs, starting off by testing the designs is invaluable, and helps you create better designs in the future." (Systems Test Engineer; 2011)

"It's About Problem Solving...
Tip 1: Learn how to solve problems. Any kind of problem is good practice--math problems, chess problems, logic puzzles. Often having a good approach to solving a problem is even more important than technical knowledge. Tip 2: Take math and science--and understand how the math courses help solve problems in the science courses. For example, calculus is crucial for solving physics problems, while a good grasp of statistics is necessary to understand manufacturing quality. Tip 3: Study things besides engineering. You'll thank yourself for understanding literature and the arts, and you'll be a more well-rounded person." (Principal Engineer; 2011)

"Large Employer = Better Benefits But Lower Pay...
1. Go to college. It's the most important thing you can do to ensure success in this field. If you don't have a degree you won't go very far in this industry without years of experience. 2. Try to seek out a job that applies directly to the part of the automotive engineering field that you enjoy. This job is a lot easier when you like what you are doing. 3. Bigger employers offer better benefits, but often don't pay as well to start because they have greater access to a wider range of candidates." (Automotive Engineer; 2011)

"Solve The World's Problems As An Engineer...
Engineers solve problems and have the opportunity to solve some of the world's grand challenges such as clean water, renewable energy, and affordable medical technology. If you want to be an engineer, choose which of the world's challenges you have the biggest passion about, and then get the engineering education you need to work on those problems. Work hard, think deeply about the problems, and take every opportunity to learn. Keep an open mind about people, cultures, and technology." (Professor; 2011)

"Participate In Professional And Industry Associations...
Find a mentor whom you respect. It helps if you also like the individual. As much as possible, keep current with the latest practices in the industry you have chosen to work in. There may be many government regulations to be followed. Track them and understand them. Ask so-called experts for their opinions. Challenge them if you believe them to be wrong, but make sure you have adequate support for your position when you do so. Maintain a network of peers and show appreciation of their abilities. Join and actively participate in associations related to your career. As an engineer, make sure you develop very good writing skills. Without this ability, you'll be falling behind the pack." (Consulting Engineer; 2010)