Becoming a Civil Engineer: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A civil engineer's median annual salary is $82,050, but is it worth the lengthy licensure requirements? Read real job descriptions and see the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a civil engineer is right for you.
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Civil Engineer Careers: Pros and Cons

A civil engineer works on constructing roads, bridges and other transportation-related structures. Look at the following pros and cons lists to see if this career may be the one for you.

PROS of Becoming a Civil Engineer
Can start career with a minimum of a bachelor's degree*
Usually requires only a standard 40-hour work week*
Large employment growth expected from 2012-2022 (20%)*
Much higher than average annual wages ($87,130 vs. national mean average $45,230)*

CONS of Becoming a Civil Engineer
Continuing education is required throughout career*
Must complete a lengthy, 2-part licensing process*
May require extensive travel to job sites*
Engineering bachelor's degree programs may take five years to complete*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Civil engineers oversee the development process of building transportation structures, such as airports and tunnels, as well as systems, like water supply systems. During the development process, you'll have to look towards the future and consider the costs of upkeep, potential nature hazards, such as earthquakes, and general wear and tear from regular usage, figuring these factors into your overall design.

You'll also have to consider building regulations and engineering principles. Typically, civil engineers work in an office, but some travel to job sites may be required. At times, you may have to work under strict deadlines to get a job finished, which could involve a lot of stress and overtime hours.

Popular Career Options

Civil engineering careers are found in a variety of industries. Technical engineering focuses on the building, construction and design aspects, but you may find the work differs depending on what career path you choose.

Government civil engineering jobs are usually advanced positions that require education and training beyond the entry-level. A job in this sector focuses on management and work within government agencies at all levels. You can still work on technical projects, but work will also involve developing policies and standards within the field.

Academic positions focus on teaching within the field. In this sector, you get to help new engineers develop their skills and learn the technical standards of civil engineering. You may also do some research work and publish articles or reports. Work in this sector usually requires a doctoral degree.

Consulting is another option. As a consultant, you work in a firm that offers expert knowledge and opinions on construction projects. You may evaluate a design or assist with project management.

There are also job opportunities in industrial settings. This may include manufacturing, utilities or technology. In this career sector, you may work as a manager, provide assessments and conduct studies. Part of your job may be to help balance a budget or increase efficiency.

Job Growth and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 263,460 civil engineers in May 2014 ( The BLS also reported at this time the mean annual wage was $87,130. A job growth of 20% was projected for civil engineering. A growing population was expected to be the main reason for such a large growth in this sector.

What Are the Requirements?

The minimum education required to become a civil engineer is a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. However, many engineering bachelor's degree programs can take five years to complete instead of the traditional four years. Completing a master's or doctoral degree program may be required to work in some advanced positions.

All states require civil engineers to be licensed, which is generally done in two steps. The first step is the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the second is the Professional Engineer (PE) exam. Each state has its own requirements for licensure, but the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) generally administers the examinations for the FE and PE exams ( The general requirements to become fully licensed include earning a degree from an accredited program, passing the FE exam, gaining a minimum of four years of work experience and passing the PE exam.

In addition to education and licensure, you'll also need to have some basic skills and meet certain requirements that will help you succeed in the civil engineering field. These include:

  • Communication skills
  • Analytical thinking skills
  • Mathematical competency
  • Management skills
  • Technical aptitude

Continuing Education

Continuing education is important to staying on top in this field because of evolving technology. You can take courses or attend conferences to help you stay informed about the newest technology used in the field. Being current on developments in civil engineering can help to make you more attractive to employers and help you to secure promotions more easily.

Job Postings from Real Employers

The proper education and licensure was an important aspect of what employers were seeking in job candidates, according to March 2012 job postings. In addition to these general requirements, employers also wanted the following:

  • An engineering firm in Montana was seeking someone with experience in AutoCAD Civil 3D and preferred someone with EIT certification.
  • An Atlanta architecture and engineering consulting firm was looking for someone with 1-3 years of engineering experience, specifically experience in sanitary sewage systems, pump stations and water main design.
  • A manufacturing company in Arizona was looking for a person with at least three years of experience in the industry and knowledge of computer engineering programs.

How to Beat the Competition

Get Certified

Certification is voluntary, but employers may prefer to hire those with certification because it shows you are up-to-date in your skills since continuing education is usually required as part of the certification maintenance process. The American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) offers certification options for civil engineers ( Certification through the ASCE requires a PE license, a master's degree, ten years of work experience and passing an examination.

Develop Soft Skills

Soft skills are those skills not usually taught during an engineering program, but skills that are becoming increasingly important to employers. Soft skills may include communication skills and customer service skills. These skills allow you to interact with clients and co-workers in a productive manner. Developing your soft skills can help you to stick out from other job applicants because you can show you have a well-rounded skill set, not just technical skills.

Other Careers to Consider

Perhaps the extensive licensing process deters you from entering the field of civil engineering. This is a common issue with many who consider entering this field. The good news is there are several alternative career options that are closely related to engineering, but that don't have as strict licensing procedures.

Civil Drafter

A civil drafter creates drawings and maps that are used during the construction of civil engineering projects. To enter this field, you need to complete a technical or college program in drafting. There are no licensing requirements for drafters. However, the mean annual income is lower with reported average salary of $50,160 in 2011.

Engineering Technician

You can become an engineering technician without formal education or by completing a short 2-year college program. As a technician, you'll serve as an assistant to civil engineers with many of the same job duties. Since a licensed engineer supervises your work, you don't need to be licensed. The earnings are lower with a mean annual wage of $48,480 reported in 2011.

Construction and Building Inspector

As an inspector, you'll check out and analyze structures to ensure they are safe and meet all regulations. You'll need a high school diploma at minimum. Some employers may require a college degree in engineering or architecture. Most areas do have licensing requirements that usually involve passing an examination. The mean annual wage reported in May 2010 by the BLS for inspectors was $54,970.

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