Congratulations on earning your degree in Chemical Engineering, making you a prime candidate for a technical career in almost any industry -- and since technology is always changing and expanding, the job market's need for electrical engineers grows simultaneously.
But now that you've got your diploma in hand you realize that this was all the easy part -- well, sort of -- and now the job of getting a job starts.
Which special field do you want? Where are you going to work? And how do you get a position in your field?
Basically, what now?
Well, that's where we come in. We literally created a career map just for Chemical Engineering Majors such as yourself -- to aid your navigation of the choppy waters of recent graduation.
Feel free to focus on the map alone -- it's pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves. But for those of you who prefer a more involved technical manual, keep reading. We'll give you the rundown on:
- What skills you'll need
- How to begin
- What jobs you can expect to find as an Engineering Major
- Some quick interview tips
- Consider graduate school
- External resources
First thing's first: what skills you'll need to get started.
1. Skills for Chemical Engineering Majors
You've chosen a degree that, while specialized, also trains you to think and apply your skills to a broad spectrum of solutions. You develop the ability to use specialist knowledge creatively and innovatively to solve problems as well as a sense of pragmatism to turn a concept into reality;
And beyond personal development and simply learning how to learn, employers want to see that you have the ability to reflect, realize, and grow based off of your experiences.
But as far as the specifics for your field go, we've got this list of common skills found on electrical engineer and design resumes">, with examples from experienced resumes as well as general skills.
These are some of the most common skills and words we find -- if you want to make a solid impression on principals or see what the competition is listing, here you go:
- Laboratory Equipment
- Analytical Methos
- Project Scope
Soft Skills and Abilities
Your soft skills are going to be similar to the other STEM studies. All of these majors require an ability to remain precise on the smallest pieces of colossal projects, acting as impartially as possible while making use of provable, observable information in your day-to-day work life.
Whether you're working as an electrical engineer, a project manager, or taking your degree to a professional school, applying these skills to real world learning opportunities yields a more robust and balanced career.
Here are some of the common skills that you should have when trying to get a job -- be sure to explain how you have them in your interviews..
Attention to detail. You design and develop complex electrical systems and electronic components and products -- and you have an ability to keep track of multiple design elements and technical characteristics when performing these tasks.
You have a head for numbers, and spotting and correcting mistakes at every step in the process is second nature to you. This is certainly a skill that other professions can lay some sort of claim to, but when it comes to the practice of engineering, you're in many cases dealing with people's lives.
Team and interpersonal skills. It's not often that you get to pull the lone ranger act during the practice of engineering. Typically, you'll be working as part of a team while completing projects, and your ability to play nicely with others is integral to your capacity for succeeding in the field at large. It's also integral to getting anything at all accomplished on a day-to-day basis.
This collaboration includes monitoring technicians and devising remedies to problems as they arise.
Problem-solving and analysis. This is the big one. The majority of your work will be on projects that, in a nutshell, require you to find a solution to some sort of problem based on the skills you've developed.
While most jobs can (at a basic level) be broken down to that description, with chemical engineering you tend to have a much clearer idea of whether or not your solution works, as the problem you're solving is often clear.
2. Where to Begin Your Career After Getting Education Degree
Get a'hustling before you graduate.
Your Professional Engineer licensure
Get a jump on your Professional Engineer (PE) licensure by completing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam can be taken right after graduation. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs).
Take it while it's fresh, so you can start your four years of experience before taking the final test and becoming a PE.
When you're just getting started in the engineering field, there's two things you're going to want to keep an eye on: I) internships, and II) placements.
Most people are aware of what an internship is -- you work with a company on a provisional (and typically, but not always, unpaid) basis, and attempt to parlay that experience into either a job at the same location or as the basis for your full employment at a different location.
These are usually short affairs, often no longer than a month but sometimes stretching to half a year depending on the difficulty and competitiveness of the position/company.
Placements are the same basic concept with a few small changes. For one thing, they're typically longer, lasting for about one year. They can be either paid or unpaid, but either way they typically make up the third year of a four year degree -- a change from internships, which are usually part-time and completed either alongside or immediately following a degree.
At this point we like to list the kind of internships available to people with this degree, but there's not much point to that when it comes to Chemical Engineering. Placements and internships exist in essentially every subgroup of engineering, provided that there is a company around to offer them.
So whatever your engineering specialty, there's almost certainly a placement or internship available to you somewhere out there -- depending on how specific your chosen discipline is, it's more just a matter of how far you're willing to move for it, and how qualified of a candidate you are.
Before you settle on an internship or placement, though, you'll want to make sure it's the right fit for you. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where (in the state/the country/the world) do you want to work?
- What size and type of organization do you want to work for?
- Do you need compensation in an internship, or might you be able to consider alternative compensation (experience, work samples, references, networking, etc.)
- Is relocation an option?
Understand and be creative with how you approach the job market
Engineers are some of the most employable workers in the nation, but competition is fierce.
Internships, placements, and first jobs might not be there for you exactly where you want them to be -- keep trying, and keep working. Don't give yourself an employment gap that you have to explain in an interview with "I was too choosy. Now I'm desperate and willing to settle."
Keep in mind that your degree doesn't limit you to working as an engineer. Employ your skills to analyze employer needs and present an argument why you are the best person for the job, whether it's directly related to engineering or not.
Take a short-term or contract job if you have to
These might not be ideal, but they're a solid way to get your foot in the door. They frequently serve as contract-to-hire and give you a time to determine whether the employer is a good match before you commit to a long-term position.
Remember, there are bad experiences, but there's no such thing as bad experience.
3. Jobs for Chemical Engineers
Most employers take on graduate chemical engineers with a view to developing your specialist knowledge further. In these companies you can expect to work alongside engineers from other disciplines, but your role will be to provide electrical engineering expertise.
Your background in the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics gives you an ability to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products.
It's a multifaceted discipline, so it needs some focus.
With our career map, you can click the Job Titles and learn more specific information for each position (what their responsibilities are, how much they get paid, etc.).
You'll design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.
You'll frequently conduct research to develop new and improved manufacturing processes, develop safety procedures for those working with dangerous chemicals by using controlled chemical processes.
To do so, you'll need to solve problems like how to meet certain quality standards while minimizing costs, or coordinating production teams and reviewing production schedules.
The project engineer oversees many specialist engineers throughout the construction of a working prototype of a new product or technology. The project engineer must have natural leadership ability, as well as a high proficiency in a variety of electrical engineering disciplines.
You'll be tasked with preparing bid documents for contractors, maintaining project schedules, supervising resources such as maintenance, engineering, and production personnel as well as contractors for project installations.
Project managers have the responsibility of the planning, procurement and execution of a project, in any domain of engineering. Project managers are first point of contact for any issues or discrepancies arising from within the heads of various departments.
As a PM, you'll be responsible for developing and maintaining project plans to include work breakdown structures, resource assignments, resource hours, projected task completion dates for each assigned resource, overall completion dates and assumptions.
That sounds complicated -- but you're an engineer, and complications are your thing.
4. Some Quick Job Search Tips for Chemical Engineering Majors
These are the most important words you're going to hear: never stop hustling.
Your degree is a combination of theory and practical application, which has trained you think through problems and then apply your ideas in any number of real life situations. You learn to identify problems and develop a variety of solutions, which makes you suitable for any manner of position.
Get practical experience.
Whether it be through internships, year in industry placements, or entry level positions, the most helpful thing when it comes to finding a full-time position is to rack up industry experience wherever and whenever you can.
As mentioned above, placements are often a requirement of four-year degrees, which can be extremely helpful in this regard. But in either case, make sure that you are always on the lookout for anything that might help you get a little more experience/resume fodder.
Talk to your school and see if they have any resources to help you find something along these lines (they typically do). If you're lucky, they may be able to get you in touch with certain alumni working in the field, and they can often assist you with building your resume to industry standards.
Be relevant. Check blogs daily, like Industrial Design Served, core77, Gizmodo, Engadget, and MocoLoco
Your portfolio can take many forms, but one of the best options is a professional website -- even if it's just on a free blogging website, it's helpful to have something interactive that's easy for potential employers to access. Plus anyone googling you has an increased chance of encountering your work directly, which is always a plus.
Network, network, and network
The most useful thing you can do to get a job in any field is, plain and simple, to know somebody at your desired company or firm -- this can be from an internship, college classes, or a professional organization on campus.
Job fairs allow you to find open positions, learn about hiring practices and refine your application documents. You should always bring copies of your resume and spend as much time as possible at the event.
Join a good professional organization like some of those listed at the end of this page and take advantage of every resource at their disposal. And wherever possible, just talk to people, and be friendly. You'd be surprised at how far a little communication goes.
5. Continuing Education and Certifications in Education
Earning a in a specialized engineering field is very common, and some students continue on for their PhD in order to be eligible to teach at the college level. Obtaining a graduate degree in your course of study can serve as an excellent way to separate you from the herd and specialize - but you must first decide whether it's worth your time.
Like many other forms of engineering, chemical engineering can be pursued within undergraduate school, likely as one of the potential options within the school's college engineering department. A bachelor's might be enough to get the electrical engineer into a good position within the field.
But academics, there are three sorts of credentials available to you: licenses, registrations, and certifications. The first two of these are mandatory, while the certification depends on your own individual wants and needs.
Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as electrical and electronics engineers -- but a Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one's career.
Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public.
Also, many states require that individuals teaching engineering must also be licensed. Exemptions to state laws are under attack, and in the future, those in education, as well as industry and government, may need to be licensed to practice.
To become licensed, engineers must complete a four-year college degree, work under a Professional Engineer for at least four years, pass two intensive competency exams and earn a license from their state's licensure board completing the following:
- A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Relevant work experience
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam can be taken right after graduation from college, making you an engineer in training (EIT) or engineer intern (EI).
After getting the work experience, you can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.
Several states require engineers to take continuing education courses to keep their license. Most states recognize licensure from other states if the licensing state's requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements.
Certifications are rarely required, but many engineers suggest CAD or MATLAB to put you ahead of the pack when it comes to hiring. Each specialty requires a different degree of experience, so be sure to carefully research the requirements before beginning a class.
A master's degree has a few notable perks for educators beyond developing a broader understanding of the field. First off, it makes you more marketable as an employee -- it's one of the first things to separate you from the pack.
And not only do hiring managers know that you've got a higher level of education, but they also know you likely won't be leaving soon to pursue one.
Good for bolstering your practical skills, especially if you are looking to specialize in an area that you can't land a job in. Be wary of taking on extra debt, however -- a post-graduate internship (or even entry-level employment) may be a better choice from a simple experience perspective. As always, this depends on your personal situation and engineering specialty.
Bottom line: if you're fed up with academia and have a shot at a good job, skip the MS. If you want to more deeply explore a fascinating line of research, or the job market is soft, get the MS.
It's a requirement for academia and teaching at the collegiate level -- and many states require that individuals teaching engineering must also be licensed. Exemptions to state laws are under attack, and in the future, those in education, as well as industry and government, may need to be licensed to practice.
It adds another layer to your specialization, and if you really want to do R&D, the best way to get the required credentials, respect, and autonomy you need is via a PhD -- which will also lend itself to the research and publication that comes with R&D. That said, it's not a strict requirement for R&D.
The decision of whether or not to pursue a PhD over the years of experience, or even a MS and experience, depends on the type of career you want.
Bottom line: can be useful, but it's often more relevant if your intention is to remain in academia or R&D.
6. External Resources
If you're still not sure what to do with your degree here are some external sites, to help you with your decision:
The professional society is geared toward chemical engineers, working across a wide-spectrum of specific fields. The website is a great place to begin exploring courses, webinars, articles, technical presentations, and much more.
National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
One of the largest professional organizations dedicated to engineering. Their primary concern, as described on their website, is the "protection of the public health, safety, and welfare above all other considerations," and for the practice of engineering to be practiced in an ethical and competent way.
American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES)
Another professional organization for engineers. The AAES was founded in the 1970s and, similar to the NSPE, focuses on no single branch of engineering, preferring a broader approach to supporting the field.
Enter "Chemical Engineer" into the search bar and you can get a sense of what kind of government jobs are available to Chemical Engineering majors. Find a job title you like and come back here to learn more about it.
Bureau of Labor Statistics
The BLS offers detailed data on pay, location, and availability of different kinds of jobs across the country. In fact, we draw a lot of our research on the best places for jobs from the information provided on the site.
And if this all seems like a lot - don't worry - the hard part (getting your degree!) is already over.