There are a few broad categories of the engineering field, like electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and chemical engineering, along with more recent additions like geotechnical engineering and management. But these divisions are just the tip of the iceberg, as each of these groups contains dozens of subgroups, each of which tend to be the subject of their own individual major.
In particular, Mechanical Engineering is one of the oldest of all Engineering-related disciplines, and itself is now broken up into numerous sub-disciplines like mechanics, thermodynamics, and structural analysis. No matter the specifics, the job of a Mechanical Engineer is to design and maintain mechanical systems relevant to their chosen Engineering subset.
But the question remains: where are you going to do it? And how do you get a position in your chosen Engineering discipline?
Well, that's where we come in. We literally created a map, just for Mechanical Engineering Majors such as yourself, to navigate your way through 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 step by step navigation on your path, keep reading. We'll give you the rundown on:
First thing's first: what skills you'll need to get started.
Skills for engineers tend to be similar to other majors that fall under the broad umbrella of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 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.
Let's take a a look at what this means for engineering in particular:
Attention to detail.
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 playing with live ammo (possibly literally, if you're an Ammunition Engineer). When people's lives are occasionally dependent on your ability to make precise measurements, you tend to become a little detail-oriented.
Team skills/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.
Problem-solving and analysis.
This is the big one. As an engineer of any stripe, 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 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.
When you're just getting started in the Mechanical 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 1 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 Mechanical 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:
In addition to being extremely employable and handsomely compensated, one thing that's pretty great as far as Engineers go is that they're rarely at a loss for how they should use their degree. An Engineer's skillset is so particular that you can pretty much expect, for example, an Electrical Engineering Major to go on to become an Electrical Engineer.
Likewise, a Mechanical Engineering Major can reasonably expect "Mechanical Engineer" to be a solid option once they get to the job market. Even so, there are still a ton of other careers available to any Engineering Major, and deciding which one to choose can be quite the process.
With our 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.) But here, we wanted to call out some of the most common jobs for recent Mechanical Engineering Major grads.
Here are a few of the most interesting jobs for recent grads such as yourself:
It makes sense that you'd be able to use your degree in Mechanical Engineering to become a Mechanical Engineer. Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices, including tools, engines, and machines.
Project Engineers help develop and design products for a variety of purposes and needs. They're responsible for providing technical leadership, tracking project construction progress, assisting with project development and maintenance, and preparing, reviewing, and submitting project proposals.
Manufacturing Engineers are responsible for improving the manufacturing process itself, analyzing the the assembly, quality, safety, delivery, and other systems that make up the manufacturing process in order to suggest (or even create) possible alternatives in order to optimize manufacturing efficiency.
Experience, First and Foremost
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 in Engineering 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.
Two to three months interning at a company should give you plenty of training to find a job early on, so long as you can afford to spend that amount of time not being a full Engineer. Many internships are at least partly compensated, but not all, so be sure to plan your finances accordingly.
Start building your portfolio.
As early as you can, part of what you should be doing alongside racking up industry experience is documenting that experience in some way. If you can take pictures of your work, do so.
Along with these pictures you should include writing samples, sketches, explanations of projects you worked on, charts -- whatever you can scrape together that somehow gets across your skills and experience. Whatever you do, make sure this experience is in plain sight to whoever your portfolio's intended audience is.
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.
Mechanical Engineering credentials
In Mechanical Engineering, 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.
Pursuing an advanced degree
Obtaining a graduate degree in your course of study can serve as an excellent way to separate you from the herd - but you must first decide whether it's worth your time.
Mechanical Engineers are some of the most employable workers in the nation, but competition is fierce. Whether or not you need additional education varies wildly depending on your particular specialization, but a good rule of thumb is that the more science/research based your engineering specialization is, the more education is required of you.
Here are common advanced degrees that people with an Engineering degree normally consider:
Master's in Mechanical Engineering
If you're still not sure what to do with your degree here are some external sites, to help you with your decision:
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.
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 "[blank]" into the search bar and you can get a sense of what kind of government jobs are available to Visual and Performing Arts Majors. Find a job title you like and come back here to learn more about it.
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.