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Electrical Engineer Career Guide

What is an electrical engineer?

An electrical engineer is a professional who applies the principles of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism to develop electrical products and systems. They are a driving force behind many high-tech innovations in fields such as telecommunications, power generation, and electronic equipment.

These engineers play a crucial role in modern society, developing solutions that power homes, enable communication, and support both everyday conveniences and more sophisticated technologies. Their work can range from designing electrical circuits for a small device to developing large-scale power supply networks.

Duties and responsibilities

Electrical engineers are responsible for designing, developing, and testing electrical equipment and systems. They may work on a variety of projects, such as designing circuits for electronic devices, developing power generation systems, or creating control systems for aircraft or automobiles.

They prepare technical drawings and specifications using computer-aided design (CAD) software. These professionals may also be responsible for overseeing the installation of their designs to ensure that they are installed and function correctly.

Work environment

An electrical engineer typically works in a professional office environment, with access to computer systems with specialized software necessary for their work. They might spend a substantial amount of their time working individually or collaboratively in front of a computer, running simulations, analyzing data, or designing electrical systems. In other cases, they may perform fieldwork, visiting job sites to oversee the installation and testing of electrical systems. Regardless of their location, their work requires meticulous attention to detail and a high level of technical expertise.

Depending on the size of the organization and the nature of their projects, these professionals may also be required to travel to different sites, including factories, power stations, or construction sites. Despite being intellectually demanding, the work environment is generally safe as they must adhere to stringent safety protocols when dealing with electrical systems. They may need to wear protective equipment when visiting some worksites.

Typical work hours

Electrical engineers generally work standard business hours, from Monday to Friday, 40 hours per week. They may occasionally need to work extra hours to meet project deadlines, especially when engaged in projects that require extensive research, prototype development, and system testing. Weekday hours may extend into the evenings and occasionally Saturdays, but this is usually not a consistent requirement.

It’s also worth noting that on-call work and emergency response could be part of their duties – particularly for those employed in industries where round-the-clock operations are the norm, like power generation or manufacturing companies. Therefore, flexibility in work schedules might be required, although this is not typical for all electrical engineering jobs.

How to become an electrical engineer

This career guide section outlines the steps to becoming an electrical engineer. The journey into this profession primarily revolves around securing a firm educational foundation in electrical engineering, gaining practical experience, and pursuing professional licensure.

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma

The career journey begins in high school. Take advantage of your school’s courses in mathematics (including calculus) and sciences (like physics and chemistry), as these subjects form the basis of engineering principles. If possible, opt for computer science classes, as these can provide insights that will become valuable later in your career.

Step 2: Receive a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering

Enroll in an accredited university’s electrical engineering program. These programs typically take four years to complete, covering topics like linear circuits, electromagnetics, analog and digital systems, and solid-state electronics. Look for programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) for the best opportunities post-graduation.

Step 3: Complete a co-op or internship

Hands-on experience is integral to entering the professional field. Many educational institutions offer co-op or internship opportunities. These allow you to gain industry experience while also completing your coursework. Additionally, the practical experience and networking opportunities these programs offer often lead to potential job opportunities post-graduation.

Step 4: Consider graduate studies

A master’s or doctoral degree in electrical engineering or a related specialty can provide advanced knowledge and research opportunities. These advanced degrees can mean more job opportunities and higher pay. Consider this step based on your career goals and financial aspirations.

Step 5: Gain professional experience

Entry-level electrical engineering positions don’t usually require state licensure, allowing you to gain professional practice post-graduation. This experience is not only a valuable career-building step, it’s also a prerequisite for licensure as a professional engineer.

Step 6: Pursue licensure

Becoming licensed as a professional engineer (PE) is the final crucial step in this journey. While specific licensure requirements can vary by state, they typically include a degree from an ABET-accredited program, four years of relevant work experience, and passing two exams: the Fundamentals of Engineering exam and the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

Step 7: Participate in continuing education

Continuing education to stay up-to-date with industry advancements and maintain your licensure is an important ongoing step. Many states require professional engineers to earn professional development hours to renew their licenses. This can be achieved through attending seminars, workshops and courses, or through self-study.

How much do electrical engineers make?

The earning potential for electrical engineers is impacted by several variables. Experience is often a critical factor, with senior engineers generally earning more than their entry-level counterparts. Specialization within electrical engineering, such as power systems or electronics, can also influence salary.

Educational qualifications, including advanced degrees or certifications, are other elements that can affect earnings. Industry plays a pivotal role; for example, those in research and development or the energy sector may have different salary ranges. Geography is yet another important consideration, as salaries can vary substantially depending on the state and even within cities.

Highest paying industries

  • Oil and Gas Extraction – $128,520
  • Support Activities for Mining – $125,980
  • Research and Development – $124,870
  • Natural Gas Distribution – $121,880
  • Satellite Telecommunications – $119,960

Highest paying states

  • California – $135,820
  • Alaska – $134,040
  • New Jersey – $130,020
  • Massachusetts – $129,220
  • Washington – $125,940

Browse electrical engineer salary data by market

Types of electrical engineers

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for electrical engineers. This section aims to illuminate the diverse applications of this versatile profession, assisting students, job seekers, and professionals alike in their quest to understand and navigate the electrical engineering career path.

Power engineer

One of the foundational fields for electrical engineers, power engineering, involves planning, developing, and managing devices or systems that produce, transmit, or distribute electricity. This role often intersects with renewable energy and sustainability initiatives.

Electronics engineer

Within this field, engineers are tasked with designing and developing electronic devices and circuits. This spans a wide range of possibilities, including telecommunications systems and integrated circuits.

Control engineer

This specialization focuses on creating and managing systems that control the behavior of other systems. Think of automated manufacturing or pilotless drones as examples. A solid understanding of control theory is essential for this role.

Telecommunications engineer

In this area, engineers design and install devices used for transmitting wired and wireless communication. The dynamics of information and signal transmission are central to this role, which typically involves working on a range of technologies such as smartphones, radios, and satellites.

Radio-frequency engineer

This niche field focuses on the design and production of devices that transmit or receive radio waves. These engineers work on everything from wireless phones to radar and navigation systems.

Signal processing engineer

Last but not least, signal processing engineers deal with the analysis, interpretation, and manipulation of signals. Such signals might include audio, video, images, and sensor data. This career path intersects strongly with software engineering and computer science.

Top skills for electrical engineers

Being an efficient electrical engineer demands a mix of solid technical knowledge, problem-solving abilities, innovative thinking, excellent communication, and project management skills.

Mathematical proficiency

In the world of electrical engineering, math is fundamental. Whether it’s calculus, algebra, statistics, or even complex number theory, these subjects are often part and parcel of designing and implementing effective electrical systems.

Understanding of circuit theory

At the heart of electrical engineering lies circuit theory, which requires a deep understanding of how electricity moves through different materials and components – vital for designing functional and efficient electrical systems.

Analytical problem-solving

A crucial skill in this profession involves identifying and resolving electrical system problems. This demands strong analytical abilities and a methodical approach to problem-solving.

Knowledge of safety standards

Given that their work involves a degree of risk, these professionals should have a deep understanding of safety standards and regulations. This knowledge ensures the safety of both the engineer and those who will ultimately use the electrical systems.

Project management

Often leading teams and juggling multiple projects, an aptitude for project management is invaluable. This involves skills like planning, organization, delegation, and time management.

Communication skills

Like most professional roles, these engineers must be adept at communicating. They frequently need to present complex technical information to non-technical people and work collaboratively with others. Therefore, excellent written and oral communication is essential.

Electrical engineer career path options

If you’re starting your career as an electrical engineer, there’s some excellent news: there are many paths for career advancement available to you. Early-career electrical engineers, often referred to as associates or junior engineers, primarily focus on the application of theory under the guidance of senior engineers.

With time, many will move into the role of a senior electrical engineer. In this role, the focus is not only on designing and implementing electrical systems but also on managing projects and leading teams. These engineers often liaise with clients and contractors, providing technical guidance, scope definition, and design leadership.

After accruing considerable experience and proven leadership abilities, they can transition into leadership roles such as team leads or project managers. These individuals are responsible for managing budgets, creating work schedules, overseeing other engineers, and ensuring the completion of the project to the client’s satisfaction.

Beyond that, some engineers climb into executive-level roles like chief technology officer (CTO) or director of engineering. These positions have strategic responsibilities like setting technical direction for the company, making major business decisions, and interfacing with the executive team or board members.

Additionally, some may choose to specialize in a particular area, such as aerospace engineering, power systems, electronics, or even teach at a university level. It’s also not uncommon for engineers to make lateral moves into related fields, such as civil or mechanical engineering. They may even choose to step away from hands-on engineering tasks by branching into consultancy or sales, wherein their technical knowledge is an asset when dealing with clients or customers.

One major trend currently shaping the industry is green technology. As the world pushes for more sustainable solutions, electrical engineers are at the forefront of this revolution. They are increasingly involved in developing clean energy resources, including solar and wind energy systems, which promise more efficient and environmentally friendly power generation.

Additionally, the shift toward automation has led to a surge in demand for skilled engineers. For instance, the automotive industry relies heavily on electrical engineering expertise for advancements in autonomous vehicle technology.

Another trend that characterizes this field is the rising importance of wearable technology in various sectors. From healthcare to fitness and entertainment, industries increasingly rely on wearable devices requiring electrical engineering skills. Notably, these technologies require the integration of complex circuits into small, wearable devices, making professionals with a solid background in electrical engineering more valuable than ever.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of electrical engineers is projected to grow 3 percent through 2031. While this is slower than the average for all occupations, the actual growth rate may be higher due to the rapid acceleration of trends such as green technology, automation, IoT, and wearable technology that are driving their demand.

Electrical engineer career tips

Understand the industry

You need an in-depth understanding of the industry, including knowledge of electrical systems and methodologies and current industry trends and future projections. Keeping up-to-date with industry innovations and technological advancements can position you for success and help you stand out amongst your colleagues. Consider subscribing to industry journals and participating in relevant forums and discussion groups online.

Practice continuous learning

The field of electrical engineering is constantly evolving with innovations, technologies, and methodologies. It’s essential to adapt and evolve with the field, which requires a commitment to continuous learning. Whether through formal education or self-study, always look for opportunities to expand and deepen your knowledge within this field.

  • Advanced courses in power systems, communication systems, and computer design
  • Online courses on emerging technologies such as AI or IoT
  • Webinars and workshops hosted by industry experts

Gain relevant certifications

Certifications reflect your expertise and commitment to your profession, enhancing your professional credibility. They not only increase your knowledge and skill level but also can broaden your career opportunities. Several organizations offer certifications for electrical engineers. While not exhaustive, here are some possible certifications to consider:

  • Professional Engineer (PE) certification
  • Certified Energy Manager (CEM)
  • Certified Electrical Safety Compliance Professional (CESCP)

Build a professional network

Building a strong network of professionals can provide valuable industry insights and open doors to new career opportunities. Several associations and organizations offer networking events, educational workshops, and resources.

  • The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
  • International Society of Automation (ISA)
  • National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)

Focus on communication skills

While technical knowledge and expertise are critical in this field, so are strong communication skills – for presenting a project proposal to stakeholders or explaining complex concepts to non-engineers, communicating effectively can set you apart. Look for opportunities to hone your presentation and writing skills, enhancing your ability to share ideas and collaborate.

Where the electrical engineer jobs are

Top employers

  • General Electric
  • Siemens
  • Tesla
  • Intel
  • Lockheed Martin

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Maryland
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder
  • EngineerJobs.com


What kind of education is required for an electrical engineer?

At a minimum, electrical engineers are required to hold a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Some institutions also offer dedicated programs in electronic or electrical engineering. For more advanced roles or specializations, a postgraduate degree such as a master’s or a doctoral degree could be beneficial.

What skills are valuable for an electrical engineer?

This career requires a blend of analytical skills, problem-solving abilities, technical knowledge, creativity, and communication skills. A strong understanding of electrical systems, electronics, power generation, circuits, and electrical components is vital. Familiarity with coding and software used in the industry, such as CAD and MATLAB, is also crucial for this profession.

What kind of projects do electrical engineers work on?

The scope of this profession is vast, with projects ranging from the small scale to the incredibly large. Electrical engineers could be tasked with designing new systems, designing circuits for electronic devices, working on power generation systems, or developing control systems for aircraft, robots, or other automated machines. They could also be involved in telecommunications, transportation, electrical power stations, industrial machinery, and more projects.

What are the challenges faced by an electrical engineer?

Challenges include designing power systems that are efficient and sustainable, keeping up-to-date with the latest technologies and industry trends, solving complex problems with innovative solutions, and ensuring safety standards and regulations are adhered to. Additionally, they often have to work under strict deadlines, which may prove challenging.

Is electrical engineering a high-stress job?

The stress level in an electrical engineering role can vary depending on the type of project and role. High-stakes projects, tight deadlines, or critical system designs that impact safety and reliability may induce stress. However, many professionals find satisfaction in solving engineering challenges and enjoy their work despite the pressure. Proper planning, plus good time and stress management techniques, can help them handle stress effectively.

What software should an electrical engineer know how to use?

Several software programs are beneficial for an electrical engineer. AutoCAD, Matlab, ETAP, Multisim, and PSpice are some of the commonly used ones. Understanding these software systems can significantly assist with simulation and design tasks involved in electrical engineering. Familiarity with general-purpose programming languages like C or Python can also be beneficial, especially for roles involving embedded systems or signal processing.

Are there different types of electrical engineering jobs?

Yes, there are many different types of electrical engineering jobs, each with a unique focus. Some work on small electronic circuits, while others might build large power systems. They could specialize as power engineers, control engineers, electronics engineers, microelectronics engineers, signal processing engineers, telecommunications engineers, or instrumentation engineers. The nature of the job will depend on the industry and area of specialization.

Do electrical engineers work alone or as part of a team?

Electrical engineers often work as part of a team. They may collaborate with other engineers, technicians, project managers, and professionals from other disciplines to design, develop, and maintain electrical systems and products. However, depending on the job and the project size, they may also work independently on certain tasks or phases of the project.

Do electrical engineers have the opportunity to travel for their job?

It depends on the specific role and the company an electrical engineer works for. Some jobs require travel to project sites, client locations, or other offices, particularly if they’re in consultancy, field service, or sales roles. Other jobs may be more office-based, with very little, if any, travel required. The job description or a discussion with the employer should provide information about any travel requirements for the role.

What opportunities exist for continual learning and growth in electrical engineering?

Electrical engineering is a continually evolving field, so there are ample opportunities for continual learning and growth. Engineers can update their skills and knowledge through professional development courses, industry seminars, workshops, or even obtaining advanced degrees. The highly technical nature of the field also means that as technology advances, new tools and methods are introduced, providing opportunities for learning and professional growth.

Is there demand for electrical engineers?

The demand for electrical engineers remains relatively high and stable across different industries, as electrical and electronic systems form an essential part of our everyday lives- from household appliances to complex systems in aerospace and telecommunications. With advancements in technology, especially in fields such as renewable energy, electric vehicles, automation, and IoT, the demand for skilled engineers is expected to continue to rise.