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Mechanical Engineer Career Guide

What is a mechanical engineer?

A mechanical engineer is a professional who applies principles of physics and materials science to design, analyze, manufacture, and maintain mechanical systems. Working across a vast spectrum of industries, these specialists contribute to the development and maintenance of all types of machines and mechanical devices. Their complex and intricate work is critical in our everyday lives, shaping everything from the cars we drive to the heating systems we use in our homes.

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest and oldest branches of engineering, encompassing a diverse range of specialties. As such, these engineers often focus on specific areas, such as automotive design, industrial machinery, heating and cooling systems, or robotics. Regardless of their specialty, they share a common goal: to use their technical skills and creativity to solve problems and improve our lives and work.

Duties and responsibilities

The day-to-day responsibilities of a mechanical engineer involve a blend of technical skills and creativity. Key tasks often include designing and developing mechanical systems following scientific principles. They might create blueprints for new equipment or refine existing designs. These professionals also use computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) software to visualize concepts and simulate how a machine or system will operate.

Additional responsibilities include testing prototypes, analyzing test results, and making necessary modifications before production. They are also responsible for verifying the economic viability of their designs and assessing the cost and practicality of projects before they begin. They work hand-in-hand with other professionals, from material scientists to electrical engineers, to ensure the successful completion of projects.

Work environment

The work environment for a mechanical engineer can greatly vary depending on the industry and specific role. Some engineers work primarily in offices, using sophisticated software to design and analyze systems. Others might spend a considerable amount of time in production plants, factories, or research facilities where they oversee the manufacturing and testing of their designs. Despite the environment, attention to safety measures is always a priority due to the potentially hazardous nature of the work.

Typical work hours

Typical work hours for a mechanical engineer are generally standard business hours, Monday to Friday, from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, project deadlines or the need for on-site supervision in manufacturing settings may occasionally demand extra hours or weekend work. Career flexibility can vary, with some engineers having the option to work remotely, particularly for roles focusing on software-based design and theoretical modeling.

How to become a mechanical engineer

This career guide section outlines becoming a mechanical engineer. The steps to securing this career involve acquiring a proper education, gaining real-world experience through internships, and pursuing professional certification and licensure.

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma

Your journey starts with completing high school or obtaining an equivalent degree. During high school, it’s beneficial to focus on math and science-related courses, as they will serve as a foundation for your future engineering studies.

Step 2: Enroll in a bachelor’s degree program

The next step involves enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program in mechanical engineering or a related field. This program generally spans four years and includes courses in physics, materials science, design and drafting, thermodynamics, and fluid dynamics.

Step 3: Complete an internship

While studying, it’s advantageous to complete an internship in mechanical engineering or a related field. Internships provide students with valuable industry experience and can lead to networking opportunities. Most importantly, internships allow students to apply the theoretical knowledge gained in class to real-world scenarios.

Step 4: Obtain a master’s degree (optional)

Although a master’s degree is not always necessary, obtaining one can increase your employment opportunities and potential earnings. A master’s in mechanical engineering can take an additional two years to complete. Some programs even offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s program that can be completed in five years.

Step 5: Gain work experience

After graduating, the ideal next step is to gain work experience. Early career experience is often gathered through entry-level positions where you’ll work under the supervision of experienced engineers. Here, you will learn the practical aspects of the profession, as well as the business and management skills necessary for career advancement.

Step 6: Obtain licensing

After accumulating some work experience, it’s advisable to obtain professional licensure. In many countries, licensure involves passing two exams: the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination and the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. The FE exam is often taken after finishing your bachelor’s degree, while the PE is typically taken after four years of professional experience.

Step 7: Pursue professional certification

To showcase your skills and competencies in specialized areas of mechanical engineering, you may choose to earn professional certifications. Designations like Certified Manufacturing Engineer or Certified Energy Manager, among others, can help you stand out in the job market and accelerate your career progression.

How much do mechanical engineers make?

Mechanical engineer salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Specific factors that particularly impact their pay include the type of mechanical engineering (such as HVAC, automotive, aerospace, etc.), the complexity of the projects one works on, and the presence of any specializations or certifications.

Highest paying industries

  • Oil and Gas Extraction – $126,880
  • Waste Treatment and Disposal – $119,410
  • Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing – $109,170
  • Pipeline Transportation of Natural Gas – $106,410
  • Scientific Research and Development Services – $104,440

Highest paying states

  • Alaska – $128,690
  • Washington – $104,200
  • New Mexico – $99,910
  • Texas – $98,890
  • California – $97,420

Browse mechanical engineer salary data by market

Types of mechanical engineers

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for mechanical engineers. This section will provide insights into different avenues within this profession, facilitating career planning and decision-making.

Automotive engineer

People interested in vehicles might gravitate toward a career as an automotive engineer. The focus in this role is on the design, development, manufacturing, and testing of motor vehicles. Responsibilities may also extend to improving fuel efficiency and safety features, as well as working on hybrid and electrical car technologies.

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) engineer

Moving into this specialization involves working on the systems that control the temperature, humidity, and overall air quality in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. HVAC engineers design, test, and oversee the installation of these systems, often working closely with architects and builders to integrate the HVAC system efficiently into the building design.

Robotics engineer

For those interested in a rapidly growing sector, robotics engineering may be a fitting choice. This role generally involves the design and creation of robots and robotic systems. It can also include the development of new applications and methods for robots to complete tasks, varying from manufacturing to surgery.

Aerospace engineer

This specialization often catches the interest of those intrigued by flight and space technology. Aerospace engineers may work on aircraft and spacecraft design, study aerodynamic fluid flow, or develop new materials for use in structures. Their work is vital to advancements in aviation and space exploration.

Biomechanical engineer

For engineers interested in the medical field and human biology, biomechanical engineering is a compelling option. It centers on the study of biological systems and the development of medical devices, prosthetics, and implants. The work in this field can significantly impact the quality of life for many individuals.

Top skills for mechanical engineers

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a mechanical engineer. Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest branches of engineering, with professionals working in sectors ranging from automotive to energy, medical devices to robotics, and much more.

Problem-solving skills

Professionals in this field commonly face technical challenges. As such, being able to identify, analyze, and find solutions to these problems is a valuable trait. This could be anything from improving the efficiency of a manufacturing process to designing and testing new vehicle parts; every aspect calls for strong problem-solving skills.


Coming up with innovative designs or finding ingenuous solutions to complex engineering problems demands a level of creativity. It’s about seeing beyond the initial challenge and proposing innovative solutions, as this creative ingenuity can set you apart.

Communication skills

Being able to express complex technical information in an easily understandable way is a vital skill in the field of mechanical engineering. This includes both verbal and written communication. You’ll need to converse effectively with other engineers, clients, and sometimes with people without a technical background.

Technical knowledge

Extensive understanding of physics, material science, structural analysis, electricity, and thermodynamics, alongside skills in CAD, are essential in mechanical engineering. Depending on the specific job, there may also be industry-specific knowledge or software that needs to be learned and applied.


Often, you will have to work in teams with other engineers and professionals. The ability to cooperate, collaborate effectively, and respect the contribution of others is essential. This applies whether you’re working on a research project, a design team, or within multidisciplinary teams for larger projects.

Mechanical engineer career path options

If you’re interested in the role of a mechanical engineer and curious about the potential future of your career trajectory, there are many avenues to explore.

Advanced technical roles

After several years of experience, you can expect to be considered for advanced technical positions. These may include roles such as senior mechanical engineer or university engineering professor. You could also explore opportunities to serve as an industry consultant, providing expertise to businesses in fields where mechanical engineering plays a big role.

Management roles

Moving into management is another viable path. This might start with becoming a team lead, gradually rising to project manager, operations manager, or even director of engineering. Some professionals also transition to overarching managerial positions such as chief operations officer (COO) or chief technical officer (CTO).


With an in-depth understanding of mechanical principles, you might even opt to venture into entrepreneurship. This could involve starting your own engineering firm, developing innovative mechanical products, or providing custom solutions to specific engineering challenges. This path requires not only engineering prowess but also business acumen. Many who take this road often pursue a master of business administration (MBA) or gain experience in business-oriented roles before embarking on this journey.

The field of mechanical engineering is continuously evolving with technological advancements. The current trends in this field are heavily leaning toward automation and digitization. Advanced machinery, automated systems, and CAD are just a few examples of how technology is reshaping the role of a mechanical engineer.

In the era of sustainable practices, engineers are increasingly expected to develop solutions with environmental consciousness. Eco-friendly design and production processes have become important considerations. In addition, as companies globally become more integrated and globalized, these professionals need to have an understanding and appreciation for different cultures and standards. Internationally recognized credentials could make you a stronger candidate in today’s competitive professional landscape.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest data, employment for mechanical engineers is expected to grow 2 percent through 2031. Much of this growth is expected to be driven by the need to replace the workers who design and maintain critical machinery as experienced engineers retire.

Mechanical engineer career tips

Gain proficiency with CAD software

To excel as a mechanical engineer, it’s important to become adept at using CAD software. Most engineering projects require the use of CAD for designing and visualizing concepts. Mastering different CAD software like AutoCAD, SolidWorks, or CATIA can give you an edge over others in the field.

Focus on interdisciplinary learning

Evolving trends in technology mandate a shift toward interdisciplinary knowledge. This involves learning beyond your core area of expertise, linking fields such as materials science, electronics, and computer science to your initial mechanical engineering education. Integrating these domains can lead to innovative solutions and open up numerous opportunities for growth and advancement.

Develop project management skills

Engineering projects often entail supervision and management. Therefore, honing your project management skills can be beneficial. This includes planning, organizing, scheduling, budgeting, and overseeing the execution of projects. You can take courses or certification programs in project management to refine your skills in this area.

Build a professional network

Networking is integral to any profession, and mechanical engineering is no exception. Actively participating in industry associations and forums can expand your professional circle. These are excellent avenues for staying informed about the latest technologies and industry practices.

  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
  • International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies (FISITA)
  • Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT)
  • Mechanical Engineering Professionals’ Association

Continuous learning

The field of mechanical engineering is constantly progressing, with new technologies, strategies, and methodologies being introduced regularly. Committing to continuous learning can help you keep up with these advancements and maintain a competitive edge in your career. There are a plethora of resources available for continuous learning, including:

  • Online courses on platforms like Coursera, edX, Udemy, etc.
  • Webinars and workshops conducted by professional communities and organizations
  • Participating in tech expos and trade fairs
  • Reading industry-focused books and magazines
  • Enrolling in certification programs to deepen the knowledge in a niche area

Acquire relevant certifications

Securing relevant certifications can boost your credibility and demonstrate your commitment to the field. They not only provide credible proof of your competencies in various areas of mechanical engineering but also highlight your dedication to professional growth. Recruiters often view such certifications as a testament to the quality of your work.

  • Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE)
  • Professional Engineer (PE)
  • Certified Reliability Engineer (CRE)
  • Six Sigma Green Belt, Black Belt Certifications
  • PMP Certification for project management

Where the mechanical engineer jobs are

Top employers

  • General Motors
  • Tesla Motors
  • Boeing
  • Lockheed Martin
  • NASA

Top states

  • Michigan
  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • New York

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • EngineerJobs
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder


What educational qualifications are required to become a mechanical engineer?

The education path for this profession typically involves earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a related field. Many higher-level positions require a master’s degree or a PhD. It’s also important to have a strong background in math and science, as these are critical aspects of the work in this field.

What are common skills mechanical engineer have?

Among the most important skills is problem-solving, as these professionals are often required to design solutions to complex issues. Communication skills are also key, as it’s necessary to explain designs and solutions to people from various departments. Solid knowledge and proficiency in technology, tools, and software packages used in mechanical engineering are also very important.

Are there any licensure or certification requirements for mechanical engineers?

After earning a degree, those in this field typically must gain a license to work professionally as a mechanical engineer. This often involves passing two major exams: the FE exam and then the Principles and PE exam. Additionally, gaining certification in a specialized area, such as robotics or thermodynamics, can provide increased job opportunities.

What does a typical day look like for a mechanical engineer?

A typical day for a professional in this domain varies based on the specific role and industry. However, it commonly involves designing, developing, and testing tools and machines, meeting with project managers, and sometimes even visiting the sites where the designs will be implemented. Some professionals may also spend time researching new technologies and advancements.

What kind of growth can mechanical engineers expect?

Career growth in this field tends to be strong as experience and skills are gained. In entry-level positions, individuals typically gain proficiency with various tools and techniques. As they gain more experience, it’s possible to progress to roles of increased responsibility. Some professionals also opt for higher studies or earn specialized certificates to increase their opportunities for advancement.

What is the work life balance like for a mechanical engineer?

Work-life balance often depends on the specific industry and the accompanying responsibilities. While some work ordinary office hours, others may work longer depending on project deadlines and other demands. As this field can be project-based, there may be times when work intensifies. However, flexible work arrangements can be available in some roles and companies.

What types of companies hire mechanical engineers?

Mechanical engineers find opportunities in a broad array of industries. These include but are not limited to automotive, aerospace, energy, manufacturing, construction, and technology firms. The public sector also has positions for these professionals, such as roles in public utilities or transportation departments.

Which roles are most related to the work of mechanical engineers?

Several roles relate closely to the work you would do in this profession. These might include positions such as industrial designer, materials engineer, drafter, and aerospace engineer. Understanding the similarities and differences between these roles can help one make an informed decision about pursuing a certain path in engineering.

Are there specializations within mechanical engineering?

Yes, many specializations exist within this profession, including but not limited to robotics, automotive and transport, heating and ventilation, and nanotechnology. These specialized areas can open up a range of job opportunities, allowing engineers to align their careers with their personal interests or the needs of the marketplace.