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Surveyor Career Guide

What is a surveyor?

A surveyor determines the three-dimensional positions of points and the distances and angles between them. These points often establish land maps and boundaries for ownership, location, or construction activities. The work is crucial in different industries like construction, transportation, and telecommunications as it provides an accurate layout of land or property, facilitating efficient planning and decision-making.

Surveyors are indispensable in land division processes, contributing to the orderly development of urban and rural areas. They assist in resolving boundary disputes, registering land or subdivisions, or planning and designing infrastructural projects. Precision and accuracy form the bedrock for successful project planning and execution, from individual house construction to large-scale civil engineering projects.

Duties and responsibilities

Surveyors have a variety of duties and responsibilities, depending on their area of expertise. In general, tasks include determining the precise location of property boundaries, preparing site plans for construction projects, and documenting records of survey results.

Research on land records and previous surveys ensures accurate data collection. In the field, sophisticated technology, like GPS and GIS, measures distances, elevations, and angles on the Earth’s surface. Following data collection, surveyors analyze and interpret results to create maps, charts, or reports that depict the land’s layout.

Work environment

The work environment for a surveyor is often split between office work and fieldwork. Office work involves planning surveys, researching legal documents, and preparing reports and maps. On the other hand, fieldwork requires surveyors to spend time outdoors, often in various weather conditions, and measure sites using specialized equipment.

Surveyors may work in various settings, including urban areas, construction sites, and undeveloped lands. The role demands precision, attention to detail, and the ability to work with complex software and equipment. Safety is also a key consideration, as surveyors may sometimes work near hazardous sites, such as highways or construction zones.

Typical work hours

Surveyors typically work full-time during regular business hours. However, surveyors frequently work on weekends. Additional hours may be required to meet project deadlines or complete work delayed by weather. Fieldwork may include an extended stay at a remote location.

How to become a surveyor

To become a surveyor, you need a solid educational background in surveying or a related field, practical experience, and excellent problem-solving, communication, and analytical skills. Surveyors measure and map the Earth’s surface, establish property boundaries, and provide essential data for construction, engineering, and real estate projects. Typical industries include construction, engineering, government, and land development.

Step 1: Obtain a relevant educational background

First, pursue a bachelor’s degree in surveying, geomatics, civil engineering, or related discipline. This will provide a foundation for the technical knowledge and skills required. Some colleges and universities offer specialized programs in surveying or geomatics. Others offer surveying courses within their civil engineering or geosciences programs.

Step 2: Gain practical experience

Hands-on experience develops the skills needed to be an effective surveyor. Look for internships, co-op programs, or entry-level positions in your chosen industry to gain practical experience working with real-world surveying projects. This experience helps build a deeper understanding of surveying concepts and practical applications.

Step 3: Develop your skills and take online courses

Surveyors often work with cross-functional teams, so they must excel at problem-solving, analytical thinking, and communication. Take courses or workshops in problem-solving, communication, and project management to strengthen these skills. Participate in team projects or engineering competitions to practice working collaboratively.

Here is a sample of some of the options available for continuing education: 

Step 4: Obtain licensure or certification (if required)

Depending on location and surveying specialty, a license or certification may be required. For example, most states require surveyors to be licensed as Professional Land Surveyors (PLS) in the United States. Licensing requirements typically include a combination of education, work experience, and a series of exams. Check with local licensing boards or professional surveying organizations for specific requirements in your area.

Step 5: Build a professional network

Networking is essential for building a career as a surveyor. Attend industry conferences, workshops, and events to connect with other professionals and potential employers. Establish a solid online presence by creating a professional website, blog, or LinkedIn profile to showcase expertise and experience.

Step 6: Stay current with industry advancements and trends

The surveying field constantly evolves, with new technologies and best practices emerging regularly. Engage in continuous learning by attending workshops, conferences, and webinars to stay up-to-date with the latest advancements. Consider pursuing advanced degrees or specialized certifications that deepen knowledge and enhance career prospects.

Step 7: Apply for jobs

With the necessary education, experience, and certifications, it is time to apply for surveyor positions. Tailor your resume and cover letter to emphasize technical expertise, problem-solving abilities, and communication skills. During interviews, be prepared to discuss specific examples of past experiences and demonstrate an understanding of surveying principles and best practices.

How much do surveyors make?

A surveyor’s compensation can vary significantly based on several key factors. One of the most significant is the level of experience. Surveyors with more experience and professional licensure, especially those with specialized skills in geodetic or marine surveying, earn more than those new to the field.

The specific industry dramatically affects compensation. Some industries, such as oil and gas extraction, engineering services, and construction, typically offer higher salaries due to the complex and precise surveying required.

Geographic location plays a role as surveyors in areas with a high cost of living or active construction sectors often earn more than those in other regions.

While many surveyors begin their careers with a bachelor’s degree in surveying or a related field, those with a master’s degree or additional certifications may have higher earning potential.

Lastly, the size and type of the company can influence compensation. Larger companies or those with more complex surveying needs often pay surveyors more.

Highest paying industries

  • $87,850 – Oil and Gas Extraction
  • $80,890 – Federal Government
  • $83,230 – Architectural and Engineering
  • $75,210 – Local Government
  • $77,750 – State Government

Highest paying states

  • $101,620 – California
  • $85,980 – Alaska
  • $85,640 – Texas
  • $80,420 – Nevada
  • $80,020 – Connecticut

Browse surveyor salary data by market

Types of surveyors

In this career guide section, we explore the diverse types and specializations associated with the profession. Surveyors use mathematics, specialized technology, and equipment to measure and map the environment. Specializations can vary depending on work settings, specific methodologies, and the kind of data collected and analyzed. 

Land surveyor

Land surveyors measure and record features to create maps and reports. They work on various projects, such as marking property boundaries and preparing sites for construction. A combination of sophisticated equipment and software is used to measure distances and angles precisely.

Geodetic surveyor

Large areas of the Earth’s surface, including satellite observations, can be surveyed using high-accuracy techniques. This work is often performed for global positioning systems (GPS), aerial and satellite imagery, and mapping and charting.

Marine or hydrographic surveyor

Surveyors measure bodies of water, including the sea bed, for depth or to look for underwater hazards. Projects often relate to marine navigation, construction, dredging, and oil exploration.

Quantity surveyor

Quantity surveyors manage all building and civil engineering project costs, from the initial calculations to the final figures. They seek to minimize project costs and enhance value while achieving the required standards and quality.

Mining surveyor

Surveys guide mining operations and ensure accurate tunneling and removal of minerals. Detailed underground measurements for open-cut mines are taken and monitored for safety and structural soundness. 

Construction or building surveyor

Buildings need to be designed and built according to regulations and codes. Surveyors inspect building work at different stages to ensure compliance with safety, quality, sustainability, and accessibility standards.

Top skills for surveyors

Surveyors play a critical role in determining the boundaries of land, air space, and water bodies. Essential skills for this role include a strong understanding of surveying techniques and technology, mathematical proficiency, physical fitness, an eye for detail, and excellent communication skills.

Surveying techniques and technology, such as GPS, GIS, theodolites, and electronic distance measurement devices, are fundamental for surveyors. Familiarity with these techniques and technologies ensures accurate and efficient data collection and analysis.

Mathematical proficiency is necessary because surveyors often use complex calculations to determine distances, angles, and boundaries. This mathematical foundation ensures precision in measurements when creating maps or establishing property boundaries.

Surveying often involves working outdoors, walking long distances, and carrying heavy equipment. Being physically fit ensures that duties are performed effectively in various environments and weather conditions.

An eye for detail is needed to identify and record precise measurements and note any changes or abnormalities in the surveying area. Accurate work across construction projects and land development plans can prevent legal disputes.

Lastly, excellent communication skills are essential for surveyors. Collaboration often occurs across a diverse team of professionals, including engineers, architects, and construction crews. Clear and effective communication is vital in coordinating efforts, explaining findings, and ensuring everyone is aligned on project goals and progress.

Surveyor career path

The career path for a surveyor often begins with a position as a survey technician, surveyor’s assistant, or a similar role. In these jobs, you’ll gain hands-on experience with the equipment and techniques used in surveying and become familiar with reading and interpreting maps and land records.

You could advance to a licensed land surveyor role after gaining experience and completing the necessary licensing requirements. Land surveyors lead surveying projects, perform complex calculations to determine land boundaries, and prepare reports and maps based on findings.

With further experience, a strong track record of successful surveying projects, and additional professional certifications, you might advance to a senior surveyor or a survey manager role. These positions handle more complex surveying projects, oversee a team of surveyors, and play a key role in project planning and management.

Further down the line, there are opportunities to move into business-oriented roles such as surveying director or surveying firm owner. Some surveyors also specialize in a particular area, such as geodetic or marine surveying, or transition into civil engineering or urban planning fields.

Surveyors play an essential role in various sectors such as construction, real estate, and environmental planning by precisely measuring and mapping land for multiple purposes. The position is continually evolving due to technological advancements and industry shifts.

One major trend impacting surveyors is the increasing use of advanced technology. Techniques such as LiDAR, GPS, and GIS are transforming land surveying. As a result, surveyors need to be well-versed in these technologies to remain competitive.

Another significant trend is the rise of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Drones can cover large areas and rugged terrains more efficiently, reducing time and cost. Surveyors are expected to be proficient in drone operation and data interpretation.

As more attention is given to environmental protection and sustainable development, surveyors may be involved in projects that minimize environmental impact.

Finally, surveyors must have strong communication and project management skills because they often coordinate with stakeholders such as architects, engineers, and government officials.

Employment projections for surveyors

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for surveyors is projected to grow by 1% through 2031, with little to no change. Despite slower growth, job prospects should be good due to the need to replace workers who retire. Surveyors with strong technical skills will have the best job prospects, especially those proficient in the latest surveying technologies. Additionally, licensure provides better opportunities, as many states require licensure for surveyors.

Surveyor career tips

Master precision and accuracy

Surveyors are responsible for precise measurements and accurate data collection. Errors, no matter how minor, can lead to significant problems down the line. A high level of precision and accuracy is paramount in the work.

Understand regulatory standards and legal requirements

Surveying often involves legal boundaries and property rights. A strong understanding of relevant laws, regulations, and standards is essential to perform duties effectively and provide valid and legally defensible results.

Stay updated with industry trends

Technology is increasingly shaping the surveying field, with tools like GPS and GIS transforming how surveys are conducted. Staying updated with industry trends can help enhance productivity and work quality.

Build a professional network

Networking can provide valuable insights, learning opportunities, and potential collaborations. Consider joining professional associations and communities such as:

  • National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS)
  • American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM)
  • International Federation of Surveyors (FIG)

Master relevant surveying tools and technologies

Modern surveying involves various tools and technologies, such as GPS devices and computer-aided design (CAD) software. Proficiency in these tools can increase efficiency and accuracy.

Implement continuous learning

Surveying is a field that evolves with advancements in technology and changes in regulations. Continuous learning is critical to staying updated and enhancing capabilities. Areas of focus could include:

  • Advances in surveying technology and equipment
  • Updates on regulatory standards and legal requirements
  • Best practices in data collection and analysis
  • Developments in related fields, such as geodesy and cartography

Develop strong fieldwork capabilities

A large portion of a surveyor’s job involves fieldwork. Whether measuring elevations, identifying property boundaries, or collecting data, being comfortable working outdoors and in various conditions is essential.

Cultivate effective communication skills

Surveyors often work as part of a team where they communicate findings to clients, architects, engineers, and other stakeholders. Strong communication skills can help to convey information accurately and effectively, ensuring everyone understands the work’s results and implications.

Where the surveying jobs are

Top companies

  • Bechtel
  • CH2M Hill
  • Parsons Corporation
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Colorado

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Glassdoor
  • Monster
  • SimplyHired


What skills are necessary for a surveyor?

A surveyor needs strong analytical skills for interpreting complex mathematical and legal information. Attention to detail is essential when taking accurate measurements and producing reports. Good physical fitness is necessary for outdoor work and different weather conditions. Proficiency in using advanced surveying technologies, such as GPS and GIS, is crucial. Additionally, excellent communication and problem-solving skills are necessary for interacting with clients and team members.

What are the typical duties of a surveyor?

Typical duties include measuring and collecting data on specific areas of land, buildings, or bodies of water; analyzing data using plans, maps, charts, and software; preparing detailed reports, plans, and graphs; advising clients and construction professionals about legal issues; and managing projects and liaising with various professionals and clients.

What type of education or certification does a surveyor typically have?

Surveyors typically have a bachelor’s degree in surveying, geomatics, or a related field. Additionally, many states in the U.S. require surveyors to be licensed, which involves passing a series of exams. Some surveyors may earn voluntary certifications from organizations like the National Society of Professional Surveyors to demonstrate professional competency.

How does a surveyor contribute to the success of a project?

Surveyors provide accurate data about land or structures. Their measurements and reports are crucial for planning and executing construction projects, determining property boundaries, and preventing legal disputes. Identifying potential issues related to the site’s topography or legal restrictions can help mitigate risks and reduce project delays or cost overruns.

How does a surveyor work with other professionals on a project?

Surveyors often work closely with architects, engineers, builders, and planners on construction projects to provide data for designing and implementing a project. They may participate in site meetings and consultations to advise on issues related to land use or property boundaries. Interactions with clients, government officials, and legal professionals are sometimes needed to handle property-related legal matters.

What are the challenges a surveyor might face?

Challenges can include dealing with adverse weather conditions, accessing rugged terrains, and ensuring the accuracy of measurements in complex or large-scale projects. Surveyors must stay updated with changing technologies and regulations related to surveying and land use. Dealing with legal disputes or discrepancies related to property boundaries can also be challenging.

What are the key performance indicators for a surveyor?

Key performance indicators include the accuracy of measurements and reports, the successful completion of projects, and client satisfaction levels. Surveyors may also be evaluated on their ability to meet project deadlines, comply with regulations, and contribute to achieving project goals.

How does a surveyor stay updated with the latest technology and industry trends?

A surveyor can stay updated by participating in ongoing professional development, such as attending industry conferences, workshops, or training courses. Join professional organizations, read industry publications, and follow relevant online forums or social media channels to stay informed about the latest developments.

How does a surveyor ensure the accuracy of their measurements and reports?

Accuracy is obtained using precise equipment and technologies, following established procedures, and double-checking data. Surveyors may also use software to analyze and verify data. Regular maintenance and calibration of equipment can further enhance accuracy.

What role does a surveyor play in resolving property disputes?

A surveyor helps resolve property disputes by providing accurate and legally-binding information about property boundaries. They conduct surveys to determine the precise location of boundaries and prepare reports or testify in court to provide evidence in disputes. This includes advising clients or legal professionals on land use laws or property rights matters.