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What career options can I expect as an Electrical Engineer?

  1. Dec 19, 2015 #1
    Hello everyone! =)

    I am currently a 3rd year Electrical Engineering student at a decent university, and am working towards a BSEE degree with what is currently a 3.8+ cumulative GPA. I have worked here as a paid research assistant and as a teaching assistant (an ECE lab course) for my engineering professors, and have already secured a well-paying internship ($22/hr) for this upcoming summer with a major power distribution company in the mid west area. This is all related to my intended career path, as I am interested in the power industry. Thanks to a generous full-expenses scholarship I received, I will be able to graduate with no college debt.

    I was hoping to gain some insight on what I can expect as soon as I graduate. My biggest concern is being unemployed for an extensive period of time after graduation. I've also been considering doing a master's degree by taking an additional year of schooling, which will also be covered by the scholarship.

    My main questions are:
    1) Is there such a thing as being "guaranteed employment" after college? What else can i do to increase my chances of being hired straight out of college?

    2) Given my situation, how much money can I expect to make when starting my first full-time engineering job?

    3) What is your situation like right now?

    Any advice and comments are greatly appreciated! Thank you, and happy holidays!
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2015 #2
    If you're interested in working for that power distribution company, I'm sure you could talk to those who you worked for in your internship and they would help you secure a job when you graduate. Expect that hiring process to take approximately six months. In general, if you're interested, they're interested. They want people who are in this for the long haul. Utilities are long term investments. It is usually a very sedate job, but when they call you for emergencies, you'd best get yourself out there if you expect to see another promotion.

    Within utilities, you can expect to make around $50k/ year to start. Try to negotiate higher because longevity typically matters more than performance (I know, it isn't ideal, but that's the reality). Don't low-ball your salary request, thinking you'll make it up on merit pay increases. That's not easily done. Over the long haul you won't get many opportunities to become wealthy, but you will have very steady work, good job security, and usually not too much travel.

    I've been working for a large water and sewer utility and I'm approaching my 30th year there. Promotions are big sources of income boosts. However, I've pretty much gone as far as I can in technical fields. The only way up is in management, and I'm not particularly keen about doing that for the employer I work for now.
  4. Dec 20, 2015 #3
    Thanks for the very insightful response! I will perhaps look into working 5-10 years in a technical field before transitioning to a more management-oriented position. As for the starting salary, I was actually hoping for something along the lines of 60-75k starting, but I will definitely look around and take my options into consideration.
  5. Dec 20, 2015 #4
    Salary varies depending on location an cost of living. It also depends upon exactly what you choose to pursue. For example, there is operations engineering, where you're on call a lot. That can pay more due to hazard duty and overtime. The downside is that you might not have much of a social life while doing this sort of thing. There are other fields where you can get major promotions from getting certifications. One of the big ones is the Professional Engineer Registration.

    I have to warn you about the PE: It is simply an indication of responsibility for your design. If it ever goes wrong during the lifecycle, you may be called to answer for it --especially if people are maimed or killed. It is basically an indication of legal liability for your work, not a mark of competency, though it may appear that way in many laws. Nevertheless, your registration enables you to take legal responsibility for what comes of a design. This will boost your salary potential quite a bit. I suggest taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (the EIT test) as soon as you graduate to keep that option open.
  6. Dec 21, 2015 #5


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    I worked for an Electrical contractor (A very large elect contractor which had an engineering group) and the starting pay for new graduates was $55-60K for top tier candidates. That said, I had an intern with a 2.4 GPA from a well regarded school and another candidate with a 4.0 GPA (from a less renown school, although I believe school is what the student makes of it!). Both worked for me, and when the intern graduated, the EE department head asked what we should offer the intern? I stated flatly, the MAX ($70K, I believe). The EE department head had worked with this intern too. He GOT the MAX offer! The other fellow was started at a salary of $58K or so.
    So, internships can be very valuable as this intern would have been undervalued otherwise.
  7. Dec 21, 2015 #6
    Answer to question 1. When I got hired a couple years ago, we had to undergo initiation, (health insurance election, payroll, orientation etc.). The human resources department said, each of us beat out (I forgot if he/she said 800 or 8000) other applicants. Clearly, if other businesses are similar, there are going to be some good people unemployed. No one is guaranteed employment.
    It seems with your credentials you stated you have good chances for employment, though. I am tempted to say your second question is less significant. However, I was told before interviewing, always have a salary in mind. Your interviewer my enquire. First year salary can depend on the current condition of the business, the locality the business resides, (e.g San Fran or Washington or NYC has a higher cost of living than say Huntsville.) In addition, you will probably want to consider how the business is growing. Your salary 5 years down the line may make up for a lower starting salary.
  8. Dec 22, 2015 #7
    That's a very good point - I had already planned to take the FE and PE, as I am somewhat aware of the pay bump it can offer, but I definitely did take too much notice of the potential consequences it entails as well.

    I was told that overtime can pay really well (50% extra) - but might be difficult if you've got responsibilities such as taking care of a family. However, as I'm still young (20yo), I am very open to the idea of being on call every now and then for an extra salary bump.

    Indeed - I am very grateful that I was able to secure an internship for this upcoming summer. I've heard that for engineers nowadays, they're practically essential to getting hired shortly after graduation.

    Thanks for the advice! I certainly hope to get hired immediately out of college. The place I will be interning at pretty much does all the power distribution and transmission in the Illinois region, so I am confident that the company can provide a stable job. Also, the recruiter that spoke with me about my internship indicated that they hire about 75% of their interns upon graduation, so that is something that I'm definitely looking forward to.

    As for the location & cost of living, I reside in Chicago, Illinois and intend to stay here for the foreseeable future - as I want to maintain my current social life here. That being said, living costs aren't too high - in comparison with places such as California and New York.
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