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Civil Engineer

How to Become a Civil Engineer: 5 Soft Skills to Develop to Lead

Imagine building a canal or fixing the bridge that has endangered your neighborhood for decades. Or imagine creating a tunnel system for your local city. Civil or structural engineering is a modern profession. But it's been around for millennia. Think about the monuments still standing today: The Egyptian pyramids The Great Wall of China The Colosseum of Rome These impressive building projects have stood for millennia. They're the subjects of countless documentaries. And they were built with the same fundamental skills that today's professional engineers use. Rather than being antiquated, the profession continues to grow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American economy will need 22,000 new civil engineers by 20311. This guide will help you understand the nuances of a civil engineering career. You’ll also learn the essential skills and what degrees are needed in this career. Then, partner with F4S to get the coaching you need to make your success monumental.

Illustration of a woman happily designing a bridge and showing how to become a civil engineer

What do civil engineers do?

Civil engineers create and maintain infrastructure. They plan and maintain the physical backbone of society, including:

  • Roads
  • Bridges
  • Tunnels
  • Sewage systems
  • Buildings
  • Airport
  • Railways
  • Dams
  • Water and energy systems

Along the way, they work with architects, regional planners, construction managers, and maintenance workers.

This is a broad field, meaning there are many areas to match your field of interest. Civil engineering specialties include options such as:

  • Coastal engineering
  • Structural design
  • Ports engineering
  • Transportation engineering
  • Geotechnical engineers
  • City engineers
  • Construction engineers
  • Structural engineers
  • And more.

Job titles range from city planner to project manager and engineering manager.

Civic engineers can also take on educational roles. In that capacity, they advise firms and public clients on issues ranging from seismic activities to the fluid mechanics behind a body of water.

Depending on their role, these engineers are involved at every level of a project. Designing, building, and maintaining infrastructure are all part of the puzzle. They are building infrastructure around us, both on a broad scale and for individual commercial buildings.

That's why civic engineers find work in both the private and public sector. You can find entry-level jobs and managerial positions at construction firms or administrative and senior positions in government agencies. It's what makes the civil engineering industry one of the broadest fields in engineering.

What are the skills needed to become a civil engineer?

Many of the technical skills needed for this profession overlap with other engineering careers. But a few skills are especially relevant if you're looking to join the civil engineering profession. That includes both hard (or technical) skills that are learned as part of your formal education and human (or soft) skills that can apply to any profession.

Problem-solving skills

Problem-solving is a daily need in civil engineering. You'll need to be able to identify problems for multifaceted projects and  be creative in developing solutions. That requires thinking outside the box, often at a moment's notice and without all available information.

Organizational skills

A civic engineer's day is rarely boring. A wide range of projects vie for your attention. For each of them, you'll need to keep a close eye on progress. That means building design plans while monitoring and evaluating work.

You'll likely also be responsible for compliance with local regulations and codes. Design projects need to follow local architectural codes. Building projects need to get the right permits. Multitasking is an essential component of success in this field.

Analytical skills

Regardless of whether you're working on infrastructure projects or construction projects, advanced mathematics are vital. You'll need mathematical skills to analyze the environment and build design plans. An analytical mindset helps you become methodical enough to solve these often complex problems through structural analysis.

Decision-making skills

Not every plan you or your engineering firm has is realistic. In the civil engineering field, you'll constantly need to make decisions related to:

  • The financial cost of a project
  • The feasibility of plans
  • Any safety concerns related to the project

Other field experts, such as urban planners, will likely also require your expertise related to the project. Strong decision-making skills are key to helping the project succeed.

Leadership skills and team management skills

In civic engineering, you're never on your own. Entire teams depend on your insights and leadership. Effective team management is essential. You'll need to guide:

  • Civil engineering technicians
  • Construction industry partners, such as construction managers
  • Civil engineering technologists
  • Engineering mechanics
  • Civil engineering interns
  • And others around you.

In some cases, you'll provide them with a blueprint to get to work. In others, you'll oversee the entire project plan. In every case, they'll look to you for leadership and guidance. Your leadership style could make or break the success of complex projects.

Develop essential soft skills for civil engineering

An educational path helps you develop essential technical skills. But in civil engineering, mastering your soft skills can be the key to even greater success.

For example, writing skills can help you develop an effective neutral communication style. You might need to develop strategic skepticism. A people orientation can help in leadership roles.

Fingerprint for Success is here to help you develop these essential skills. We've been studying soft skills for more than 20 years. We know the attitudes and motivations needed to succeed in civil engineering. With our research and expert coaching, we can help you improve your career prospects. 

Take our assessment today to get started. You’ll uncover your motivations related to the soft skills needed in the field of engineering. 

After that, set a goal and Coach Marlee will provide personalized insights related to your goal and motivations. You'll also get help identifying blind spots. Through our free F4S coaching, you can climb the civil engineering career ladder faster. 

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How long does it take to become a civil engineer?

Expect it to take between four and ten years to become a civil engineer. Most entry-level positions only require a bachelor's degree. Leadership positions and working globally likely means you'll need a professional license.

Educational requirements for civil engineering

For most entry-level positions across the globe, you'll need to earn at least a bachelor's degree. Most civil engineers earn one of two potential civil engineering degrees:

  • A bachelor of science (BS) in civil engineering.
  • A bachelor of engineering (BEng) with a specialization in civil engineering.

Enroll in an accredited program to make sure you get a quality education. Check with your nation's engineering society to learn about local accredited options. For example, enrolling in an ABET-accredited engineering program is essential in the U.S. The Engineering Council is the regulatory body for the UK engineering profession. Accreditation in most major countries can transfer internationally.

Full-time study requires four years to graduate with a BS, and five years for a BEng. Both BS and BEng degrees are recognized globally for this profession.

You can also continue your studies with a graduate degree in civil engineering. While this step is optional, it can help when advancing to leadership positions. Most master's degrees take about two years of full-time study.

Licensure requirements for civil engineering

The right licensure can help open up new civil engineering career paths. Only licensed engineers can submit plans for public projects. Also, licensure carries more weight when looking for jobs internationally. In the US, that means taking 3 steps to earn your Professional Engineer (PE) license:

  1. Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
  2. Gain relevant work experience under a licensed professional for at least four years.
  3. Pass the Principles and Practices of Engineering exam administered by the NCEES.

Different countries require different licensing processes. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) is actively working on a global standard based on US licensure. 2

Civil engineering internships and apprenticeships

Internships or apprenticeships are not required for entry-level jobs. But they can help you stand out among other candidates on your resume. You'll gain four years of experience through an internship or apprenticeship when earning your PE license.

Specialization opportunities for civil engineers

Most education is standardized for civil engineering. Your work experience can help narrow your career path in a number of specialties (as already mentioned). Most of these specializations build on general civil engineering coursework. Your previous experience will make you stand out as you look to specialize.

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Civil engineering roles and job opportunities

The job growth in this field is partially due to its versatility. Civil engineering jobs range from transportation engineers to construction management. Your field experience will determine the opportunities available to you.

The above statistics show how important civil engineers will be as the world moves towards a more sustainable infrastructure. 3 Public and private entities are looking to reduce their harmful environmental impacts. They look to civil engineering technology and skills to rethink and redo their infrastructure. Environmental science has become an essential educational background as a result.

Where can civil engineers work?

Civil engineers work in both private businesses and government agencies. Potential employers include:

  • Construction firms
  • Research and development firms or departments
  • Architectural or planning design firms
  • Local governments
  • State governments
  • Federal governments
  • Law firms and insurance firms, typically as subject matter experts
  • Colleges and universities
  • And more.

Job opportunities are often based on local needs. For example, infrastructure needs in India have led to an explosion in public civil engineering jobs. In California, seismic activities have led to an increased need for geotechnical engineers.

Potential career paths in civil engineering

The American Society of Civil Engineering outlines five core career paths in this field of study:

Public agencies

Work in a government agency means working for the community. It's about making a difference, often with limited resources. Job stability is high, and tasks include taking a project from inception to conclusion.


Civil engineers who teach can shape the next generation of the profession. They also perform research on topics such as mass transit systems or water treatment systems. Work is largely theoretical. It's a rewarding career path that typically comes with a capped ceiling and earning potential.

Private industry

In this path, you'll have the option to manage plants, oversee large teams, and conduct feasibility studies. It's a collection of countless individual paths, from technology to pharmaceuticals. Once you specialize, you'll likely focus on that specialty for most of your career.


Civil engineers in this profession advise a wide range of companies. Geographic location becomes less important, and earning potential is high. This path requires ample experience, and consultants largely work on the conceptual stages of multifaceted projects.


Working in the built environment means overseeing large construction projects. You'll be responsible for construction planning and ensuring those plans become reality. It's a fast-paced career path with immense earning potential and the ability to see projects through to completion.

How much can civil engineers earn?

The median salary for civil engineers in the U.S. is USD$88,050. The best-paid 25% of civil engineers in 2021 made USD$117,270. The lowest-paid 25% earned USD$74,250. 1

Internationally, civil engineers earn the equivalent of USD$86,000 in average salary. That's just over USD$42 per hour. However, the salary changes drastically based on the country in which you're employed:

  • Switzerland pays an average salary of USD$155,000.
  • Denmark pays an average salary of USD$93,000.
  • Australia pays an average salary of USD$95,000.
  • China pays an average salary of USD$78,000.
  • Germany pays an average salary of USD$68,000.

Salaries are lower in emerging markets. India, for example, pays civil engineers an average of ₹3741984 (USD$46,177) per year. But because of the country's low cost of living, this profession is still among the highest-paying in the country.

Beyond that, your career path influences the salary you'll make. Public positions are lower-paying but come with more benefits. Education has a high starting range but a low ceiling. Construction and consulting jobs tend to pay the most.

Education level and licensing status also matter. The average entry-level civil engineer in the U.S. makes about USD$66,000. Once you obtain your licensure, almost every job in the country will pay at least USD$100,000.

Frequently asked questions

How to become a civil engineer without a degree?

It is almost impossible to become a civil engineer without a degree. You'll need to enter an apprenticeship program with a licensed civil engineer. You'll also need to work on your engineering skills and soft skills.

If you make enough of an impression, your apprenticeship may lead to a full-time job. But it will be almost impossible to advance without a degree or license. In competitive job postings, public and private employers will always look at educational attainment first.

How long does it take to become a civil engineer?

It takes between four and ten years to become a civil engineer. You can get an entry-level job by completing a four-year BS degree in the field. To open all possible career paths and possibilities, you'll need three things:

  • A bachelor's degree in engineering (four years)
  • A master's degree in engineering (two years)
  • A Professional Engineer's license (four years of practical work experience)

You can earn your master's degree before or after you join the profession. But the license requires at least a bachelor's degree for the entrance exam.

What qualifications do you need to become a civil engineer?

You'll need a BS or BEng degree for almost all civil engineering jobs. For advanced and public sector jobs, you'll also need your PE license. A graduate degree can help but is not required.

Employers will look for proof that you have the right skill set and experience for the job. You can gain professional experience through an internship or apprenticeship. Many employers use practical and theoretical tests to gain proof of your skills.

How much does it cost to become a civil engineer?

The cost to become a civil engineer is made up of two components:

  • The average annual tuition to get an engineering bachelor's degree is just over USD$13,500.
  • The license itself is free, but membership in the NSPE (USD$299/year) is required.

Educational costs differ based on your situation. Depending on the school you choose and the country in which you study, you can pay above USD$50,000 or below USD$10,000 for your degree per year.

What to study to become a civil engineer?

Most civil engineering students study in one of two degree types:

  • A BS in civil engineering
  • A BEng with a specialization in civil engineering

They both teach the core skills required to succeed in a long career. As long as the program is accredited by the nation's chosen engineering society, both paths are equally credible. Examples of accrediting agencies include: American Society of Civil Engineers, Engineers Canada, Engineers Australia, and Institution of Civil Engineers (United Kingdom).

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