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Mechanical Engineer

How to Become a Mechanical Engineer: 5 Soft Skills to Develop to Excel

What if you could actually answer "yes it is" to the statement that 'it's not rocket science'? As a mechanical engineer, you might. It's far from your only potential career path with this role, of course. But even its possibility shows how versatile a career in mechanical engineering can be. Besides the excitement of the profession, mechanical engineering is profitable. Your average pay is close to USD$100,000 per year1. If you specialize in a field such as aerospace engineering, that number might top USD$150,000. You'll need significant mechanical skills to enter this profession. But your soft skills will be the variable that gets you to advance in your career. We can help you develop these important soft skills.

Illustration of a happy man showing mechanical skills in how to become a mechanical engineer

What do mechanical engineers do?

In this engineering discipline, you'll work on nearly anything that moves. Professional engineers research and design machinery and tools, as well as engines. They also oversee the development and test them.

You might be involved in building batteries or creating air conditioning systems. You might design airplanes, escalators, or medical devices. Your duties will include:

  • Finding mechanical and thermal solutions to problems.
  • Designing mechanical and thermal devices.
  • Developing prototypes of the devices you are designing.
  • Diagnose errors on thermal and mechanical devices and create solutions for these errors.
  • Overseeing the manufacturing process of the devices you've designed.

This is one of the broadest fields of engineering available. You can specialize your career in one of many subfields:

  • Biomedical engineering
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Aeronautical engineering
  • Thermal engineering
  • Automotive engineering
  • Autonomous systems engineering
  • Green design and sustainability
  • And more.

Each of these engineering specializations requires unique technical skills. You can gain them as part of your mechanical engineering education. Hands-on experience helps to apply them.

You'll likely find the most job opportunities in the private sector. The most common options include:

  • Architectural and engineering firms
  • Manufacturing
  • Scientific R&D
  • Aerospace

But you'll also find work in the public sector. That might include working for NASA or assisting with infrastructure projects.

What soft (human) skills do you need to become a mechanical engineer?

Maths skills and other engineering principles are essential. But your career journey will stop short if you don't have a strong grasp on the right soft skills. These human-focused skills can enhance career growth.


Any professional engineer will need a strong tendency toward evidence-based decision-making. But a creative mind matters just as much for your career.

The equipment and machinery you'll build are immensely complex. Simply relying on past knowledge won't be enough. You will need to be able to come up with pioneering solutions that others might not think of.

That means making intuitive decision-making a part of your toolbox. You'll need to back up your decisions with sound fundamentals. But your experience will also develop your intuition. That creative thinking can help you find innovative solutions.

Listening skills

Mechanical engineers never work in isolation. You'll have a talented team of experts around you at all times. Architects, computer scientists, and others will need input into the same projects you're working on.

That makes listening skills crucial to career success. A people orientation helps you value input from others. Being well-informed will help you to make important decisions.

Communication skills

It's impossible to succeed in any branch of engineering without strong communication skills. Team management becomes more important as you advance in your career.  To ensure success, you’ll also need to understand how to adapt your communications to suit different stakeholders.

That means balancing your affective communication skills. For example if you’re pitching a new concept and you need to connect with investors, partners, or clients. This will need to be balanced with neutral communication. For example when liaising with other engineers and software developers who prefer a level of technical detail. Understanding the nuances of communications preferences will help you to achieve career success.

Time and project management skills

As a mechanical engineer, you'll oversee or be involved in complex projects. That requires leadership abilities. But it also means you'll need to hone your time and project management skills.

The ability to stick to a schedule becomes essential. So does a systems thinking approach that keeps the bigger picture in mind. A focus on long-term thinking can help, although small details matter just as much in the process.

Problem-solving skills

Mechanical engineers use their critical thinking skills to solve immensely complex problems. You'll need pragmatism to make real-time decisions and solve real-time projects.

You'll also need to know how to apply basic engineering and mathematical principles. Converting theoretical knowledge into practical applications is a daily part of the job. Even in an entry-level position, your success depends on finding the ideal path to solve problems.

How to develop the mechanical engineering soft skills you'll need to succeed

Whether you work in the automotive industry or on communications systems, you'll need soft human skills to succeed. Technical knowledge is the baseline, but it's the ability to think beyond the mechanical systems you work on that can help you truly stand out.

The best place to start is understanding your personal motivations related to your work. You also need to be aware of any blind spots where you might need development. Fingerprint for Success can help you get there. Our free assessment helps you understand your motivation related to the soft skills you'll need. From there, you can set a goal, which allows Coach Marlee to send you personalized insights related to your motivations.

Those insights also extend to your blind spots, helping you improve where needed to enhance your career opportunities. Take our free assessment to get started today.


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How long does it take to become a mechanical engineer?

Expect to take between three and six years to qualify for entry-level jobs in mechanical engineering. You'll likely need to earn a four-year degree. You'll also need at least some internship experience. Finally, a mechanical engineering master's degree can set you apart from other job seekers.

Educational requirements for mechanical engineer careers

Most companies hiring mechanical engineers require at least a bachelor's degree in engineering. In countries where a bachelor's degree isn't the standard, look for other undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering.

The average time to earn a bachelor's degree is four years. Some schools offer five-year programs that combine bachelor's degrees in engineering with an advanced degree. You can also earn a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering, which takes another three to five years.

Your choice of degree program matters, too. For example, ABET accredits more than 4,000 degrees in natural and physical sciences globally. Graduating from an ABET-accredited program increases the credibility of your degree around the world.

You can also find alternative mechanical engineering degree programs. For example, an associate's degree in mechanical engineering technology has a more practical approach and can get your foot in the door as an entry-level engineer. Similarly, some online programs are still credible enough to become ABET-accredited engineering programs.

Earning your professional engineering license in mechanical engineering

You won't need it for entry-level positions, but most countries require a license for anyone who wants to call themselves a professional engineer. The exact licensing requirements depend on the country in which you're looking to gain licensure. More commonly, they include:

  • A degree from a four-year mechanical engineering program
  • Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam
  • Four years of relevant work experience under a professional engineer
  • Passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam

In the United States, the National Society of Professional Engineers oversees the licensing process. In Europe, it's a similar association called Engineers Europe and in Australia, it's the National Engineering Register. Most licenses transfer between countries thanks to their similar requirements.

Certifications in the mechanical engineering profession

A variety of certification programs can help you quantify your practical experience and specializations. These industry certifications are not required to start your career but can set you apart from other candidates. Examples of common and valuable mechanical engineering certifications include:

  • Assistive design certificate
  • CAD and digital manufacturing certificate
  • Systems engineering certification
  • Robotics engineering certificate
  • And more.

Look for professional associations in your country to offer these certifications. For example, the American Society for Mechanical Engineers offers a wide range of certificates for mechanical engineering graduates.

You can also enhance your resume with an engineer in training license. It shows employers that you are on your way to a successful engineering career. Requirements for engineers in training differ by state and country. Most likely, you'll need a degree from an ABET-accredited school along with eight years of experience, which can include either practical experience or a graduate degree.

Typical internships and apprenticeship paths in mechanical engineering

Even entry-level jobs in mechanical engineering have at least some experience requirements. You can gain that valuable experience in the form of an internship.

Engineer interns learn how to apply basic engineering principles. They also get used to the job environment they will encounter in the field. You'll learn to apply your engineering knowledge in real-world projects, from manufacturing settings to the automotive industry.

To earn your professional engineer license, you'll need more in-depth job experience. Look for organizations that offer multi-year job training programs under licensed engineers.

Advancement and specialization opportunities as a mechanical engineer

As the broadest engineering field, mechanical engineering provides plenty of opportunities for specialization. You can become a biomedical engineer or focus on more theoretical engineering economics. You might build advanced energy systems or artificial limbs and organs. You might research nuclear energy or build gas turbines.

The key to specialization is getting the right experience and credentials in these subjects. The right certifications can help, as does advanced knowledge gained through on-the-job training.

Beyond that, moving forward in your career journey requires both soft skills and ongoing professional development. For example, an engineering doctoral degree or certificate in management in engineering can add to your credentials. Over time, you can become an engineering lead, engineering manager, or senior engineer.

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What are the career opportunities and outlook for mechanical engineering?

The U.S. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook expects a 2% job growth in mechanical engineering by 20311 That includes a projected 17,900 job openings every year.

Global demand mirrors the United States. Every country needs people with in-depth knowledge of complex equipment and machinery. Demand is especially strong in China, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, and France2. China alone employs 1.3 million mechanical engineers while in Japan, this profession makes up 1.8% of the workforce2.

Mechanical is a particularly interesting field for future professionals because most western economies are facing a shortage of engineers3. This coming shortage will increase the need for mechanical engineering students and professionals in the near future.

Keep in mind that mechanical engineering can open doors to other high-growth occupations, as well. Robotics and aerospace engineers are just some of the many opportunities with high projected growth in the near future.

Where can mechanical engineers work?

Nearly every industry needs mechanical engineers, but some industries are an especially good fit. Globally, the automotive industry alone employs hundreds of thousands of engineers. Aerospace companies, the tech industry, and civil defense contractors are among other top options. Some of the world's biggest employers of mechanical engineers4 are:

  • Boeing
  • Apple
  • Google
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Tesla
  • SAIC Motor
  • NASA
  • General Electric

The most common career path for any of these companies is to enroll in a mechanical engineering bachelor's degree. From there, try to get an internship at a company you'd like to work with, and begin to network with fellow engineers. Alternatively, use your internship for basic practical experience, then look for an entry-level position in engineering. Over time,  you can specialize and gain additional experience to advance in your career.

How much can mechanical engineers earn?

The average salary for mechanical engineers in the U.S. is USD$95,300 per year, or USD$45.82 per hour1. Keep in mind that this annual wage can change significantly depending on a few factors:

  • Your experience level. Entry-level engineers earn about USD$60,000 per year, while senior engineers can easily top USD$125,0005.
  • Your specialization. For example, the average robotics engineer earns more than USD$102,000. The top 10% of professionals in this specialization earn nearly USD$150,0006.
  • Your employer. For example, the average mechanical engineer at Boeing earns more than USD$150,000. The average salary at Apple for mechanical engineering professionals is around USD$135,0004.

Where in the world you work also influences your annual salary. Examples of the average salaries for mechanical engineer careers around the world include7:

  • Switzerland (US$110,000)
  • Australia (US$93,000)
  • Japan (US$80,000)
  • Canada (US$84,000)
  • Germany (US$61,000)
  • India (US$6,900)

Keep in mind the standard of living for these countries, as well. The average salary for mechanical engineers in India might seem low but is still nearly three times as much as the country's average household income.

Frequently asked questions

How hard is it to become a mechanical engineer?

Mechanical engineering is a difficult career path because of its technical requirements. Classroom study heavily emphasizes key elements of maths and engineering. But practical experience is just as important. In exchange, you'll find high-paying and challenging work that never gets boring.

How to become a mechanical engineer without a degree?

Entering this career without at least an associate degree is difficult, but not impossible. You'll need to find a low-level job, such as an engineering or field technician. From there, keep building your mechanical acumen as you advance. Continue to earn certificates related to your specialty as you can. Build your network to find opportunities for advancement.

How to become a top mechanical engineer?

Becoming a top mechanical engineer likely means some type of graduate school education. That might include a doctorate degree. Participate in professional development programs that increase your level of knowledge. But you'll also need to hone your soft skills, such as communication and problem-solving. Only a combination of all these factors can help you rise to the top in this advanced field.

How to become a mechanical engineer for a car company?

Becoming an automotive engineer starts with a mechanical engineering degree. Take some automotive engineering elective courses if your program offers them. Look for internships with car manufacturers before you graduate.

After graduation, look for employment in the automotive industry. Consider earning a certificate in advanced automotive engineering from an ABET-accredited school. An Engineer in Training certification and Professional Engineer license also helps.

How to become a mechanical engineer consultant?

Becoming a consultant requires gaining significant credibility, skill, and expertise in mechanical engineering. You'll need to earn at least a bachelor's degree, and ideally an advanced degree. You should have at least five to ten years of experience in the field. And you'll need to showcase your expertise to potential clients. Professional licenses and certifications can help.

From there, create a portfolio that showcases your past work in the field. Build a network of potential companies that might hire an engineering consultant. Consider starting as a consultant part-time, then slowly building your client base to a full-time workload.

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