So-so salaries, satisfying careers: what graduate engineers think of their jobs
Graduate engineers find their careers satisfying and want to stick with them for the long term, despite being aware that they could earn higher salaries elsewhere. That’s according to the TARGETjobs Engineering Recent Graduate Survey, which questioned over 100 graduate engineers in the first few years of their careers at a number of leading employers.
The vast majority of graduate engineers said that their career was either as they had expected (62%) or even better than they had expected (24%). Only 14% reported that their career was worse than expected.
Similarly, 89% were happy with the lifestyle that their job entailed (eg travel, hours, location and colleagues). And 70% were sure that they wanted to stay in engineering long term, with a further 26% undecided.
Job satisfaction makes up for salary
Many commented that, while salaries can’t compete with areas such as investment banking, the interesting work and potential for a reasonable work/life balance more than made up for this. Typical comments included:
- Go for it: for work/life balance and the interest factor nothing else compares!
- Well paid, challenging and you are able to have a life as well, unlike other jobs e.g. investment banking.
- Consider your motivations. The engineering sector will never pay as highly as other sectors, but the work can be very interesting and engaging. If interesting work is more important to you than the highest possible salary, the engineering sector is worth looking at.
- You've got to enjoy your job; engineering gives me satisfaction as I am always dealing with real situations where I can improve and influence.
- If you are looking for big salaries straight away it’s the wrong sector for you. It’s paid above the national average and there is a nice work life balance. High salary jobs straight out of university come with long hours and a poor work/life balance. I think it depends on your priorities and personal situation.
- If you have a passion for engineering/problem solving etc., you’ll love it. There's something for everyone.
- I think it is a great sector to work in. I am constantly learning, which I find key to a healthy working environment.
Don’t expect an easy life
However, they were also keen to flag up that engineering isn’t an ‘easy life’, and still requires hard work and some sacrifices to get ahead. Typical comments included:
- To get ahead you need to work hard as the effort is often proportional to the opportunities that become available to you.
- With the caveat that it is ‘flexible’ working, to get ahead/get noticed/get the best, you need to work hard (meaning long hours and sacrificing some aspects of your life).
- Part of the nature of the job involves site work for an undisclosed length of time. This does not mix well with any sort of social life.
Be realistic about an engineer’s work
And while interesting work was one of the highlights, graduates felt that some realism was needed on this front. Typical comments included:
- Manage your expectations. Most jobs out there aren’t interesting 100% of the time. There are a lot of engaging and interesting tasks in an engineering job, but there is also a fair share of boring ones.
- Be realistic with your expectations: in a medium-large sized company things will generally get done slowly and your contributions will on the large part go unnoticed.
- Don’t be surprised if you have a successful engineering career and never use your prized engineering skills.
- Definitely be prepared for working in front of a computer screen; most engineers do so these days.
- If you don’t have the patience to deal with with days or weeks of setbacks or of making no progress on a problem, then this isn’t the career for you. However, if you enjoy problem solving, then it's perfect.
Go into the right job area
Finally, they stressed that for the most satisfying career, you need to research which job area most interests you. Typical comments included:
- I think it is important that you have a genuine interest in the area you are going into: it makes it a lot easier to enjoy your job and consequently excel.
- Find your favoured area of expertise and make sure you stick to it as much as possible during the early stages of your career. You will probably be much more successful if you enjoy what you do.