Careers advice and planning

So-so salaries, satisfying careers: what graduate engineers think of their jobs

25 Jan 2023, 13:38

Graduate engineers tell us they have job satisfaction, despite the fact they could earn more in other industries. Highlights include good work/life balance and interesting work.

The image shows a drawing of a flower with the words 'job satisfaction' at the centre.

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.

Here at targetjobs Engineering, we’re keen to speak to as many engineers as possible to find out what they think of their graduate jobs and how happy they are with their career so far. The good news is that the majority find their careers satisfying, are happy with the lifestyle that their jobs entail (eg travel, hours, location and colleagues) and want to stick with engineering for the long term.

Job satisfaction outweighs the salary for graduate engineers

When asked about their salaries, several graduates commented that while what they earn 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. Their comments include:

  • 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 eg 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.

Find out more about graduate engineering salaries – and what your wage might look like further down the line as an incorporated engineer or chartered engineer.

Don’t expect an easy life in engineering

However, the engineers we’ve spoken to are also keen to flag up that engineering isn’t an ‘easy life’, and still requires hard work and some sacrifices to get ahead. Their comments include:

  • 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 is one of the highlights of a career in engineering, several graduates have pointed out that some realism is needed on this front. Their comments include:

  • 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 days or weeks of setbacks or 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, one piece of advice that has been given by a number of engineers is that, for the most satisfying career, you need to research which job area most interests you. Their comments include:

  • 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.

Take a look at our engineering industry overviews , each written by an engineer in that sector, to find out what it’s like to work in these different areas and decide which one is right for you.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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