7 Ways to Make More Money as a Mechanical Engineer
This story was updated on 10/13/2022.
In 2021, the median pay for mechanical engineers was $95,300 per year, or $45.82 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With typical entry-level education requirements being a bachelor’s degree, this isn’t a bad salary—not to mention plenty of growth prospects—but there are always ways for mechanical engineers to increase their salaries. It just requires planning and a significant investment in time, money, and education—as well as excellent communication (and sometimes negotiation) skills.
Here are a few of the best ways to start boosting your engineering salary:
1) Earn a Master’s Degree
When it comes to advancing into higher-paying supervisory and management roles, a master’s degree is a growing requirement. In addition to sharpening your technical skills, a master’s degree can establish you as an expert in a hot field, such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing.
“Becoming a technical expert in a particular industry or product will command a higher salary than being a generalist engineer,” says Tom Goettl, vice president and principal recruiter for Konik PrimeStaff, a leading engineering recruiting company based in Edina, MN.
2) Earn an MBA
If you are interested in management opportunities, a Master of Business Administration degree might be the best approach. An MBA is ideal for mechanical engineers with an aptitude for business management.
“The skills that come with an MBA enable engineers to be promoted into business oversight roles,” Goettl says. “They will learn, for example, how to tie profit and loss statements from the entire company into an engineering department and how every department’s performance affects the company bottom line.”
He does caution that management is not always a good fit for engineers.
“Many great engineers move into management roles only to learn afterward that they dislike holding others accountable, or coaching and leading teams,” he says.“You don’t want to spend the rest of your career in a role you’re not passionate about simply because the pay is a bit higher.”
3) Become a PE
Professional engineers, or PEs, tend to move into higher-paying supervisory and management jobs compared to non-PE—because only PEs can sign and seal engineering drawings or serve as fully-qualified expert witnesses.
Obtaining a PE license shows you are serious about your profession and are part of an elite group of engineers. In fact, an increasing number of government agencies, educational institutions, and private-sector clients prefer to work with licensed professional engineers.
4) Pursue Internal Development Opportunities
Does your company have upcoming special projects, such as a system conversion, or need someone to travel for a customer visit? Volunteering for these projects will make a positive mark on your next merit review. “Employees who are viewed as helping out wherever needed will be looked at for future promotions and salary increases,” Goettl says. “These projects will also stretch your technical abilities such as coding, Excel, and project management. In the event of a company layoff, you’ll either be irreplaceable at your current company or much more attractive to another. Your proven ability to help out wherever needed will be taken into consideration in your next salary discussion.”
5) Change Your Engineering Industry
According to the BLS, the median annual wages in 2021 for mechanical engineers in the top industries were:
|Scientific research and development services||$102,050|
|Computer and electronic product manufacturing||$96,400|
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||$97,090|
|Transportation equipment manufacturing||$97,000|
A simple shift from machinery manufacturing to scientific R&D (such as robotics, medical devices, pharmaceutical), for example, can earn an ME a significant salary boost.
6) Change Your State
Pay levels for MEs vary widely from state to state. States that have reputations for high-tech fields like aerospace, defense, biotechnology, robotics, IT, and biomedicine—Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, and California, for example—have average salaries close to $100,000.
An engineer can also get a big salary bump by just moving one state over. In Iowa, for example, MEs earn approximately 27 percent less than the national average. Next door in Illinois, however, an ME’s earnings are only 3 percent lower than the national average.
7) Ask for a Raise
Getting more money could be as easy as asking for a raise—not to mention a bonus—especially if you know you are underpaid or have performed especially well. But this, as you can guess, can be a stressful process.
According to the Huffington Post article How to Ask for a Raise, key factors include conducting salary research for your market, being prepared, and keeping expectations realistic. As you prepare, keep in mind that most annual raises are between 1 and 5 percent.
How Much $$$?
You may wonder exactly how much of an impact these extra efforts will have on your base salary. In most cases, mechanical engineers who obtain a master’s degree, MBA, or become a PE can expect a 10-15 percent increase in their salaries. An engineer with an MBA may also be a strong future candidate for an advanced role, such as Engineering Director or Vice President of Engineering.
Mark Crawford is an independent writer.
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