Want more money? Specialize

April 27, 2006
Find out how much your peers are making and what they're thinking about in the 2006 MACHINE DESIGN salary survey.

Contributing Editor

"Engineers create a better world." So says one MACHINE DESIGN reader who responded to the 2006 salary survey. And what do engineers receive in return? The average salary of the 1,100 people who responded to our survey is $73,300, up from $70,600 last year. (See MD, 03/17/05 pg. 64.) For most of those surveyed, salaries increased between 1 and 5%. Over half receive bonuses, and are rewarded based on company profit sharing and personal performance. Forty-one percent of people who get bonuses say the incentives amount to between 1 and 5% of their base pay.

We asked readers what caused them the most grief at work, and also what gave them the most satisfaction. Over half say challenging work assignments are what keeps them going. Another 18% feel their work environment and colleagues give them satisfaction. Forty-two percent of respondents feel their company doesn't have enough people and say this is their greatest source of dissatisfaction. Some 20% say time-to-market pressures stress them out.

Every year we ask readers if they would recommend engineering to friends and children, and whether they think engineering is fun. A majority, 70%, recommend engineering, but most stipulate that they would only encourage it for youngsters who show technical aptitude. A whopping 84% think that engineering is fun, and enjoy the challenges of seeing products come to life. Many say engineering is fun as long as nontechnical tasks don't get in the way.

If you're in the right industry, with the right skills, you can demand more money. That's the word from Teresa Carroll, vice president of the Engineering Div., Kelly Engineering Resources, Troy, Mich. (kellyengineering.com). We asked her about the best and worst-paying industries and what it will take for engineers to survive in the future.

With regard to well-paying jobs, Carroll says remuneration is simply a matter of supply and demand. "The best-paying industries are the ones with a low supply of engineers, such as aerospace, civil, pharmaceutical, and chemical." Engineers with specialties that are in demand are also more likely to be better paid. "For example, a mechanical engineer with a specialty in pressure-vessel design is going to make more money. Companies are looking for more specialties beyond just a degree," she notes.

On the other end of the pay scale are industries that are outsourcing labor offshore. "Again it's supply and demand. There are lots of manufacturing engineers and they tend to be less specialized. Some mechanical-design positions are easily outsourced also," Carroll adds.

To make sure your abilities stay in demand, Carroll suggests "focusing on soft skills. Engineers can't just get by on their brains anymore. They must have inter-personal skills and be adept at written and oral communication. Even engineers that don't have to manage people directly will still have to sell their ideas to nonengineers and use more business skills than ever before."

As globalization takes hold, many engineers may find themselves reporting to managers in another country. Or they might need to become skilled in other languages. And time in an international assignment is increasingly mandatory for those who want to keep moving up.

One trend that Carroll sees daily is the practice of hiring contract workers. In many cases contract work is really a way of testing out an employee before hiring them full time. "But there's also a whole workforce out there that does contract work for a living. They come to us when their assignments end."

Demographers say that as the baby boomers move into retirement, there's going to be a serious shortage of qualified engineers. One factor that exacerbates the problem is that companies are unwilling to hire and groom recent graduates. Carroll notes, "Companies want people who can do the job immediately. As an industry we're going to have to figure out how to bring in graduates and hire them despite the pressures on cost."

Is there more diversity in engineering? Carroll notes "there are more women in engineering than 20 years ago, but it's still male dominated. However, we see more diverse ethnicities and I think that's because engineering as a profession is not as respected in this country and it is in others. And engineering's not seen as a glitzy career. Hopefully more glamorous industries like nanotechnology and biomedical engineering will drive more students into the field."

Most job seekers believe salary negotiation starts once they have an offer in hand, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, your resume can make the difference between negotiating at the top end of the salary range or the bottom end in your next job offer. Your resume creates a prospective employer's first impression of you. This impression will assign a value and build a level of urgency for the employer to contact you before someone else does. And lastly, first impressions are nearly impossible to change.

If your resume sells your skills short, you can't expect to receive offers at the upper end of your salary scale. Your current resume could be losing you thousands of dollars in income power. By making a few key changes in your resume now, you can position yourself for higher salaries in the future.

There are three resume strategies for promoting high salary negotiation success.

1. Show that you give a high return-on-investment with quantifiable results. Many job seekers throw around the phrase "results oriented," but they fail to back it up with concrete evidence. You may feel you have no quantifiable evidence of your value in previous jobs, but every job has quantifiable results that can better reflect your worth on your resume. Revenue, sales dollars, and material costs are not the only results that are expressed with numbers. Consider using the number of man-hours saved in process improvements, the percentage of repeat customers, or the number of peers helped by a particular efficiency to help reflect your abilities. Every employee is hired to solve problems, and most problems have some quantifiable element at their core.

2. Illustrate the breadth of your experience. Notice the use of the word "breadth" rather than "length" of experience. Just because a candidate has been doing a job for a long time does not necessarily mean he is worth more. Breadth of experience focuses on quality, not quantity.

There are two key ways to express breadth of experience: industry knowledge and transferable skills. Because industry expertise is usually in high demand, you can show your value through insider understanding of industry issues. If your career spans many industries within the same occupation, highlight the transferable skills that have let you bridge the gaps from industry to industry.

3. Entice the reader to want to know more about you. Job seek-ers often make the mistake of assuming that the job of their resume is to inform the reader. Not so! The only job of your resume is to entice the reader into wanting to know more about you.

It is key to under-stand what to include what to leave off your resume. Too much detail can distract the reader and lose his interest. Provide too little information and the reader will wonder what you have been doing with your life. A proper balance between detail and result will win the reader's interest and leave them saying, "I've got to call this guy for an interview today!"

Resume section contributed by Deborah Walker, Career Coach and Resume Writer. Read more articles and see sample resumes at AlphaAdvantage.com or e-mail Deb at Deb@ AlphaAdvantage.com

What trends do you see in engineering?

Dean Brown
Principal Engineer
Microvision Inc.

"As the difference in wealth between "average" citizens in the U.S.A. and those in other countries becomes smaller, we will see consumer, as well as industrial, product requirements being driven to an increasing extent by non-U.S. customers and users."

Doug Cheney
Product Manager
International TechneGroup Inc.

"U.S. engineers are being asked to shoulder diverse responsibilities, including tasks previously handled by middle management or support staff who have been reduced to cut costs. They are competing with low-cost, educated technical professionals from overseas. To compete, engineers must be able to communicate complex technical concepts to peers and management, many of whom speak English as a second language."

Willard Elsasser
Manufacturing Engineer
Kalmar Industries

"Service industries are booming, even in the engineering fields. Companies will continue to see regulations and guidelines make the expertise they need unaffordable. This will bring about a greater need for the engineering disciplines. Manufacturing will slow down here until we learn to compete with the foreign countries or until they learn they are being taken advantage of in the race for wages."

Keith Zirtzlaff
Advanced Development
Strattec Security Corp.

"I see more medium-size companies with complementing, not competing, product lines forming joint ventures to provide more of a one-stop shop, globally, for OEMs. Rapid prototyping will continue to shorten lead times and development times and companies will license products they develop but have no way of marketing."

Michael Pawelek
Sr. Product Engineer
Republic Windows and Doors

"3D modeling will be the standard for all mechanical industries. Engineers will multitask even more, moving into the area of "supply chain." Engineers will be making more assembly models that will serve to check "fit and function." They will need to make parts that require less secondary operations and have greater design flexibility."

Jim Black
Wheel Tooling Coordinator
Alcoa Wheel Products

"Engineering will need to change from purely study and research, and it will need to embrace marketing, sales, and accounting to succeed. If engineers believe they will run a CAD system or do calculations all day, they are mistaken. Engineers in the future will require a broader background to survive in organizations. They will need skills outside the traditional disciplines to gain respect and thrive within organizations."

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