Careers

Learn About Being a Civil Engineer

What does a civil engineer do?

Civil engineers supervise and design major public construction projects. They also ensure project feasibility by evaluating their budget demands and design practicality. Other tasks a civil engineer may perform include:

  • Communicating with a wide range of clients, suppliers, subcontractors and architects
  • Resolving any issues that occur in the design and development processes
  • Overseeing the purchase of necessary equipment and materials
  • Ensuring projects meet health and safety regulations, as well as any other legal requirement
  • Evaluating a project’s sustainability and environmental impact
  • Completing public projects on time and within the imposed budget

Average salary

Most civil engineers have full-time positions, with the possibility of overtime to complete projects within the given deadlines. Salaries can vary based on several factors, such as the level of experience, geographic location or the size of the projects they oversee. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $87,386 per year
  • Some salaries range from $27,000 to $160,000 per year.

Civil engineer requirements

A successful civil engineer requires a combination of experience and specific skills to help them excel in their role.

Education

Civil engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, civil engineering technology or a related field. Given the large number of structures and infrastructure elements civil engineers can design, build and maintain, there are several specializations for civil engineers. There are also master’s and Ph.D. programs available for civil engineers who are looking to specialize even further and gain a high-level position.

Training

After getting a bachelor’s degree in engineering, you need to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination to work as an engineer trainee or as a civil engineering intern. Civil engineers receive most of their training on the job through internships and trainee programs. After spending a few years working entry-level civil engineering jobs and learning the basics of the profession, you can obtain a senior civil engineer license by passing the Professional Engineering exam.

Certifications

Certifications enable professionals to prove their qualifications to current and future employers.

Professional Engineer license

After passing the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination and working in entry-level roles for at least four years, civil engineers can get certified as Professional Engineers by passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Created by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, it’s held twice every year in April and October.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification

Getting a LEED certification demonstrates the civil engineer’s knowledge in the design and management of environmentally friendly construction projects. Engineers with a LEED certification are skilled in using eco-friendly materials and in construction practices that limit the overall environmental impact.

Skills

Some of the most vital skills for a civil engineer include:

Mathematical skills

Civil engineers use advanced principles of trigonometry, geometry, calculus and other mathematical skills when analyzing, designing and overseeing the completion of their projects. The size and importance of the civic projects they’re responsible for means they must accurately calculate each detail.

Leadership skills

As a civil engineer, you are fully responsible for the work of your team at all stages of a project, from design to completion. You interact with a wide variety of professionals, such as technicians, construction managers, surveyors or planners and must lead them to achieve the common goal of completing projects.

Decision-making skills

Given the multitude of steps and objectives of infrastructure and systems projects in both the public and private sectors, a civil engineer often needs to make important and delicate decisions. Some of them imply conflicting objectives, such as finding the right balance between working within imposed deadlines and staying within the agreed budget. 

Problem-solving skills

As a civil engineer, you will have to use your skills and acquired experience to develop efficient, timely and cost-effective solutions at every stage of development.

IT skills

Modern projects use a wide range of computer software for developing complex designs. Civil engineers need to be proficient in software such as AutoCAD and any industry or project-specific software.

Communication skills

Civil engineers need to constantly communicate with a multitude of people, from contractors to upper management and the public. To complete a project as planned, a civil engineer must have the ability to properly communicate their ideas through both speaking and writing. They also need to communicate in highly technical terms and also explain the project basics in easy-to-understand concepts when speaking to people with no technical background.

Multitasking skills

A civil engineer typically simultaneously works on multiple sub-projects. They need to prioritize and selectively focus their attention on key aspects while maintaining high attention to detail.

Civil engineer work environment

The work environment of a civil engineer depends on the chosen specialty and nature of the project. They divide most of their time between an office environment and working outdoors on construction sites, supervising the execution of plans. A typical work environment contains the following characteristics:

  • An office environment that involves sitting at a desk in front of the computer for extended periods
  • Constant communication with workers, suppliers, contractors, management, elected officials and citizens
  • Regular visits to construction sites
  • Normal business hours with occasional overtime

How to become a civil engineer

You can follow these steps to become a civil engineer:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. Aspiring civil engineers need to get a four-year degree in civil engineering or civil engineering technology. During the four years, you will learn civil engineering basics and also specialize in a certain branch. At the end of the bachelor’s program, you can take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.

  2. Get professional experience as a junior civil engineer. Working as an engineer trainee or civil engineering intern is mandatory, and the time required is typically four years. After getting the necessary work experience, you can take the Professional Engineering exam and apply for a PE license.

  3. Earn a master’s degree. Master’s degrees for civil engineers are not mandatory, but can increase both your knowledge and earning potential.

  4. Get certified. Due to the complexity of civil engineering work, there are many secondary aspects you should learn, such as computer skills and the ability to design environmentally friendly projects. Obtaining such certifications can help you gain more knowledge in these aspects.

Civil engineer job description example

Our commercial architectural firm needs a highly proficient and experienced civil engineer to join our team of design professionals. We are a well-established company with multiple ongoing projects and both private and government contracts, and significant future expansion plans. We offer several opportunities for career advancement for those with the right skills to work with us, focusing particularly on building restoration skills. The successful candidate will be responsible for overseeing the entire engineering department. Some of the requirements for a successful candidate are:  

  • Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or related field, accredited by the Institution of Civil Engineers
  • License as a Professional Engineer
  • A minimum of six years of industry knowledge, with a preference for large building restoration
  • Strong knowledge of design software and photo imaging software
  • Strong analytical and critical-thinking skills
  • Ability to successfully lead large teams of individuals
  • Ability to complete multiple projects at a time

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