Career Guides
Civil Engineer

Career Guide: How to become a Civil Engineer


Engineering has long been a cornerstone of societal development and within its broad spectrum, civil engineering plays a critical role. It's a profession that molds the very environment we live in from roads to skyscrapers, bridges to water reservoirs. As we step further into a future marked by advanced technology and sustainability concerns, civil engineers are at the forefront, balancing modern innovations with environmental considerations.

This comprehensive guide aims to navigate through the various facets of a career in civil engineering. Whether you're an impassioned high school student plotting your future career path, a college graduate considering specializations, or even a professional pondering a shift, the following sections will provide you with a detailed insight into the life and work of a civil engineer. From education and key responsibilities to career prospects and job finding tips, this guide serves as your one-stop-shop for all questions related to civil engineering.

What Is a Civil Engineer?

Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines that focuses on the design, construction, and maintenance of the physically and naturally built environment. This includes works like roads, bridges, canals, dams, and buildings. Civil engineers play a crucial role in shaping our surroundings and ensuring that the infrastructure upon which modern society relies is not only functional but also safe and sustainable.

A civil engineer's work spans several specializations, each dealing with different elements of construction and design. Some of these specializations include structural engineering, environmental engineering, transportation engineering, and geotechnical engineering. Each field requires a deep understanding of various scientific principles and mathematical concepts.

The importance of civil engineers cannot be overstated. They are responsible for envisioning and executing plans that meet the growing needs of human settlements while minimizing environmental impact. This dual responsibility makes civil engineering not just a technically demanding career but also one that requires creativity, foresight, and a strong sense of duty toward society and the environment.

Moreover, a civil engineer must ensure that the projects they design adhere to legal guidelines, safety standards, and are financially viable. This professional blend of science, design, and management makes civil engineering a diverse and dynamic field of work.

Key Responsibilities of a Civil Engineer

Civil engineering is a diverse field encompassing several specialties, each focusing on different facets of infrastructure and design. Broadly, civil engineers are pivotal in shaping the environments in which we live, often taking on complex tasks that require precision and innovation. Here are some of the key responsibilities a civil engineer typically holds:

  • Design: One of the primary functions of civil engineers is to design projects. This could involve creating plans for bridges, roads, airports, dams, and other infrastructure projects. They must consider many factors in their designs, including costs, environmental concerns, and safety regulations.
  • Construction Supervision: Civil engineers are often responsible for overseeing the construction of their projects. This can include managing both people and materials, ensuring that contractors adhere to the design plans, safety standards, and deadlines.
  • Project Management: Many civil engineers work as project managers. This role involves overall planning, budgeting, and resource management, ensuring the project complies with legal requirements and remains within scope and financial constraints.
  • Maintenance: After project completion, civil engineers may be involved in the maintenance and inspection of these infrastructure projects to ensure they remain safe and effective over time.
  • Research and Development: Staying ahead of technological advancements, civil engineers engage in research and development to find innovative solutions and materials. This could involve new construction methods, sustainability practices, or enhancing the durability of infrastructure.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Ensuring that all projects comply with local, state, and federal regulations is crucial. Civil engineers must understand extensive legal standards and codes, implementing designs that adhere to these requirements.
  • Environmental Protection: Modern civil engineers hold a significant responsibility towards environmental conservation. They design projects with a minimal environmental impact and provide solutions for pollution control, waste management, and sustainable development.

These responsibilities highlight the complexity and breadth of the civil engineering profession, demanding a multifaceted skill set that balances technical prowess with creative problem-solving. As such, entering this field not only requires a robust educational background but also continuous learning and adaptation to new challenges and technologies.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Civil Engineer?

Becoming a civil engineer is an ambitious goal that requires several years of education and training. The typical path to entry into the profession can vary slightly depending on the country, but generally follows a structured educational and experiential timeline.

Educational Requirements

First and foremost, prospective civil engineers must complete a bachelor's degree in civil engineering or a closely related field. This undergraduate program typically spans four years and covers a range of subjects such as mathematics, statistics, engineering mechanics, and infrastructure design, among others.

Advanced Education and Specialization

While a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for many entry-level positions, some civil engineers choose to pursue further education. Pursuing a master's degree or doctoral degree can be advantageous for those looking to specialize in a particular area such as structural, environmental, or transportation engineering, or for those aiming for roles in research or academia. A master's degree generally requires an additional two years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree.

Licensure and Professional Certification

In many regions, civil engineers must also be licensed to practice, particularly if they plan to offer their services directly to the public. The process to become a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) includes passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, gaining sufficient work experience (typically four years), and then passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.

Internships and Cooperative Education

Hands-on experience is crucial in the field of civil engineering. Many students opt for internships or co-op programs while they are still in school. These opportunities typically last from a few months to a year and provide invaluable real-world experience under the guidance of established professionals.

Therefore, the total time it takes to become a civil engineer can range from around four to six years post-secondary education, followed by additional years gaining required work experience for licensure. This timeline reinforces the commitment needed to succeed in this dynamic and essential field.

Continuing Education

Lastly, the journey does not end with graduation or even licensure. Civil engineers often engage in continuing education to keep up with technological advances, changing regulations, and new methods in the field. This commitment to lifelong learning is essential to maintaining relevancy and expertise in a constantly evolving profession.

What are the Qualifications Required to Become a Civil Engineer?

To embark on a career as a civil engineer, one must acquire a blend of formal education, licensure, and in some cases, additional certifications. Here's a detailed breakdown of the necessary qualifications:

Educational Requirements

The foundational step in becoming a civil engineer is to earn a bachelor's degree in civil engineering or one of its sub-disciplines. Accredited programs typically cover critical areas such as mathematics, statistics, engineering systems and mechanics, project management, and specific technical subjects relevant to civil engineering. It’s important that the program is accredited by a recognized body, such as the ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) in the United States.


After obtaining a degree, the next step is to become a licensed engineer. In the United States, this process involves passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). This exam is open to candidates who are recent graduates or final-year students of an ABET-accredited engineering program.

Following several years of engineering experience, typically four in most jurisdictions, civil engineers can then sit for the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam in civil engineering. Successfully passing this exam grants the status of a Professional Engineer (PE), which is required for higher-level responsibilities such as leading public projects and offering services directly to the public.


While not always mandatory, obtaining specialized certifications can enhance a civil engineer’s credentials and showcase expertise in particular areas of civil engineering. These certifications can be obtained from various professional bodies depending on the engineer’s specialty. For instance, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) offers certifications such as the Diplomate, Water Resources Engineer (D.WRE) and the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation by the Green Building Certification Institute.

Continuing education is also vital for civil engineers, as it helps them stay up-to-date with technological advancements, changing regulations, and emerging industry trends. Many licensing boards require a certain number of continuing education units for license renewal.

In conclusion, the qualifications required to become a civil engineer are rigorous and multifaceted, comprising of a solid educational foundation, licensure, and continual learning and specialization. These stringent requirements ensure that civil engineers are well-prepared to create safe and sustainable infrastructures that improve our communities.

What are the Skills and Knowledge Required to Become a Civil Engineer?

Civil engineering is a demanding field that requires a diverse set of skills and knowledge. Below are the essential competencies required to excel as a civil engineer:

Technical Skills

  • Engineering Fundamentals: Proficiency in the core principles of civil engineering, including mechanics, thermodynamics, and materials science.
  • Design Skills: Ability to design infrastructure systems such as roads, bridges, and water treatment facilities that meet both aesthetic and functional requirements.
  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD): Proficiency with CAD software is crucial for drafting and modeling projects.
  • Knowledge of Building Codes: Understanding local, state, and federal construction codes and regulations is critical for compliance and safety.

Analytical and Problem-Solving Skills

The nature of civil engineering work often involves solving complex problems. Engineers must be able to:

  • Identify issues in construction plans or structural designs.
  • Devise efficient solutions that conform to legal standards and safety norms.
  • Analyze the feasibility of project proposals and their potential impacts.

Project Management Skills

As projects can often be large-scale and complex, civil engineers need strong project management abilities, including:

  • Time Management: Ability to manage time effectively to ensure that projects meet deadlines.
  • Budgeting: Skills in budget management to keep projects within financial limits.
  • Team Coordination: Capability to lead and coordinate with diverse teams including architects, contractors, and stakeholders.

Communication Skills

Effective communication is vital, as civil engineers need to:

  • Explain complex technical details to non-engineers.
  • Write clear and comprehensive reports.
  • Negotiate with stakeholders and handle public consultations.

Continuous Learning

Civil engineering is an ever-evolving field. A commitment to lifelong learning through continuing education and professional development helps engineers stay current with technology and industry trends.

The convergence of these skills not only prepares an individual for the demands of today's projects but also equips them for future advancements and challenges in civil engineering.

How Much Does a Civil Engineer Make?

The earning potential for a civil engineer can vary widely depending on several factors including geographical location, level of experience, education, and the sector of employment (such as public vs. private). Generally speaking, civil engineering can be a lucrative career with a rewarding pay scale.

Entry-Level Salaries: Entry-level civil engineers, those with less than one year of experience, typically earn an annual salary starting from around $55,000 to $65,000. This phase is primarily focused on learning and gaining practical experience under the guidance of seasoned engineers.

Mid-Level Salaries: With experience, licensure, and increased responsibilities, civil engineers can see a significant increase in pay. Mid-level engineers, typically those with 5 to 10 years of experience, can expect to earn between $75,000 and $90,000 per year. This salary range reflects the growing expertise and the ability to manage more complex projects independently.

Senior-Level Salaries: Senior civil engineers, who usually have more than 10 years of experience, often occupy higher managerial or specialized roles and can attract salaries in the range of $100,000 to $140,000 annually. At this level, engineers often lead large projects and teams, contributing to strategic planning and decision-making processes.

  • Public vs. Private Sector: Civil engineers in the private sector often earn more than their counterparts in public employment. However, public sector jobs may offer more stability and benefits such as pensions and health insurance.
  • Specializations: Certain specializations within civil engineering, such as structural engineering or environmental engineering, might also influence earning potential due to the demand and complexity of the expertise required.

In summary, civil engineering offers a financially rewarding career path that reflects the critical nature of the work and the level of expertise required to succeed. As infrastructure needs grow and evolve, the value placed on skilled civil engineers remains high, pointing to robust salary potentials moving forward.

Career Outlook for Civil Engineers

The career outlook for civil engineers appears bright and expanding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of civil engineers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is primarily driven by ongoing infrastructure projects and the need for sustainable solutions to infrastructure challenges.

Infrastructure Renewal and Development: Governments worldwide are investing in infrastructure to promote economic growth, enhance public safety, and adapt to changing environmental climates. This includes everything from repairing aging roads, bridges, and water supply systems to innovative projects like smart city technologies and green buildings.

Climate Change and Environmental Considerations: As concerns regarding climate change and environmental sustainability intensify, there is a higher demand for civil engineers to design and construct projects that minimize environmental impact. This includes renewable energy projects, water conservation systems, and pollution-control measures.

  • Renewable Energy Projects: Civil engineers play a crucial role in designing and constructing infrastructure for renewable energy sources like wind farms and solar panels.
  • Water Conservation Systems: Strategies to manage and preserve water resources effectively are increasingly vital, creating more opportunities for civil engineers.
  • Pollution-Control Measures: Projects aimed at reducing pollution also require the expertise of civil engineers to ensure they are effective and sustainable.

Technological Advancements: The field of civil engineering is also evolving with advancements in technology. The integration of software tools like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in civil engineering projects enhances efficiency and accuracy in building robust infrastructure. Civil engineers will need to stay abreast of technological trends to remain competitive in the field.

In summary, the future of civil engineering is tied closely to societal needs and technological advancements. As cities expand and the global population grows, civil engineers will continue to be pivotal in shaping our world’s physical and natural environment. This robust professional landscape not only promises a stable career but also offers multiple pathways for specialization and advancement.

Finding Jobs as a Civil Engineer

Entering the field of civil engineering involves multiple steps, but once equipped with the necessary education and skills, the job search process begins. Navigating the job market efficiently can set the stage for a successful career. Here, we explore various strategies and resources that can aid civil engineers in finding suitable job opportunities.


Industry Connections: Networking remains a cornerstone in the job-hunting process. Engaging with professionals through industry seminars, conferences, and professional associations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) can open doors to opportunities not advertised publicly.

Online Job Portals and Company Websites

Career websites like Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn offer extensive listings for civil engineering positions. Additionally, visiting the careers pages of engineering firms directly can reveal job openings and allow for direct applications. Specialized engineering job portals, such as, can also be valuable resources.

Internships and Co-op Programs

Practical Experience: Gaining practical experience through internships or cooperative education programs can significantly enhance employment prospects. Many engineering schools incorporate these programs, which enable students to work in professional settings while completing their degrees. These opportunities often lead to full-time job offers post-graduation.

Recruitment Agencies

Specialized recruitment agencies that focus on engineering roles can provide tailored job search assistance. These agencies have insights into industry trends and connections with companies looking for skilled engineers, making them a valuable ally in your job search.

Government and Public Sector Opportunities

Civil engineers also have substantial opportunities in public sector projects involving infrastructure, transportation, and utilities. Websites of government bodies and public sector organizations often list openings for civil engineers. Job seekers should regularly check these resources.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

Staying Updated: The field of civil engineering is constantly evolving. Staying updated with the latest technologies and obtaining additional certifications can make candidates more attractive to potential employers. Tools and resources for professional development include webinars, online courses, and certification programs in specialized areas like sustainable engineering or structural analysis.

Prepare for the Hiring Process

Resume and Interview: Tailoring your resume to highlight relevant experience and skills is crucial. Prepare for technical interviews by reviewing core concepts and practicing articulation of project experiences. It is also beneficial to understand the specific values and projects of the company to which you are applying.

Freelance and Remote Work Opportunities

As the workplace evolves, more remote and freelance job opportunities are emerging for civil engineers. Platforms like Upwork and Freelancer can be avenues to find project-based work, allowing for flexibility and exposure to a variety of projects.

Finding the right position as a civil engineer involves a blend of active searching, networking, and continuous skill development. With the right approach, engineers can find fulfilling positions that not only match their skills but also offer opportunities for career growth.


The path to becoming a civil engineer is filled with challenges and opportunities. From acquiring the necessary educational background and skills to navigating the evolving job market, civil engineers play a pivotal role in shaping our infrastructure and environments. Despite the rigor involved in qualifying as a civil engineer, the career offers substantial rewards including a competitive salary, diverse working environments, and the intrinsic reward of contributing to society's foundational structures.

As infrastructure ages and communities grow, the demand for skilled civil engineers remains robust. This career does not only promise job security but also offers various specialties and paths that can accommodate personal interests and preferences, ranging from construction and transportation to environmental and geotechnical engineering.

Moreover, the profession requires a commitment to ongoing learning and adaptation to keep pace with new technologies and methodologies. The future of civil engineering is poised to be more innovative and integrated with advancements like AI and sustainable design practices that ensure that the missions of today's projects meet tomorrow's standards.

To sum up, a career in civil engineering is dynamic, impactful, and essential. It demands a blend of technical knowledge, creative problem-solving, and an enduring commitment to enhancing the collective human experience. Whether just starting out or looking to advance in the field, the journey of a civil engineer is one of continuous growth and professional development.

For those aspiring to enter this field or progressing within it, embracing both the challenges and opportunities it presents is key to building a fulfilling and successful career in civil engineering.


Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about pursuing a career in civil engineering:

What type of degree do I need to become a civil engineer?

You typically need a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related field, such as civil engineering technology. Accreditation by the ABET is required for any engineering degree program.

Are there any certifications needed for civil engineers?

While not always required, gaining certifications can enhance a civil engineer’s credentials. Key certifications include the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE), followed by the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) license.

What industries do civil engineers work in?

Civil engineers work across various industries including construction, transportation, environmental services, and government sectors. They may work on infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, airports, and water treatment facilities.

Can civil engineers work abroad?

Yes, civil engineers have the flexibility to work abroad, especially if they are employed by multinational companies or work in areas with significant infrastructure development. Understanding international building codes and languages can be beneficial in such roles.

How can I specialize within civil engineering?

Civil engineering offers various specializations such as structural, environmental, geotechnical, and transportation engineering. Gaining specialized experience through projects or furthering education in specific fields can help define a niche area of expertise.

Is there a demand for civil engineers in the future?

The demand for civil engineers is expected to grow due to aging infrastructure in need of repair and replacement, as well as ongoing needs for infrastructure development and modernization.

What is the work environment like for a civil engineer?

Civil engineers typically split their time between office settings, where they do design and planning, and field sites where they oversee construction and operations.

What are the typical working hours for a civil engineer?

While typical work hours are from 9 to 5, extended hours may be necessary to meet project deadlines or to manage emergencies in field operations.

How can I advance in my civil engineering career?

Advancement can be achieved through gaining relevant experience, obtaining a PE license, taking leadership in significant projects, or branching into related management or consultancy roles.

Choosing to further your education with a master's degree or MBA can also provide significant advantages, enabling roles in higher management or specialized technical positions.

These FAQs aim to address preliminary queries about a career in civil engineering. Continuous learning and adaptation to technological advancements remain key in shaping a successful career in this dynamic field.

Are you looking for a Civil Engineer role?

Apply via BuildStream today and our team will get in touch to discuss your move and find you your dream job.
Apply Now

Looking for a career change?

We specialize in matching great people with their dream role. It's free and only takes 2 minutes to apply.
  • Get interviews at interested companies within 72 hours
  • 100% discreet, we won't expose your details to anyone
  • Free for candidates, we charge companies a placement fee