Not all engineers are design engineers. In fact, most aren’t. Many engineers work in quality, manufacturing, and test method development. It can be hard to break into design engineering, but here on some tips on how to become a design engineer.
- Chose the right major
- Chose the right extracurriculars
- Do internships
- Make the most of your internship
- Pick a good Entry-level job
1. Chose the right major
The first step in becoming a design engineer is choosing the right major. The term “design engineer” can vary a lot depending on the field you want to go into. Generally speaking, to be a design engineer, you should choose one of the core engineering majors. This can be mechanical, electrical, civil, or chemical. It all depends on what you want to design.
You can become a design engineer with any engineering degree, but it’s best to choose a major that will give you as much technical knowledge and design experience as possible. Majors like biomedical engineering or industrial engineering don’t have as many design courses worked into their curriculums.
2. Chose the right extracurriculars
If you want to become a design engineer, your goal in college should be to get as much design experience as possible. A great way to do this is through design teams and clubs. With design experience, quality is more important than quantity.
No matter what club or team you join, it’s important to take ownership over a part of the design. Hiring managers want to hear what you specifically contributed to a design. They want to hear your design process from start to finish. How you went about conceptualizing the design, the challenges you faced along the way, how you manufactured the device and about the success of the final product. Simply having “helped design my university’s Formula 1 car” on your resume is not going to cut it.
3. Do internships
The best way to get a job in engineering is to have previous internship experience. This goes for design engineer roles too.
Don’t make the mistake of only looking for design or R&D internships. Getting an internship, especially your first one, is hard enough. There’s no need to make it harder by limiting your options.
What many engineering students don’t realize is that design engineering is more than just designing products. You need to know how to design in a way that can meet quality requirements and be easily manufactured. Tons of design engineers start their careers in manufacturing. Any internship is good experience.
When you go to find your first job, recruiters will realize that it’s next to impossible to have perfectly relevant experience before you even graduate college. They will appreciate all internship experience.
4. Make the most of your internship
Once you secure an internship, it’s important to make the most of it. Whether it’s your dream design internship or a less-than-ideal internship, there are ways to make the most of it to help you on your path to becoming a design engineer.
Here are two ways to make the most of your internship:
During your internship, you should be networking with people in various sectors of the company. This will give you the opportunity to meet with people who have R&D positions and learn more about them. It will help you understand what their day-to-day is like, and what steps you would need to take to get there. Networking also helps get your name out. When that design team is looking for an engineer 1, they might just think of you.
Read 6 Ways to Make the Most of your Engineering Internship and How to Network During your Engineering Internship for more information.
2. Create your own design projects
Another way to tailor your internship to a more design focus is by picking up extra little projects. This can be anything. Even designing a small fixture to aid in manufacturing would look great on your resume when you’re applying for design positions.
As long as it doesn’t take away from your other work, your manager will be impressed with your initiative. Being able to identify problems and create solutions is not a skill most interns have.
5. Pick a good entry-level job
When you go to apply for jobs, don’t be discouraged by the lack of entry-level design jobs. It’s very difficult to get a true design position as an entry-level engineer.
Many engineers obtain years of experience before transitioning to a design position. If you are unable to land your first job in design, don’t worry. It’s not the end of the line. However, there are some engineering jobs that make it easier to transition to your dream job.
First, make sure to try and stay in your industry. For example, it’s pretty hard to switch from a biomedical company to an aerospace company. It’s not impossible, but it’s definitely easier if you start out in the field you want to be in.
Manufacturing and quality roles are often what entry-level engineers start in. Between the two, manufacturing is a better choice if your goal is to end up in R&D. One of the most common stepping stones to R&D engineering is upstream manufacturing. Upstream manufacturing is the position that takes late-stage R&D products and develops the process that allows for the product to be manufactured. On the other hand, downstream manufacturing deals with sustaining the manufacturing of older products that have been on the market for a while. Either way, entering a manufacturing role gives you a path to R&D.
Hiring managers like to hire design engineers that come from manufacturing because they have a better idea of how to design the product so it can be reasonably manufactured. You can be the best engineer in the world, but if your design can’t be manufactured and scaled, then it doesn’t matter.