Mechanical engineering is one of the broader engineering disciplines and focuses on a variety of technologies and principles. Mechanical engineers pursue careers that involve designing three-dimensional components, systems and processes for a nearly endless variety of technical applications.
Graduates on the mechanical engineer career path can branch out into a range of fields like automotive, construction, or medical development.
We'll cover how to become a mechanical design engineer, from preparing your resume to understanding what mechanical design engineer jobs require.
What kind of education is needed?
Like most engineering jobs, you'll need a bachelor's degree in the area in which you want to work; in this case, a degree in mechanical engineering. Given the broad nature of mechanical engineering, you may be able to find "create-your-own" curricula at some colleges and universities.
These programs allow students to focus on a specific subset of mechanical engineering while receiving a foundational education in mechanical engineering.
Students serious about a mechanical design engineer career path upon graduation should pursue internships in various areas of engineering as well.
This experience will be invaluable as you learn how to write a resume, and you'll gain a better understanding of the differences across industries.
Types of mechanical design engineers
Recent graduates generally follow one of two mechanical design career paths: construction or product/component development.
Mechanical design engineers in the construction industry usually work for consulting firms, design service companies or Design-Bid-Build companies. Commonly called HVAC engineers, piping engineers, fire protection engineers and building systems engineers, these engineers work primarily on building systems. A mechanical design engineer in the construction industry may design the systems that exist within and are influenced by the "mechanical room" of a large commercial, industrial or manufacturing building.
- Product/Component Development
Mechanical design engineers working in product development are sometimes called "component" engineers. These engineers work to develop components, systems, products and assemblies that achieve a specific goal for a project. A mechanical design engineer may be tasked with creating the thruster system on a satellite. They work with various business and engineering disciplines to achieve a final deliverable product.
How to become a mechanical design engineer
To become a mechanical design engineer in the construction industry, you'll need to pass the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering exam. This exam exists primarily in the United States and Canada, but similar exams are offered worldwide. To become a professional engineer (PE), you'll need to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, as well as the PE exam.
The path to your Professional Engineer license
A Professional Engineer (PE) is a licensed engineer, a certification that's the professional equivalent of a medical doctor or board-certified lawyer.
Consulting engineers or private practitioners who are responsible for projects are legally required to hold PE licensure in most states. That means you must have a PE license to work as an engineer for a third party.
PEs are legally licensed to design mechanical engineering systems and provide engineering services to other external resources. You don't need a PE certification to obtain an entry-level mechanical design engineer job in the building systems field; However, career engineers should plan to gain certification at some point.
Building a career as a mechanical design engineer
Pursuing a career as a mechanical design engineer for industries or companies that do not require a PE license requires fewer steps, but just as much diligence. Medical equipment suppliers or aerospace contractors who design products internally for future use or sale may not require their engineers to hold a PE license. These companies generally include an internal engineering hierarchy such as:
- Mechanical Design Engineer 1-3
- Senior Mechanical Design Engineer
- Director of Mechanical Design
Relevant skills for mechanical design engineer jobs
Regardless of industry, mechanical design engineers follow a similar process for generating designs. If you're applying for a mechanical design engineer position, include any relevant engineering and design-related skills in your resume. If you're a recent graduate, use your cover letter and resume to showcase how you built these skills through coursework or internships.
Valuable skills include:
- Creating scientific and math-based input/output models to outline design criteria.
- Designing 2D/3D models that solve the problem the design criteria and models outlined.
- Ensuring the design meets time, budget, physical and code requirements.
- Testing the model and design to produce simulated results. For certain design engineers, this stage can also be accompanied by prototyping. Prototyping is the creation of a proof-of-concept device that proves the main components of the design are feasible.
- Cooperating with internal or external collaborators to build the physical product.
- Maintaining proper documentation throughout. This step is particularly important when a design includes code requirements.
As you browse job descriptions, there are typical duties that employers will expect a mechanical design engineer to take on:
- Generate 3-D CAD models of various mechanical and structural systems.
- Produce detail design of components and assemblies.
- Assess and interpret engineering drawings, specs and industry/government standards.
- Plan, design and share Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) specifications.
- Generate build and assembly documentation, interface control documentation, test plans and procedures.
- Solve hardware interface problems, define input/output parameter and specify mechanical tolerances to enable the integration of the entire system or subsystem.
- Demonstrate a working understanding of ASME and ASHRAE standards.
As you explore mechanical design engineer jobs, you'll need application materials that show off your education as well as your design and engineering skills. Here's a valuable tip — most companies now use automated applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes for specific keywords. Be sure the words and phrasing you use when creating your resume and cover letter closely align with specific language in the job description. And customize each resume and cover letter to convey relevance and fit to the hiring manager.
Our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder will help you organize your accomplishments and build your best case to hiring managers. Using our templates and step-by-step guidance, you can create resumes and cover letters in a snap.