Ask Anthony: Will a Master’s Degree Move My Resume to the Top of the Pile During the Job Hunt?

April 5, 2017
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I am not currently in a position where I’m involved in the hiring process for a civil engineering company, but have been in the past, and wanted to answer the following question that I recently received:

If I have a master’s degree in civil engineering and an engineer-in-training (EIT) certification, will my resume go straight to the top of the pile during the job hunt?

In my opinion, the answer to this question is no. Well, it may be yes in certain situations, but it really depends on your discipline and what else you have on your resume.

When trying to get hired as a civil engineer, regardless of experience level, I think there are several things that are expected, and then once you go beyond those, every additional item you possess can give you a notch up above the competition.

For example, let’s say you are a civil engineering student applying for jobs. I think we can agree that an undergraduate degree in civil engineering would, in most cases, be required.

An EIT certification, while maybe not required by a hiring firm, would definitely give you an advantage over civil engineers that don’t have an EIT.

That being said, in my engineering-career-coaching experience, I am finding that today the EIT is fairly common among young civil engineers and graduating civil engineering students. Therefore, while this credential is critical and should be obtained, it probably won’t fast-track your job application to the top of the pile.

If you obtain a master’s degree in civil engineering, you may separate yourself from many other young civil engineers who don’t have one. However, I can’t say that this gives you a strong advantage in the corporate job search process. This would depend on the job you are seeking and the prospective employer’s preferences.

I have seen master’s degrees help greatly in the structural engineering discipline, where most firms require one in order to hire a young structural engineer. This is why for civil engineers, with the exception of structural engineers, I often recommend doing a master’s degree while you are working.

This allows you to confirm that the degree is needed in your discipline and possibly deflect some of the cost should you find a civil engineering company that will assist you financially with obtaining your degree.

Lastly, I believe that the great differentiator in job applications for civil engineers can be summarized in one word: experience.

Many civil engineering students underestimate the value of an internship or any other civil engineering work experience that they can obtain while in school. You could make a case – again, depending on your discipline – that work experience as a college student might be more valuable than anything else on your resume during the job application process.

In my own case, I graduated from a good engineering college with a civil engineering degree and an EIT, but no master’s degree, and I had multiple job offers from which to choose. I did also have an engineering internship every year during school, and I should mention that the company I worked for hired me.

So, when it comes to deciding what credentials or achievements will help you stand out from the rest of the pool of civil engineering graduate applicants, remember that your work experience can make all the difference.

Think about it: Companies can support you in obtaining your EIT or your master’s degree, but they can’t go back in time and give you work experience.

Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Career Coach website, which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast, and is the author of a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. You can download a free video series on his website that will give you the tools needed to immediately improve your networking and communication skills by clicking here.

10 Comments
  • I believe a MSCE is a huge career advantage. An undergraduate CE degree is very broad and you may only get a couple courses in the field you want to enter. With an MSCE you get an additional half dozen courses in your area of specialization and are much better prepared to enter the workforce.

  • In my opinion, person with master’s degree have more course work. Obviously advance courses will help them to be confident on them-self in their technical area. On the other hand, if a person already has master’s degree, company do not need to reimburse tuition expense to the employee. So the company will have win-win situation. I have seen most of the job description at the end ‘MS degree prefer but not required’. I kind of agree with Anthony that employer prefer MS graduate for structural engineering job. In addition to structural field, most of the geotechnical job also prefer to have MS degree. Thanks

  • Give me experience over a masters degree or other advanced degree any day. I never considered going any higher than my BSCE and determined to apply myself to the task at hand. I worked summers on projects and the experience served me better than some of my college classes. I saw many engineers with advanced degrees that had the common sense of a turnip. All they knew was the book learnin’ and nothing else. Give them a real world situation and a short time frame and they were lost. I worked on projects that required more common sense approaches than what the book said to do. In school, we took 3 days to run a soil test that in the field took 7 minutes. The grad student assistant had never heard of the device used in the field. I have often been told that my practical approach and application of engineering knowledge is what is needed more than going by the book.

  • Anthony, thank you for this insightful article. Perhaps a future article could include suggestions for getting a career back on track. In my case, I graduated in 2012 from a top 20 engineering college, completed my EIT, and had an uneventful internship, but due to the economy had to settle for a non-engineering design job with a less-than-forthright fire sprinkler contracting company. Unfortunately, without 3 – 5 years of civil engineering-specific work, I find myself locked out of most “entry-level” CE job openings. Do you have some advice to get back on track for becoming a PE design engineer? Thank you.

  • Anthony,
    I strongly agree with you about rating work experience as better than mater’s degree or EIT certification. However, that also brings another question to the table: what if that experience is as graduate teaching and/or research assistant? Would that be experience taken into account when applying for jobs afterwards?
    I would like to see your comments on that,
    Thank you in advance!

    • Gabriel — what kind of job? I think it would be a case-by-case basis. Of course if research related work would benefit the job — then yes!

  • Hi Anthony, can you please guide young immigrant with good experience, qualifications, and education on how to approach the North American job hunt. How to proceed, what are best tricks to get the foot in door. I have tried lot of things from networking to information interview. Perhaps I need to deploy few other strategy. Your guidance and pointers would be really helpful. Thanks

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