Author Topic: Where should I be, Career, 29yo  (Read 6045 times)

cbr shadow

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Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« on: February 05, 2013, 08:09:19 AM »
I'm a 29 year old that lives near Chicago and graduated college 2 years ago.  I have an "Industrial Technology" degree, which is a branch of the engineering department at Northern Illinois University, but is an easier major than an engineering degree.  Usually if someone can't keep up w/ the engineering courses they'll switch their major to Industrial Technology.  In this major I had to pick an emphasis (Safety, 3D Modeling, etc) and I picked 3D modeling.  I had an internship during school which turned into a full-time job while I took classes (lightened class-load), and then 2 years ago I quit the job to finish school, then found my current job as a "Project Design Engineer" where I help design RF shielded chambers for electronics testing.  I started at $47,000 2 years ago, got small raises each year, and now make $49,000 plus a small yearly bonus (avg $1000/yr extra), and good benefits including medical, 401k 5% match, stock purchase plan, and dental.  Overall I'm pretty happy with the job, but it's not looking like I'll be making more than the standard 3.5% raise anywhere in the near future. 
Considering my age, my degree, experience, etc am I where I should be for compensation?  Sometimes I feel like I should be making more, since I have friends with psychology degrees and a friend with no degree that makes better money than I do.  I dont really have a clue about what my coworkers make, so it's hard to get a reference point of where I should be.  Most of my coworkers have better degrees than I do (Mechanical Engineering degree from University of Illinois and one from Purdue, an arch degree from Iowa, Mechanical engineering degree from Milwaukee school of engineering, etc).  It's possible they make a fair amount more than I do, and also possible they're just selling themselves short by working here.
I've heard people here say that some people with "engineer" in their title are just glorified Cad drafters, and I probably fall into this category.  I'm talented with Autocad, and I often use Revit, and now getting familiar with Solidworks.
Anyways, I'd like to know if you think I am where I should be.  I dont love the job, but it's somewhat interesting and I'd probably be happy staying here if I knew I could make more money.

Edit: To be clear, the reason I graduated at 27 is because I was originally a Physical Education major and decided to change majors my Junior year in college because around here it's extremely difficult to get a phys. Ed. job.  Also I took school slowly while working full-time, which set me back a bit.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2013, 08:24:18 AM by cbr shadow »


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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2013, 08:29:32 AM »
Hey! A fellow Huskie! I can't speak to whether you're fairly compensated or not, but I know after 2 years of full-time work I was making about what you make. I too know a few folks in other fields like teachers/psychology who make a bit more (or a similar amount but for a more friendly schedule). What they are trading vs. my field is the upside in salary over the long-term. Maybe in your current role/corporate title, you are stuck at 3.5% raises. If you were to get a bump in corporate title, I would think the salary would see a good bump.

Check out or other websites if you're curious too. Heck, even apply for a job at another company if you want to know your market value. I've heard that you need to at least test the waters every few years, just to make sure you're fairly compensated.


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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2013, 09:01:29 AM »
I truly feel there is no answer to the "where should I be career-wise" question. You should be where you want to be, that's it. And if you're questioning whether you are earning enough with your background, that's probably your intuition telling you that you feel you are not.

I'm not being glib here -- there are so many factors in what brings someone fulfillment, or what they value in a career. I'll use my own situation as an example -- even though I feel I earn quite a bit, I could have definitely earned even more in my field by giving up job security and working more hours and traveling. I chose the security and time with my family against the higher pay check.

Checking websites or gently prodding peers is a good way to measure whether you are being compensated in a way that's fair/competitive at your current job (and should also consider all your other company benefits like 401k/etc.). You could definitely make more money, and you could definitely make less. But only you will know if that's right for you!


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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2013, 09:06:27 AM »
I find to be fairly accurate.


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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2013, 09:23:21 AM »
I am a ME. After a few years of experience I don't think the specific degree matters as much as the skills you have and your ability to pick up new ones. Your salary seems reasonable to me. At my first job (graduated with masters at 29 years old) I was making about what you are and it was a hellish place to work (although I didn't know any better because I had no frame of reference, I thought I just hated working). An opportunity came up at a small R&D facility in my city for a Semiconductor instruments company so I interviewed. They asked what I wanted as far as salary and I told them an amount 20% greater than I was making at the time... and they accepted. That was 9 years ago and I'm still there, salary is up another 25%. Those small annual raises add up over time.

If you really want to make money you could get an MBA and become a manager. Some of my friends have done this and it has worked out well for them financially. My passion was science and engineering so I would not consider doing something I hated for more money.


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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2013, 09:54:19 AM »
I'm a mechanical engineer who has worked in product design my whole career. 

IMO, your salary seems reasonable for a recent grad.  It's a little more than I made starting out (in 2000). 

If you don't mind a career tip - Chicago is a relative hotbed for product design, and exceptional CAD skills will trump an engineering degree at a lot of firms.  Focus on your Solidworks skills (especially things like surfacing), and network with Industrial Designers in the area.  You'll find your skills in pretty high demand. 


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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2013, 10:26:41 PM »
The engineers commenting on your salary have a better idea than I do, but checking your compensation on,, and is a great starting point. Glassdoor might require account creation, so I took a screen shot of the data that they had on Project Design Engineers. I hope that it is helpful. It indicates that you may be slightly underpaid.

I would also recommend watching Ramit Sethi's videos on negotiating your salary if you are underpaid or would like a raise. I know that MMM and Ramit have opposing viewpoints on things, but even MMM acknowledges that if you are making less than $100,000, you could try to make more.

Done by Forty

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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2013, 12:11:13 PM »
Location has a lot to do with salary ranges, regardless of your field.  Give The New Geography of Jobs a read sometime.  Being mobile and moving 'upstream' in the labor market can do more for your earnings than any other single factor, including education.


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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2013, 05:28:18 PM »
Wow, a lot of MEs here. +1

Like others have mentioned, try to figure out what other are getting in terms of compensation, and make sure to factor in all the benefits.


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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2013, 05:48:39 AM »
I'm one of those psychology degree guys who's making some good money, but I'm almost 5 years out of college.  If you want, I can PM you some info that you might find useful for your area?

cbr shadow

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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2013, 08:05:53 AM »
Thanks everyone for the information.  Looks like I have some reading to do!

Kreig, I would appreciate the PM with info that you mention - thanks!


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Re: Where should I be, Career, 29yo
« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2013, 08:36:37 AM »
What I've discovered by working in the engineering field is that nine times out of ten, you will be paid more to change the company you're working for.  Annual raises almost never keep pace with the industry averages, and companies depend on their engineers not wanting to go through the hassle of applying/interviewing for new jobs to keep them.  Each time that I've changed jobs, my salary has bumped up by 10 - 20% from what it was previously.