Computer hardware engineering offers a strong starting salary, but to find a good job, you need more than just a degree. You need engineering experience, an understanding of where to look for the jobs you want, great interviewing skills and the salary data to help you decide whether to accept an offer.

Where Job Opportunities Are for Computer Engineers

Though opportunities in the field of computer engineering are growing, they aren’t growing as fast as jobs in other engineering disciplines. That means you may have fewer options for entry-level engineering jobs than you might if you were pursuing another branch of engineering. While technological advancements are still occurring rapidly, many of those advancements involve computer software rather than hardware. Software developers often have a computer science background rather than an engineering background. Additionally, the computer and electronic product manufacturing industries employer fewer computer engineers than they once did. However, computer hardware engineers, who are responsible for the components that make up computers and computer systems, may play a part in hardware startup firms as well as in other devices that contain computer chips, including medical devices, cars and household appliances.

How can you improve your job prospects? For one thing, you can make sure that your engineering school is accredited by ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Take plenty of computer programming courses even if you don’t plan to be a software developer, because hardware engineers still frequently work with software systems. Look for opportunities with startup firms and companies that make smart devices, appliances and vehicles. If you are seeking a job with a large or specialized firm, you may need to go to graduate school. While there are master’s degrees in computer engineering, some hardware engineers choose to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, instead.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs for computer hardware engineers to grow by five percent over a decade, compared to the eight percent predicted for the field of engineering as a whole.

Interview Questions for Computer Hardware Engineers

Often, an interview for an entry-level computer hardware engineer job may start with a request that the candidate tell the interviewer a little about his or her background. This question is common in all kinds of career fields, not just engineering, and can be difficult to answer because it is so vague. However, if you prepare for the interview in advance and give some thought to what you might want your prospective employer to know about you, this question can be a great chance to share reasons why you should get the job. You can talk about the computer engineering program you graduated from, the internship and fieldwork you have done, any engineering design contests you have participated in and what you would like to do in your career.

What Should You Know When You Interview for a Job With a Degree in Computer Engineering

IMAGE SOURCE: Alan Cleaver, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license

Throughout the interview, you might have to answer questions about your goals, your strengths and weaknesses and why you are interested in engineering or in working for this organization. Often, a prospective employer will ask you questions that give insight on your engineering knowledge and experience, your personality and how you would fit with the existing team. Often, candidates for computer engineering roles must answer technical questions or hypothetical questions that assess their decision-making skills as well as their understanding of engineering concepts and applications.

One important fact to be aware of is that different organizations are looking for different things in their computer engineers. Recruiters at Google and other top companies no longer look simply at a candidate’s GPA or even college major. Instead, they are interested in real experience gained in engineering competitions and real-world work settings.

Some prospective employers might ask candidates to write a piece of computer code, take a test or complete another sample assignment to show their skills.

Salary Information for Computer Engineers

Computer engineers earn high wages, even for engineers. The median annual salary for a computer hardware engineer is $115,120, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That six-figure salary is well above the $92,220 median wage for engineers in all disciplines and more than three times the median salary – $37,690 – for all occupations. The highest paying roles for computer hardware engineers tend to be in the industry of semiconductor and electronic component manufacturing, which employs about 12 percent of computer engineers. The next most profitable industry for computer hardware engineers is research and development, where nine percent of computer engineers work. Computer hardware engineers who work for the federal government tend to earn some of the lowest salaries, but still make $111,550, according to the BLS.

What does this salary information mean for you? Naturally, you can’t realistically expect to earn these lucrative wages fresh out of school. These medians refer to all computer hardware engineers in the United States, at any level of experience. You might expect to earn the median salary later on in your career. However, starting salaries for engineers tend to be higher than in many other fields, and generally speaking, the higher the median wage, the higher the starting salary. A new graduate starting an entry-level computer hardware engineer job earns a median salary of $72,030.

This information matters because it can help you evaluate a job offer or negotiate a salary. If you are asked to submit salary requirements, finding out the median starting salary for jobs like the one you are applying for is a good first step. You also need to look at factors such as location and industry to figure out how much to ask for and what salary you are willing to accept.

The top 10 percent of computer hardware engineers earn wages as high as $172,010 or more per year.