How to Get Your Professional Engineer References

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One of the more uncomfortable parts of the Professional Engineer (PE) application is getting personal references. Let’s face it; we engineers aren’t social creatures by nature. You know the stereotype; nerdy engineer with no social skills. Maybe getting a reference from someone is something you feel uneasy about.

Regardless, it’s a hurdle you’ll have jump in order to get your PE license. So where do you start?

Who Do I Ask?

In general, you will need a few references from existing licensed professional engineers who are familiar with your work. These references should be familiar with your actual “engineer” efforts and can personally assure that you are a competent and ethical engineer. The best people to ask are your direct supervisor, your co-workers, or a company mentor.

What Do I Need?

Go to your state’s engineering board to find the exact forms you will need. Usually this will be a general form with the typical information about your reference such as their name, position, license number, etc.

How Do I Ask?

Be professional and ask someone to be your reference IN PERSON or ON THE PHONE. They are doing you a favor so you want to be personable and thankful. You can even offer to take them to lunch or setup a formal meeting to discuss it.

This person is personally vouching for your work and is ultimately putting their own professional reputation behind you. The least you can do is be personable about it and show them genuine gratitude.

If you are younger in your career, you will want to keep this in mind. Begin thinking about who you would ask and make sure to build repoire with them. It will be a lot easier asking someone if you already have a good working relationship with them.

Follow Up

Make sure you give all the required forms to your reference and explain clearly what you need them to do. This will include your written experience record as well as pre-addressed envelopes (with postage!) for them to mail the documents back to the state engineering board. You may have to discuss your background with them and remind them of the various things you worked on.

As a PE, they’ll likely be familiar with what’s needed but it may have been many years since they been a reference or completed their own PE application.

You want to make this as easy as possible for them to complete so give them clear direction.

It is your responsibility to follow up with your reference to ensure that everything is completed. You should also follow up with your state’s board to ensure that all forms have been received and other requirements have been met.

Sample Reference Letter

The following is a sample reference letter for you to use when asking licensed professional engineers for the references required for your PE application process.

Feel free to copy this text into your editor and replace the fields with whatever is applicable to your situation. This is just a guide to get you started.

This note is a FOLLOW UP after you have formally asked them to be a reference for you IN PERSON or BY PHONE.



Thank you for serving as a reference on my application for registration as a Professional Engineer. Since you are well acquainted with the type of work required in most of the positions that I have held, I ask that you review my experience record and serve as a licensed engineer reference. Enclosed is a reference statement, my experience record, and a pre-addressed envelope for your use.

Please perform the following actions on my behalf:

  • Complete the Reference Statement Application Form
  • Review my written Experience Record
  • Sign each page of my Experience Record
  • Mail the documents using the provided pre-addressed envelopes.

If I can offer any further information, please call me at [INSERT YOUR CONTACT INFO]. Thanks again for your assistance.




DISCLAIMER: Again make sure you check your local state engineering board’s website to see if there are specific requirements you must fulfill. Keep in mind that every state has their own variation of the requirements; though most times you will be asked to provide a couple references.


How to Write Your Engineering Experience Record – Part 2

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As mentioned before, it is a very good idea to be working on your work experience record for your PE application…during your work time.

How can you make it happen?

Start a text document that you can begin writing in. This will allow you to Copy and Paste easily when submission time comes. Keep it in a safe place and make sure you have plenty of backups (Personal computer, Work computer, external hard drive, etc).

Set a reminder in your calendar at the end of every month. If like most offices your workplace uses Microsoft Outlook, create a task or calendar reminder (hit ctrl+shift+k). Name it something like “Work on Experience Record.”

Set the recurrence of the reminder (hit ctrl+g) for the last work day of every month with a pop-up reminder.
During this time, block off 30 minutes on your calendar recording all your projects, big wins, etc. Include details such as technical problems you encountered and financial numbers.

You can ask yourself the following questions to help you find content:

  1. What are your top 3 job responsibilities right now?
  2. What skills and tools do you make use of every day?
  3. What projects have you worked on in the last month? Quarter? Year?

The key is consistency and action. Just getting started and continually adding content will help you tremendously when the PE application time comes around.

How to Write Your Engineering Experience Record

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So the biggest and most time consuming piece of your Professional Engineering application is documenting your work experience. Generally speaking, you will have to provide a written narrative documenting your work experience and explaining specific job tasks you performed.

What You Need to Write in the Experience Record

The key with filling out your experience forms is going to be using action verbs that show the responsibilities and tasks you actually performed. Evaluators want to see phrases such as “I designed” or “I managed,” not generic phrases like “helped” or “worked on.” This is the time to brag about how awesome you are.

Here is a list of action verbs you can use in your record to get you started:

  • Designed
  • Analyzed
  • Trouble-shooted
  • Drew / Used CAD Software
  • Repaired
  • Estimated
  • Operated
  • Specified
  • Calculated
  • Performed
  • Monitored
  • Trained
  • Tested
  • Programmed
  • Planned
  • Evaluated
  • Problem Solved
  • Produced
  • Created
  • Implemented
  • Managed
  • Negotiated

Example Phrases

Here is a list some generic examples of the types of phrases to use. These ideas are just a start; there are millions of tasks, skills, and activities that you can use based on your job.

  • Performed troubleshooting on circuitry problems in plant fire suppression system.
  • Repaired natural gas leaks in gas turbine engine fuel system.
  • Monitored oil and ambient temp levels for routine maintenance procedures.
  • Operated plant control valves and other devices via control center HMI.
  • Designed communication system between remote terminal units of plant and switching station equipment to transmit MW, MVAR, and Current Flow values.
  • Designed and implemented protective relay scheme.
  • Oversaw plant DCS migration to new system and programmed modifications to software.
  • Produced engineering drawings for construction projects in accordance with company practices while meeting appropriate safety standards.
  • Trained technicians on the operation of a new software implementation system.
  • Calculated structural forces.
  • Determined the loading on concrete foundations.
  • Designed and managed project to construct a new underground switchgear feeder.
  • Specified foundation detail requirements.
  • Designed storm water drainage plan.

Other Sources of Material for You Narrative

  • Look at your official job description (from the original job posting you applied for or in your company’s HR records). Use the duties and responsibilities in there for verbiage. Ignore the “Communicates effectively” or “is a team player” type items.
  • Look at the operations functions and responsibilities description of your department. Use these items and add in the proper “engineering terminology.” (You can usually find this in company PowerPoints or management documents)
  • Contact by phone or email your state engineering board’s staff that provides assistance with form filling. They can give you direct insight into what they are looking for. Often you can even speak directly to the person who actually reviews/approves reports.
  • Ask your P.E. references if you can review their own record documents. Having an example to go from will greatly help, especially if they are working in the same field.

IMPORTANT- For the Young Engineers in the Crowd

It cannot be stressed enough that if you are serious about your engineering career, you should continually track your experience through the early years of your work life. Write the experience record as you are working.

It will be a lot easier for you in 4 to 6 years to put together your experience documentation if you have most of the content already written. You will also not have to rack your brain trying to remember specific details of projects you worked on years ago.


DISCLAIMER: Make sure you check your local state engineering board’s website to see if there are specific requirements you must fulfill. Keep in mind that every state has their own variation of the requirements; though the core experience record should be applicable in most cases.

The Basics of the Professional Engineer Application Process

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Tax Forms

Becoming a Professional Engineer isn’t as simple as filling out an application form, paying a fee, and getting your license in the mail. Sorry no Easy Button here.

It’s also not just about getting an engineering degree and you’re automatically a professional.

Becoming an OFFICIALLY LICENSED professional engineer is an involved process that takes a few years. Not to mention, every state will have their own variation in the licensure process.

Regardless, though the basic steps will be generally the same. They are:

  • Get an Engineering Degree
  • Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam
  • Work in Engineering
  • Complete the Application Registration / Paperwork
  • Pass Professional Engineers Exam

Step 1: Get an Engineering Degree (Duh)

The very first step of the process is to obviously complete undergraduate study in an engineering or engineering related degree (note that it should be an ABET accredited program). Typically this would be a minimum four-year program in a specific discipline of engineering. Commonly this would be something like electrical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, or mechanical engineering.

If you’re reading this then we probably don’t have to convince you that engineering is a great major to go into.  Engineers are able to earn the big bucks, work in a number of different industries, and work on interesting, practical projects. Plus, labor statistics show that the engineering field is expected to grow at a fast pace in the decades ahead. Nice.

Step 2: Pass the FE exam

Ok so you have that degree framed up on your office wall. What now? The next step is to successfully pass the the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam. Usually just called the FE exam, it is a standardized test given twice a year that is designed to test your basic math, science, and other engineering-related knowledge. Generally speaking, it is meant to test you on all the material you would have mastered in the 4-year ABET accredited engineering program (you were actually paying attention right). Like most standardized exams, it requires study and preparation in order to have a good chance of passing.

Step 3: Work in Engineering

The most time demanding of the requirements for licensure is that you MUST have engineering job experience  prior to your application submittal date. Usually this is something like 4 years of real world work experience doing actual engineering work. No clerical paper filing or getting coffee for other people jobs here. Real engineer nerdy stuff. You should be doing verbs like designing, troubleshooting, programming, calculating, managing, etc.

To verify this experience, your work will have to be documented in an experience record that describes your engineering work. And you thought the writing and essay ended with graduation.

Step 4: Complete the Application Registration / Paperwork

Pretty standard, but the next step is to formally apply with your state’s engineering board. You’ll have to provide a number of other key things including:

  • A Registration Fee
  • Official University / College Transcripts (They have to make sure you actually got the degree right?)
  • Reference Statements from licensed PE’s
  • Your well-written experience record

Step 5: Pass the PE Exam

Finally, the last step in the process is to pass the Professional Engineers examination. Usually just called the PE exam, it differs from the FE exam in that you are tested specifically on knowledge solely in your particular discipline of engineering. For example, a EE would only be tested on power theory and electronic circuit questions. As with the FE exam, passing the PE exam will take time to study and prepare effectively.

Last Word

While these steps are generalized, it’s the basic framework on what you must to do to get your PE license. As you might expect with such a high profile position and profession, it’s not easy. It’ll take discipline, brain power, and some hard work.

What are the Benefits of Becoming a Professional Engineer?

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Engineering drafting room, 1962

So why would anyone want to become a professional engineer (PE)? With the long list of requirements and grueling hours of studying, surely there isn’t anyone that crazy?

Being a Professional Engineer is an accomplishment, which can tremendously enhance your engineering career. A lot like obtaining a post-graduate degree or some technical skill certification, it’s a versatile tool, which can help your career both in management and technical positions. And it’s not just about being able to add the title of P.E. after your name (although face it, that’s cool too). The professional engineer license gives you a measure of competency, reliability, and professionalism.

Here are a few specific reasons why becoming a PE is in your best interest:

There Are Legal Needs

Engineers are just like any other highly skilled profession in that they are governed by specific rules and regulations. Numerous engineering jobs both in private industry and in governmental organizations legally require that a professional engineer fill them. This is because you need a PE license in order to legally practice and provide engineering services.

Think about it. You want your doctor to have the proper training and credentials right? You want your accountant to know what he’s talking about with your money right? The same can be said for the engineer designing that bridge you drive over everyday. People want to know that the person doing that public service work is fully qualified and competent.

One of the biggest requirements along these lines is that only a registered professional engineer can stamp recognized engineering documents for public and professional customers. This is a formal seal issued by the practicing engineer’s state board and can be used on things such as computer assisted drawing (CAD) designs, structural evaluation reports, equipment settings sheets, or development proposals.

A few examples of areas that normally require a PE for particular technical careers include city service firms, engineering consulting services, and public utility businesses (think the electric company for example). Another example is that if you ever plan to open your own engineering company, you will need to become licensed.

It Can Help Your Career Progression

The fact of the matter is that an engineering license might be a major boost in helping you climb the corporate ladder in any company. This is true whether your job path goes on a traditional technical route or if you aspire to join the managerial ranks. The reasoning behind all of this is that a lot of employers in the aforementioned industrial sectors require a job applicant to be a PE for senior engineering jobs. These roles usually have substantial project responsibilities and often times will need to have someone with the ability to stamp documents. This insures quality control and standard industry practices.

Another great benefit for PE’s is that some companies provide bonuses or salary increases for acquiring a license. The license can provide numerous advantages which is why someone with it can increase their value to their company.

In many cases manager roles that have engineers reporting directly to them may need a PE license to get the position. This setup is especially critical for un-licensed engineers who are looking to fulfill experience requirements so that they can one day get their own license.

It Highlights Expertise and Credibility

Finally, there is a level of prestige that comes with being a professional engineer. In such highly specialized and technical industries, professional engineers have a level of respect from colleagues in their professional circles. The PE credential is something that shows you have the knowledge and competency to be an engineer. It shows you have legitimate working experience, that you practice continual learning, and that you act in an ethical manner. Like anything else, more skins on your wall help with credibility.

What is a Professional Engineer?

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USACE continues construction at Task Force-East training site in Bulgaria

When most people think of an engineer, they probably imagine a nerdy guy in a plain white collared shirt, black tie, and a pocket protector who crunches numbers all day on a calculator in some science lab. Or they might think of the popular cartoon character Dilbert (who is an electrical engineer by the way) who is toiling away in his cubicle life. Engineers, while overlooked, play an important role in building the infrastructure society. Whether the high rise building you work in, the freeways you drive on, the gasoline in your car, or the laptop you’re reading this website on, these things were all engineered to exact specifications by you guessed it; nerdy engineers.

By definition, professional engineering is field concerned with applying knowledge in science, mathematics, and problem solving resourcefulness to develop solutions for real world problems. Basically, engineers take math and science and apply them to real life. But why would you want to become a professional engineer?

Flexible Career Options

Engineers have a great amount of flexibility when it comes to professional career paths. The skills engineers have (i.e. problem solving, analytical skills, etc) can apply to many different areas within a business as well as every industry imaginable. In many large organizations, you will find professional engineers working in customer service, supply chain procurement, sales and marketing, executive roles, and field work. These types of roles are the many options available to engineers in addition to the bread and butter jobs like design work. Many engineers are often well prepared in starting their own business or going into consulting fields as well.

Great Long Term Career Outlook

Engineering degrees are great fields of study to enter looking into the immediate future. The engineering field is growing at a fast pace in the decades ahead due to the growing needs of technology and the shortage in current work force. According to many statistics bureaus, engineering degrees make up some of the hottest career choices since they are often among the highest paid majors coming right out of school.

Also, engineering positions are often quite stable. Remember engineers are responsible for building and designing the basic infrastructure of society. As long as people need electricity, water, roads, buildings, and other cool gadgets, there will always be a demand for engineering positions.

High Prestige

Like many other highly skilled professions (think doctors or lawyers), engineers are held in high regard in the professional work world. Not only are engineers well paid, but they are highly educated and work on projects with great importance and meaning to others. Often, engineers get a level of respect from colleagues within the business community for their technical skills. In addition, professional engineers are quite prevalent in worldwide business organizations, as well as in high management positions in top companies across the world.


Engineers design the structures, materials, and systems that we use every single day, and thus are valuable members of the workforce. Ultimately, deciding to go into the engineering field can be a very satisfying and rewarding career decision.