How My Professional Engineering License Saved My Career (After a Few Years as a Stay-at-home Mom)

Professional Engineer. It has a ring to it, doesn’t it? That “PE” after my name would look great. And sure, it would look good on my resume and it would surely impress people, but why go after a license that in all likelihood I’d probably never use?

About five years after graduating with my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, I decided to try for my professional engineering license. The chemical company I worked for didn’t require it, most commercial companies don’t, but it was something that seemed to be the right thing to do. A couple of co-workers and I headed to a local community college for a six-week review course held a couple of nights a week in the spring. The professional engineering test is given twice a year. I made plans to test in the fall.

A month before the test I spent every weekend, Friday night through Sunday night, studying one of four or five specialized areas. I worked sample questions. I studied, reviewed notes from the review classes, and gathered reference books. The test was open book and my box of books and notes would be my salvation for the eight-hour test. Oh yeah, I was also five months pregnant.

I studied, took the test and four months later, I received the ‘congratulations, you passed’ letter. I was a certified professional engineer. It took a lot of work to get that license, so much so that I didn’t think I’d ever try again if I didn’t pass it the first time. According to professionalengineer.com, the 2009 PE exam pass rate for first timers was 69% and for repeat takers, 36%. I usually like the odds to be better than that.

Years later, I found myself divorced and back on the trail of looking for a job after a few years of being a stay-at-home mom. I moved my single parent family to Huntsville, Alabama, once a Mecca of technology, scientists and engineers. I found out it’s also a little bit of a closed community and coming in off the streets after a three-year absence didn’t help much.

I responded to newspaper Help Wanted ads, what few there were, to no avail.  I also dropped off several resumes at various companies and still received no response. I drug out the phone book and called engineering consulting companies only to be greeted by receptionists who encouraged me to mail in my resume or turned me down with ‘We aren’t hiring right now.’

I finally called on a firm with a lead engineer who answered the phone. While his company had no openings, he put me on to a company that was looking for engineers. Most likely he could pick up on the desperation in my voice and sympathized with my plight.

I contacted them and was hired fairly quickly. I had chemical industry experience, which was favorable, but the real kicker, they later told me, was my PE license. A consulting firm, it turns out, requires their engineers to be professionally certified. Who knew that PE license would ever come in handy?

I’ve signed company documents twice in my career as a PE. You might say the “bang for the buck” in terms of the time I expended to pass that test wasn’t there, but when I needed it most, it paid off in spades.

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Conni Eckstein
A mechanical engineer by degree, currently working in software, I've had a long career in engineering and I want to share my ups and downs with young women who may think a STEM degree is in their future. Be sure to check out my blog, STEMz and Roses, for the adventures. Outside of that, I'm in the process of making a mark in the writing field, playing with my grandkids, practicing yoga and working in engineering.