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Surveyor Career Guide

Have you ever marvelled at the seamless connections among shopping centers, highways, and public transit stations? Well, this level of interconnection wouldn’t be possible without surveyors. And, if you’re someone with a keen eye for detail and excellent communication skills, this may be the career for you!

A surveyor is someone who takes the measurements that help to establish boundary lines for public and private property. They use Geographic Information Systems software to generate maps that show exactly where boundaries start and end. To become a surveyor, you will need four-year degree that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. After this, surveyors will need to sit (and pass) a number of different exams.

Surveying is a fantastic career as I love seeing a project progress and knowing that I have played a key role in it. It’s also a very sociable career, whether that be clients or industry professionals, I get to meet extraordinary people on a daily basis.

Uwais Paderwala

Surveyor Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Overview

What a surveyor actually does

Ever marvel at the seamless connections among shopping centers, highways, and public transit stations? Ever wondered how transit stops are placed along roads and are at convenient distances from strip malls where passengers both work and shop? This level of interconnection wouldn’t be possible without surveyors.

Surveyors take the measurements that help to establish boundary lines for public and private property. They use Geographic Information Systems software to generate maps that show exactly where the boundaries are (e.g., where a shopping mall ends and the city street begins). Some surveyors work for private companies. However, most are employed with local governments. Regardless of who the work for, their typical duties and responsibilities include:

  • Researching land records and surveying reports and maps to determine previous boundaries
  •  Preparing and maintaining sketches, maps, reports, and legal descriptions of surveys in order to describe, certify, and assume liability for work performed
  • Verifying the accuracy of survey data, including measurements and calculations conducted at survey sites
  • Directing or conducting surveys in order to establish legal boundaries for properties based on legal deeds and titles
  • Travelling between work sites
  • Supervising staff on-site
  • Using special gear to take measurements of distances and other land features
  • Documenting updated boundaries
  • Preparing reports for senior leaders, clients, and stakeholders.

Why they are needed

Surveyors shape the way communities live, work, and play. The field is broad and includes positions such as environmental, infrastructure, and land surveyors. People who enter this career field are on the cutting edge of community development. As a surveyor, you might work on a project that creates sustainable, smart cities, or you may be asked to work on a team that builds housing to combat homelessness. A  surveyor is needed to make neighbourhoods safer, healthier, and more efficient for everyone.

Pros and cons of a career as a Surveyor:

Pros:

  • Often, surveyors work in cohesive and supportive teams
  • Surveyors receive competitive pay and benefits
  • You’ll get to work with some intelligent and interesting people, such as urban planners and architects
  • The job outlook for surveyors is good, meaning the career offers job security
  • There is a lot of job variety (e.g., you can work at a park, a beach,  a busy street corner, at football stadiums or even skyscrapers)

Cons:

  • There is an educational commitment to becoming a surveyor
  • Surveyors can work long hours. This can be very draining, especially as they are on their feet all day
  • As surveyors can work at many different sites, there is often long travel times
  • Surveyors work in all types of weather to get the measurements that they need to do their job
  • You are likely to stand for extended periods of time in cold, damp, or hot weather
  • The demand for surveyors is subject to the ups and downs of the economy

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of surveyors is projected to grow 2% from 2019 to 2029. This is slower than the average for all occupations.

This slow employment growth is expected because there will always be a demand for surveyors to certify boundary lines, work on resource extraction projects and review sites for construction. However, like many professions, advancing technologies (such as drones) are expected to increase worker productivity. Increased work productivity lessens the demand for workers.

Career paths

Most surveyor jobs require a four-year degree in an engineering-centric or surveying program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. A bachelors degree in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry, is sometimes acceptable too.

Upon graduation, you’ll want to pass the Fundamentals of Surveying exam that is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Successful completion of the Fundamentals of Surveying exam is your passport into an entry-level position as a survey technician. After doing this, you’ll want to gain experience and training by working under the supervision of a licensed surveyor before taking the NCEES Principles and Practice of Surveying exam.

Upon completion of the NCEES exams and getting years of work experience, you’ll need to take a state-administered exam to become a licensed surveyor in your state. With this license, you’ll be able to sign boundary documents, drawings, and maps for public and private organizations. Some states also require surveyors to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.

Example Job Titles for Surveyor

Below is a list of common job titles in the Surveyor field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for surveyors was $63,420 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $104,850. The top paying industries were the government, with a median annual salary of $73,220. This is followed by mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction ($65,640), construction ($65,060), and architectural, engineering and related services ($61,640).

Autonomy and Flexibility

The level of autonomy and flexibility for a surveyor will vary depending on how much experience and knowledge they have acquired. For example, a surveyor in an entry level position will have far less control over their decisions than a licensed surveyor with 20 years experience. Similarly, autonomy and flexibility will vary depending on the type and size of the organization a survey works for: surveyors in small, private companies are likely to have more control and flexibility than those who work as part of larger, state run companies.

Locations and commute

The demand for traditional surveying services is closely tied to construction activity. Therefore, job opportunities will vary by geographic region and often depend on local economic conditions. When real estate sales and other construction activity slow down, surveyors may face greater competition for jobs. According to Zippia, the best states to be an surveyor, based on average annual salary and number of job opportunities, are:

  • Alaska, where the average annual salary is $86,472
  • West Virginia, where the average annual salary is $72,970
  • Montana, where the average annual salary is $72,905
  • Maine, where the average annual salary is $77,374
  • Ohio, where the average annual salary is $72,957

The worst states, according to Zippia, are Georgia, Virginia, Minnesota, Alabama and Arizona.

Work environment

The largest employers of surveyors in the United States was architectural, engineering and related services, which hired 69% of all architects. 10% of architects in the United States are employed by the government, 7% work for the construction industry, 5% are self-employed and 2% work for the mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction industry.

As a surveyor, you’ll typically split your time between working at an office and at remote locations. When working at remote locations (called ‘field work’), you’ll be working outdoors in all types of weather, walking long distances and standing for extended periods of time. You may also have to climb hills with heavy surveying equipment. Surveyors may have to visit numerous sites, which means that travelling can take up a significant amount of their day.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Surveyor careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Surveyor career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Surveyor.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

There has been no scientific exploration into exactly what personality types will make a successful architect. However, the Myers Briggs personality type of ESTP, or otherwise known as ‘the explorer’, is likely to be a successful surveyor. This is because these types of people are curious and sharp. They are active, which is suited to the copious amounts of walking a surveyor will need to do. They focus on facts and detail and make decisions based on logic and reasoning. This is crucial, as surveyors must make precise and accurate decisions based on measurements.

Accomplishment and mastery

Becoming a survey requires some educational commitment and dedication. Thus, when a surveyor finally gets the responsibility to make their own decisions, there is a high sense of accomplishment and mastery. What is more, is that surveyors continue to develop their skills throughout their career in order to keep their license and progress further. This will further increase their sense of accomplishment and mastery.

Meaning and contribution

The work of a surveyor can, at times, be meaningful. For example, if they are helping to build schools or community buildings. At other times, it may not have as much meaning. The contribution to society will always be high, as surveyors help build the building we need to live, work and play in.

Life fit

Most surveyors will work full time, which offers a great life fit. However, many surveyors will work additional hours, especially when construction demand is high or when facing deadlines. 

Who will thrive in this career?

First and foremost, a good surveyor must be willing to learn about new technologies that improve job efficiency and deliver more accurate results. If you’re detail oriented and can work equally well autonomously and in groups, you are likely to thrive in this career.

Additionally, you should be organized, as there is a lot of work and planning that goes into making precise measurements. Finally, in order to thrive as an surveyor you must be able to communicate clearly with others. This is because surveyors will spend a lot of their time instructing other team members and communicating with architects and planners.

Who will struggle in this career?

If you are a bigger picture person and can’t pay attention to even the most minuscule details, you may struggle as surveyor. If surveyors do not get the measurements exact, then the whole progress of the build may be affected. Those who prefer to not communicate with others throughout their working day will struggle with the constant need to communicate and confer with others. Finally, those who are not fit enough to keep up with the physical demands of the job (e.g., walking for ages, carrying equipment) will struggle as a surveyor.

Requirements

Skills and talents

Surveyors learn many of the skills they need through their degree and training. Surveyors must also have skills such as:

  • Communication skills, as surveyors must supervise other team members, follow instructions from architects and explain the job’s progress to developers and clients
  • Physical stamina, as surveyors will be on their feet and walking about for a lot of the day
  • Attention to detail, as surveyors must work with precision and accuracy
  • Analytical skills, as surveyors must understand complexed designs and the context in which they were created
  • Organizational skills, as surveyors will have many projects and people to supervise and must organize things so they run smoothly
  • Visulization skills, as surveyors must be able to envision new buildings and altered terrain
  • Technical skills, as surveyors will have to use surveying equipment

Education

Most surveyors will need four-year degree in an engineering-centric or surveying program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. A bachelors degree in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry, is sometimes acceptable too.

Upon graduation, surveyors need to pass the Fundamentals of Surveying exam that is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Successful completion of the Fundamentals of Surveying exam allow surveyors to become a survey technician. After this, surveyors need to gain experience and training by working under the supervision of a licensed surveyor before taking the NCEES Principles and Practice of Surveying exam.

Certifications

Upon completion of the NCEES exams and getting years of work experience, surveyors need to take a state-administered exam to become a licensed surveyor in their state. With this license, you’ll be able to sign boundary documents, drawings, and maps for public and private organizations. Some states also require surveyors to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.

How to Become

Summary

A surveyor takes measurements that help to establish boundary lines for public and private property. They use Geographic Information Systems software to generate maps that show exactly where the shopping mall ends and the city street begins. Surveyors need to have excellent communication and analytical skills and they must be able to pay attention to detail.

Immediate action

If becoming a surveyor appeals to you, then we recommend beginning to look at colleges near you that offer accredited degrees. Furthermore, it will be beneficial to have some relevant work experience, so it is advisable to see if you could get a low level job in an surveying firm.

Education and learning

Most surveyor will need four-year degree in an engineering-centric or surveying program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. A bachelors degree in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry, is sometimes acceptable too. After this, surveyors will need to sit (and pass) a number of different exams.

Skill development

Surveyors will learn their skills through their degrees and training. Similarly, in order to keep their license, most states require some form of continuing education, which will further develop their skills.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Surveyor careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

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