Engineering salespeople, like others in sales, typically work on commission. This means the salesperson gets a percentage, perhaps 15 percent, of every unit of goods or services he or she sells. Since these potential yearly earnings are not fixed, as with a salary, an exceptional salesperson during an exceptional business year could earn a million dollars or more. But even a good salesperson can have a very bad year if he or she is selling products during an industrial or construction down turn, or if his or her products are not well received by customers. To help stabilize the month to month and year to year earnings of salespeople, most companies offer a minimum monthly base salary. Salespeople receiving base pay still receive their commissions, but they are assured of a certain amount of salary even if their commission earnings fall below that base amount for a given month. Obviously, salespeople who consistently fail to earn enough commission to exceed their base salary are strongly encouraged by management to seek other areas of employment.
Successful sales engineers are intimately familiar with the machinery, products, materials, or services they are trying to sell. They are capable of expertly demonstrating their companies' products, and are skillful in understanding and responding to their customers' complaints and suggestions about products. Indeed, the first loyalty of most salespeople is to their customers. Engineering salespeople will frequently report back to their company design engineers with the needs, desires, and complaints of their customers. Good salespeople also are knowledgeable about developments among their competitors and the engineering industry as a whole.
Few professions offer as rich an opportunity for individuals who wish to be their own bosses as does civil engineering. Today's civil engineering projects are often so complex that numerous specialists are needed to augment the building team. These engineering consultants may have expertise in geotechnical engineering, earthquake engineering, computer software development or application, scheduling, bid preparation, obtaining permits, or in meeting regulatory and code specifications. Consulting engineers may be called upon for guidance in dealing with hazardous waste or leaky underground storage tanks on proposed construction sites, erosion control, site mitigation, and variance issues.
Consulting engineers also are heavily involved in the testing and monitoring functions that pertain to civil engineering. Many other consulting engineers are in demand because they can deliver such day today activities as surveying, project designing, or construction supervision at a lower cost than can larger companies (simply because these consultants, who work out of their homes or from small offices, operate with lower overhead).
Many consultants flourish throughout their careers as self employed professionals who may even work without a secretary, while others form partnerships with other engineers. Other consultants build their practices into companies, employing office personnel and other engineers. These companies may grow to a size that rival the nation's largest business firms. For example, STS Consultants Ltd., the North brook, Illinois based company started just after World War II to offer geotechnical services to construction contractors, now has annual billings of over $30 million and employs civil engineers, architects, geologists, geo-chemists, scientists, and certified field and laboratory technicians.
We hope this has given you an appreciation for the vast spectrum of activities available to you if you choose to pursue a career in civil engineering. Each of the technical areas and functional specialties described in this chapter offer the potential for a high degree of personal and professional satisfaction. And in all areas of civil engineering you can look forward to adequate compensation in the form of a high salary, excellent fringe benefits, and relatively stable employment conditions. Unlike some fields where competition is fierce even among the most qualified candidates, if you are motivated, do well in your engineering studies, and conduct an aggressive job hunting campaign, you are virtually guaranteed an opportunity to practice civil engineering in one form or another.