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Is Consulting Engineering right for You?

Find out the benefits and drawbacks of consulting engineering as well as the advantages and disadvantages of owning your own practice.



  • Interesting Work – Each project is unique with specific requirements, existing conditions, options and cost constraints.
  • Participation in all aspects – You create (your engineering specialty) of a project, from the study through design, approvals, bidding, shop drawings, clarifications, construction observations, and the final “punch list”. You actually see the project go from a blank sheet of paper to a constructed, one of a kind project that you can see and touch.
  • Not stuck behind a desk – Some of your day will be made up of meetings with clients, vendors, colleagues, utility companies, and contractors and others; field investigation; and job site observations.


  • You are in an adversarial position – Your oversight of a project is to make sure that the owner gets the equivalent of what you specified. The contractor typically wants you to accept an inferior product; your client expects you to protect the building owner’s interest and the owner often wants better than what you specified.
  • The Construction Industry is “cyclical” – If you’re good at your job, you will usually be working. But, if a recession it too deep or lasts too long, you may find yourself unemployed.
  • Dead-line Pressure – Deadlines are constantly changing and often there are multiple projects pressing for your for attention. Overtime and sorting-out the top priorities can be stressful.
  • Profitably Pressure – Everyone in business is driven by a profit motive; even consulting engineering firms. No matter how good that you are at your job, if you can’t make a profit for the company, you will not last.
  • Too Much Work – Consulting engineering firms are reluctant to turn-down projects because they can never tell when current projects will be delayed and they may have spent a year or more waiting for a project that suddenly gets the go-ahead. That creates more stress for you.
  • Too Little Work – Conversely too little work is even more stressful; it almost never seems like the work load is steady.
  • You’re the “bad guy” – During construction, the owner sees you occasionally, but usually sees the contractor every day and friendships are formed. Before you know it, in protecting the owner’s interest, you are being too hard on his friend.



  • You have a much higher earning potential.
  • Pride of ownership.
  • Benefits of being the boss.
  • You get to make all the final decisions.
  • You can’t get laid-off.
  • You get to keep the profits.
  • You can pick & choose the most appealing projects to personally handle and assign the others to your staff.
  • You can pursue the most interesting/profitable projects.
  • You spend time socializing with clients and potential-clients.
  • If you are successful and you hire an able staff, you will have a valuable asset to sell, when it comes time for your retirement.


  • Be prepared to make “Sacrifices” – When I was new in business and still operating alone, work slowed down and my wife and I decided to take a quick driving vacation to Canada. At the last minute, I got a call from my biggest client, announcing that he had just promised a client of his, to provide a re-design that had to be delivered in one week. It was no fun having to go out to the car to break the bad news to my wife and two small children.
  • You make the “Firing Decisions” – This is particularly hard during the Holiday season.
  • The losses are all yours – On average, I made about three times more compensation than my fellow engineering classmates, but during one recession, I lost more than my salary, for three years in a row.
  • Employees – The biggest headaches in running any business are managing human resources. Often, employees don’t get along with each other or with the clients and sometimes they don’t even care about the success of the company that employs them. Regardless, before you know it, you are responsible for thirty or more mouths to feed. That is an awesome and burdensome responsibility.

“Excerpted from The Complete Guide to CONSULTING ENGINEERING © 2015 John D. Gaskell.
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