Surveyor Job Description
Surveyors measure the earth's surface to collect that's used to determine the shape of land, draw maps, and establish property lines and boundaries.
To do their job, surveyors need to use specialized instruments including transit theodolites, altimeters, and GPS systems. These tools help them measure the land's surface, and give them the information they need to create reports detailing their findings.
Some surveyors specialize in creating maps for legal documents, such as deeds. Each time a piece of land is sold, a surveyor has to has to establish the boundaries. If the land has been sold before, a surveyor can normally find what they need in old legal documents. If it's a new piece of land, then a manual survey may have to be performed.
Other surveyors work in construction, where they work closely with architects, civil engineers, and urban planners to help them make the best use of the land and contribute to their construction plans. Construction projects can include everything from homes, to highways, to buildings.
Surveyors normally lead a team of surveying technicians who each specialize in using different measuring instruments. In recent years, most of the instruments used by surveyors and their teams use GPS systems that use satellites to determine their exact position.
Because there are many types of land that need to be surveyed, many surveyors specialize. Here are a few common specializations:
Marine surveyors survey bodies of water to determine the water depth, shoreline, and other features.
Geodetic surveyors measure very large areas of the earth's surface using satellites and other high tech instruments.
Geophysical prospecting surveyors are usually hired to identify spots where energy companies should look for petroleum.
Work Environment and Schedule
Most surveyors work for engineering or surveying firms, but local and state governments also provide many opportunities for employment.
Surveyors normally split their time between their office and their field work. Field work requires standing outdoors for long periods of time, and traveling many miles on foot is sometimes necessary. They may have to travel with heavy equipment and other instruments, and sudden changes in weather can mean being stuck outside in unfavorable conditions.
When working inside, surveyors conduct a lot of research. They look at land records, study their field survey data, and perform general administrative tasks. In some cases, surveyors are also required to provide testimony in court cases.
Most surveyors work full time, but their daily schedule is often dependent on the weather. They may work more hours in the summer when the days are long and warm, and fewer hours in the winter.
How to Become a Surveyor
A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required to become a licensed surveyor. Specialized surveying programs are rare, but a degree in civil engineering or forestry is normally an acceptable substitution (check with your state's licensing board to make sure). In some states, the school must be accredited by ABET in order to earn a surveyor license.
Once you meet the educational licensing requirements, there are three additional things you have to do to become a licensed surveyor:
- Pass the Fundamentals of Surveying Exam
- Work under the supervision of a licensed surveyor for four years.
- Pass the Principles and Practice of Surveying Exam
Continued education is normally required to retain a license. While it might sound like a pain, it's an important requirement, because it ensure that surveyors remain up to date with changes in their field.
If you're not able to obtain a license but earned a bachelor's degree in surveying, you are still qualified to work as a surveying technician.
There are currently 51,200 surveyors in the United States, with 2,420 new surveyor job openings created each year.
Surveyor jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.
Salaries by State
Hover over your state to get an idea of what Surveyors make in your area.
How to use this salary data.
Job seekers can use it while negotiating a salary.
Employers can use it to help set appropriate wage levels while writing job descriptions.
Surveyor salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most surveyors make between $40,800 - $73,500 per year, or $19.61 - $35.34 per hour.