How to Become a
Surveyor

A man wearing a hard hat looking through a land surveyor

Are you seeking a career that could draw on your strong mathematical skills and desire to work outdoors? If so, then you might be a candidate for a career as a Surveyor.  Read on to find important and detailed information regarding skills, educational background and training required to work as a Surveyor.

What Does a Surveyor Do?

Surveyors essentially measure areas to determine property boundaries to assess land for construction projects, mapmaking or deed or title development. In addition to surveying companies, Surveyors might work for engineering firms, architectural firms, construction companies or state or local government agencies.

Strong technical and mathematical skills are critical for Surveyors. Common Surveyor duties and responsibilities include:

  • Technical tasks, such as operating laser units, Robotic Total Station and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

  • Administrative tasks, such as analyzing data and overseeing progress of surveying projects

  • Clerical tasks, such as preparing reports and researching records

  • Manual tasks, such as traveling to sites and carrying equipment

Surveyor Skills

While most of a Surveyor's job requires technical skills, there are other important aspects that those who are seeking this type of work should be prepared for. For instance, Surveyors work with other professionals such as civil engineers, land development planners and construction supervisors, so strong communication skills are required. In addition, strong written communication and analytical skills are needed to prepare necessary reports about survey findings. Surveyors should also possess time management skills, as it is often necessary to meet deadlines set by project schedules, as well as organizational skills and ability to work with little or no supervision.

Other key Surveyor skills include:

  • Math proficiency

  • Computer literacy, particularly knowledge of AutoCAD software and Microsoft applications

  • Conflict management, such as disputes concerning property boundaries

How Do You Become a Surveyor?

Education and Training

After studying online job postings, we have concluded that most employers require candidates for Surveyor jobs to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Some require a two- or four-year degree but will allow experience to replace this requirement. Some request that candidates also possess or can obtain Surveyor in Training (SIT) certification. Requirements for this certification can include one to possess an associate's or bachelor's degree in surveying or a related area, such as civil engineering. This certification is necessary for pursuing licensure as a Registered Professional Land Surveyor. Degrees must be obtained from institutions that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).

One might also apprentice under a licensed Surveyor as a survey or mapping technician. This experience can make one eligible for Surveyor licensing as well as satisfying employer requirements, many of which include knowledge of surveying instruments and equipment in addition to different types of surveying, such as topographic surveys and land title surveys.

Licensure is required in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. Requirements for this licensure might vary slightly from state to state, but essentially one must possess an associate's or bachelor's degree and have gained some years of experience working under a licensed Surveyor. Experience may satisfy educational requirements in some states. The duration of experience can range anywhere from four to ten years.

Finding a job

The need for Surveyors is expected to remain steady as there will always be a need to measure property lines and provide data for construction projects. However, a 2 percent decline in this field is expected between 2014 and 2024, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This decline is due to an increase in technology used by Surveyors that allows them to complete tasks in shorter periods of time, thus lessening the demand for this position. Any decrease in new construction can also affect the job growth of this field. The ability to use different surveying methods, a 4-year degree and sufficient experience will generally help candidates find employment opportunities.

A quality resume is often the best tool you can have when conducting a Surveyor job search. Our library of Surveyor resume samples can give you an idea on how to craft an effective resume.

After successfully completing your resume, search online for Surveyor job opportunities. Draw on your network of professionals you might have met while gaining experience through an apprenticeship, if applicable.

A strong cover letter is often your first foot in any door. When you are seeking Surveyor jobs, be sure to write a cover letter outlining not only your interest in this field but your qualifications and contributions to such a position. If you need help in crafting this document, refer to our cover letter samples for guidance.

Insights from a Surveyor

For more details about becoming a Surveyor, we spoke with Alan Blair, secretary/treasurer for the Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado (PLSC), a professional land surveyors' society promoting advocacy and legislation for this industry. Following is our question-and-answer session with Mr. Blair.

What is the common career path for a Surveyor?

For most states, the path involves education, experience and two examinations. Most states use the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES) exams as requirements. In general, states also require an examination to test an applicant’s knowledge of specific state laws relevant to surveying.

The requirements for being allowed to sit for these exams varies by state, from having an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) approved Bachelor of Science Degree in Surveying to having a high school diploma or equivalent. All states require some level of experience working under a professional surveyor as well as references.

What are some of the most important skills for Surveyors to have?

Surveying, or Geomatics, as many now refer to the profession, requires a person who is enjoys working outdoors (not always in perfect weather), a solid understanding of mathematics and the laws related to real property. Real Time Kinematic, Global Positioning System technology, Robotics and now Drone technology allow a single person to collect large amounts of data.

The new challenges will involve sorting through the data to capture and present the pertinent data and present the data to the downstream users.

Mathematics, real property law and communication are key skills.

What type of person excels at this job?

Today’s geomatics professional must appreciate working autonomously as the technology has driven the data collection (fieldwork) toward a one-person operation. Surveyors have always excelled at this aspect, but today’s geomatics professional will be even more isolated and must be willing and able to be his or her own boss.

The work requires an aptitude for working with highly sophisticated computers and software. and a sold knowledge of applied mathematics.

To excel as a surveyor a person needs a solid understanding of real property law and enjoy research and learning to apply common law principles to boundary decisions. A surveyor today must also have great communication skills to relate the esoteric aspects of boundary law and complex technology to colleagues, legal professionals and landowners.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Surveyor?

Facing and solving various challenges, such as ever-changing technology and standards of practice as well as working outdoors in harsh weather conditions, are the most rewarding aspects. Collecting and analyzing data and presenting and explaining it to the downstream user can be the most rewarding aspects of the work.

How Much Do Surveyors Get Paid?

On an hourly basis, Surveyors earn a median wage of $27.21 in the United States. The lowest hourly wage for Surveyors is $15.45, with the highest earners generally being paid about $44 per hour.

Top 10 States for Surveyor Salary

Surveyors in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.

    California

    $39.83

    Alaska

    $38.96

    Rhode Island

    $36.35

    Washington

    $34.72

    New Jersey

    $33.61

    New York

    $33.04

    Oregon

    $32.69

    Idaho

    $32.63

    Minnesota

    $32.00

    Delaware

    $31.30

    Surveyor Resources

    Use the following resources we've put together to help you find more information about a career as a Surveyor.

    On the Web

    Millman National Land Services
    A blog revealing industry tips and strategies for those working in the surveying field.

    The American Surveyor
    An online publication covering surveying news, technology, continuing education and training opportunities, software reviews and more.

    Industry Groups

    National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS)
    From advocacy to online certification training, NSPS offers valuable resources, support and educational opportunities for Surveyors.

    American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC)
    For more than 100 years, ACEC has been providing various resources such as seminars, conferences and more for engineering and related professions, including land Surveyors.

    American Land Title Association (ALTA)
    Many Surveyors are associate members of this organization, which offers educational opportunities, publications and industry news that is relevant to this occupation.

    Surveyor Books

    Surveying: Principles and Applications 9th edition
    Review modern instruments and applications in surveying and advanced discussion topics in this comprehensive book.

    Construction Surveying and Layout
    An extensive guide that covers everything from making surveying calculations to analyzing topographic information.

    Elementary Surveying, 14th edition
    Prospective and beginning Surveyors will find a lot of detailed information in this book, addressing such topics as surveying theories, technological advances and example problems.

    Sources for this article include the Bureau of Labor Statistics, online job postings and other online sources.