Types of Jobs in the Aerospace and Defense Industry

There are a range of job opportunities within the aerospace and defense industry, many of them targeted toward those with a strong aptitude in science and math. If you have a passion for aerospace and defense, odds are there’s a way to channel it into an exciting, fulfilling career. The challenge is deciding what path is right for you. To test out different careers within this industry, consider taking a paid or unpaid internship during college to get first-hand experience, build up your skillset and get you closer to figuring out the best aerospace and defense entry-level jobs to apply for.

Here are some of the most common jobs within the aerospace and defense industry.

Aerospace engineer

In this role, you’ll be working on military-grade vehicles and systems that can hold up during battle on land, at sea and in the air. Aerospace engineers typically have a background in areas like mechanical and systems engineering, design, structural analysis, and propulsion. Within the field of aerospace engineering, you could specialize in assignments like flight tests, mission systems or airframe structural analysis and design.

Systems engineer 

As a systems engineer, you’ll be responsible for building technology with a wide range of uses, from collecting threat information to protecting infrastructure to monitoring the climate. Data will be at the center of your job, and you’ll often work with software development teams to build software that helps improve aircraft function. You’ll also find ways to better analyze and interpret recorded data.

Electrical engineer

As an electrical engineer, your team will be be responsible for designing and building electronics for spacecraft, aircraft or helicopters. In this role, you could work on improving systems for airspace management, surveillance, satellite communication and navigation. You might also focus on the use of alternative energy sources within the aerospace and defense industry.

Flight inspector

In this role, you’ll be responsible for keeping your company’s essential aerospace and defense systems running smoothly. Your job will be part maintenance and part anticipating and solving potential risks before they become problems. In short, your work will provide critical support for all of the game-changing technologies being built at your company.

Mechanical engineer
As a mechanical engineer your work will improve a range of technologies, including robots, engines, heat transfer systems and controls for aircraft and spacecraft. You’ll research, plan, design, develop and test new systems that span a wide range of aerospace and defense applications. At Lockheed Martin, mechanical engineers have been behind both the Hubble Telescope and the Phoenix Mars Lander. That means, your work will have far-reaching applications and contribute directly to the future of the aerospace and defense industry.

Quality assurance engineer
In this role, you’ll be responsible for ensuring every piece of technology and every process created by your company is as best as it can possibly be. You’ll work to meet and exceed quality requirements and come up with even better ways to improve the performance of everything your company builds and does. Your focus might be on software, systems, service, manufacturing, hardware or program management quality.

If you’re interested in working in the aerospace and defense industry, you have a wide range of career paths to choose from. To ensure that you pick a position that’s right for you, it’s important to figure out where your interests lie and to pursue a role that you’re passionate about. Whether that ends up being a flight inspector or a mechanical engineer, the skills you’ve developed in school and during any internships will definitely help you shine.

What is the Aerospace and Defense Industry?

Professionals in the aerospace and defense industry might build aircraft, watercraft, spacecraft or weapons, or focus specifically on manufacturing the parts needed for each. They might also build information systems for processing and interpreting complex data. Typically, companies in this field manufacture their products for military, federal government or space programs. If you’re interested in pursuing a career path in the aerospace and defense industry, here’s what you need to know.

What roles exist within the aerospace and defense industry?

There are a range of positions within the aerospace and defense industry, many of them highly technical. If you’re interested in working in this field, you can look into positions including:

  • engineer
    • aerospace, electrical, mechanical, systems, quality assurance
  • flight inspector
  • aircraft electrician
  • … and more

What does someone in the aerospace and defense industry do?

Aerospace and defense industry professionals are responsible for a wide range of jobs, and your work will be critical, both for your own company and for the protection and defense of the people who use the vehicles and technology you help to build and maintain. For example, an electrical engineer might be responsible for designing and building electronics equipment for spacecraft, aircraft or helicopters. Meanwhile, aerospace engineers might work on military-grade vehicles and systems that can hold up during battle, whether by land, air or sea.

What is a typical salary for someone in the aerospace and defense industry?

Salaries in the aerospace and defense industry vary significantly, depending on your specific career path. Aerospace engineers and flight inspectors earn an average of $82,000, while quality assurance engineers and electrical engineers earn an average of $72,200 and $72,600 respectively. Meanwhile, aircraft electricians earn an average of $61,100, while physicists earn an average of $105,000.

How to Set Career Goals (and Meet Them)

When you’re just starting out in your career, thinking five or 10 years ahead might seem overwhelming. After all, how can you determine where you want to go when you’re only just beginning? But setting goals is actually a great way to get past the nerves that comes with a new start and doing so will give you direction that will help guide you throughout your career.

Here’s a step-by-step process on how to set goals, and meet them.

Determine a specific career goal

When coming up with career goals, it’s okay to think about the big picture. In fact,  acknowledging your potential is a great way to shape your future success. But the best way to set achievable goals is by narrowing your focus. Take some time to think about what you’d like to do in the long term and then come up with a specific career goal that you can achieve within one to two years. For example, if you’re currently an account executive on a sales team and you’d like to manage the team someday, your specific goal might be to become a relationship manager within one year. Having that goal will give you clear direction in your career path while setting you up for success as a manager down the road.

Outline the steps you’ll need to take to get there

Once you’ve determined your goal, it’s time to come up with a plan that will help you achieve it. This includes knowing what skills and experience you’ll need in order to get to the next phase in your career, and also understanding the typical path involved in getting there. Going back to the sales example, if you know that becoming a relationship manager will require you to improve your communication skills, then one of the steps in your plan should be to sit in on more client calls and meetings in order to sharpen these skills and determine the best approach to take in any give situation.

Ask for advice from your manager or mentor

A great way to fine tune your plan, and to ensure that you’re taking all of the necessary steps you need to succeed, is by asking for advice from your manager or mentor. Don’t be afraid to tell them about your career goals — after all, part of their job is to ensure that you’re continuously growing and learning — but do come prepared with a clear plan of action. This will help them understand your goals and give you effective feedback on what you can do to achieve them.

Set yourself up for success

Once you’ve incorporated your manager’s feedback and solidified your plan, it’s time to focus on some other things you can do to ensure your success. These includes coming up with an effective daily routine, managing your time well and staying organized. Done well, these things will make you efficient in your current role while also showing your manager that you have the ability and the desire to move forward.

By knowing how to set career goals and coming up with a plan to achieve them, you’ll be able to shape your career path and end up in your dream job sooner than you think.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 6 Ways to Impress Your Boss and find answers to common interview questions such as What Are Your Strengths?