What Does a Surveyor Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a female land surveyor wearing a hard hat and a reflective vest, looking at a sheet of paper with non-descript writing on it. Text reads:

Image by Ashley Nicole DeLeon © Jacara 2019

Surveyors determine legal property boundaries. They provide data and compile legal documents—called surveys—for building, mapmaking, and real estate projects. Those who work in this discipline might be called land, site, or property surveyors.

Surveyor Duties & Responsibilities

The job duties that surveyors should expect to have can be diverse and require various training and skills.

  • Conduct physical site surveys using a variety of equipment and tools.
  • Prepare sketches and notes, and perform electronic data collection.
  • Coordinate field staff and process field data.
  • Interface with civil engineers, landscape architects, cartographers, or urban planners.
  • Verify the accuracy of survey data, including measurements and calculations conducted at survey sites.
  • Calculate areas of land parcels and easements using mathematics and computer software.
  • Research previous survey evidence, including maps, deeds, physical evidence, and other records to obtain data needed for surveys.
  • Prepare site surveying documents and present findings to clients.

Surveyors may work in different fields. For instance, homeowners or business owners might hire a surveyor when there's a need to ascertain property lines. Establishing legal property boundaries in this way can help prevent or settle disputes having to do with land usage and property ownership.

Government agencies also use surveyors when building roadways and other infrastructures to ensure proper construction and location.

Surveyor Salary

A surveyor's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and employer.

  • Median Annual Salary: $62,580
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $102,220
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $35,160

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training, & Certification

This profession requires both education and accreditation.

  • Education: A bachelor's degree is needed to work as a surveyor. Most employers prefer job candidates who have majored in surveying, but some will hire workers who have degrees in civil engineering and forestry.
  • Licensure: All states and the District of Columbia have specific requirements set by their professional licensing board. These can include a college degree from an ABET-accredited program, passing multiple exams, and several years of work experience. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) maintains links to state licensing boards on its website.

    Surveyor Skills & Competencies

    You'll need certain soft skills to have a successful career as a surveyor.

    • Reading comprehension: You must be able to understand written documents.
    • Mathematics: An aptitude for applying mathematical principles to solve problems is necessary.
    • Attention to detail: Accuracy is of the utmost importance because you'll be preparing legal documents. You must also take great care when taking and recording measurements.
    • Listening skills: You'll have to understand instructions from others, including architects and project managers.
    • Speaking skills: You'll have to communicate information to members of your team and your clients.
    • Time management skills: It will be necessary to plan your own and your team's time on each job.

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in this field will grow 11% through 2026, which faster than the overall employment growth of 7% for all occupations in the country. Individuals who have bachelor's degrees will fare better in the job market.

    Work Environment

    Engineering firms employ the majority of surveyors, but some work for construction companies and state or local governments. The job can involve a mix of office duties and fieldwork, and fieldwork can involve climbing and hiking, often carrying cumbersome equipment and in inclement weather.

    Surveyors can also potentially find themselves in harm's way when working construction sites and on major thoroughfares with heavy, passing traffic.

    Work Schedule

    This is predominantly a full-time occupation, and overtime can be expected during times when construction activity is at its peak or when a project involves fieldwork. Construction work can be somewhat seasonal in some areas of the country where there's a marked weather difference between summer and winter months.

    This profession doesn't always stick to a clock. Long commutes to job sites are common, and sometimes distances require that surveyors remain away from home, living near the site, for weeks or months at a time. They might not work 24/7, but their personal lives are impacted.

    How to Get the Job

    CREATE A STANDOUT RESUME

    Use a free resume template or builder to create one if needed.

    APPLY

    Look at job boards specifically for surveyors. For example, the Land Surveyors United Community offers a Surveying Jobs Board and app with jobs crowdsourced around the world.

    NAIL THE INTERVIEW

    Practice interviewing to build your skills and confidence.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Those interested in surveying might find that their skill sets predispose them and qualify them for other careers as well.

    • Cartographer: $64,430
    • Civil Engineer: $86,640
    • Landscape Architect: $68,230

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

    • Landscape Architect Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Geospatial Engineer (12Y) Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Image shows a woman interviewing another woman, who is darker in complexion and is wearing a straw hat with a baby strapped to her back. They are on a hilly field with a small house and animals in the distance. Text reads:

      Anthropologist Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Image shoes a biomedical engineer working multiple tasks in a lab. Text reads:

      Biomedical Engineer Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Designers discussing fabric swatches in conference room meeting

      Interior Designer Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Architect Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Urban Planner Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Cost Estimator Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Image shows a man scrambling to catch flying pieces of paper, with a cluttered desk and an open laptop. Text reads:

      Project Manager Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Financial advisors are the face of financial services to many.

      Financial Advisor Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Image shows a woman walking into an office holding a manilla folder. Text reads:

      Actuary Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Environmental Engineer Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Hydrologist Job Description: Salary, Skills, and More

    • Insurance agent with clients

      Insurance Agent Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • A house on dollar bills

      Tax Assessor Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More

    • Environmental Technician Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More