How to Interview for an Engineering Job

By Melissa Ricker

Caliper holding a bearing on a technical drawing

 
What would you do if while sitting in an interview, the hiring manager tosses you a random rusty part from an old pump he kept on his shelf and asks you to tell him how it works? Or the interviewer might pull out a full system schematic and ask you to walk him through it. Would this surprise you? You might get this type of question if you are in an engineering interview.

Interviewing for an engineering position is different than interviewing for other positions. You will need to prepare differently, approach the questions differently and expect a different approach from the hiring manager. Engineer interview questions are part technical and part soft skills. You should expect and prepare for both.

 

What the Hiring Manager is Looking For

Just because you are interviewing for an engineering position, do not expect a strictly technical interview. You can expect both engineer interview questions as well as questions gauging your soft skills. The hiring manager needs to determine what type of engineer you are, what your strengths are and how well you will fit into the existing team. All of this needs to come out in roughly an hour’s worth of time, so the questions are often strategic and well planned.

You will need to demonstrate that you are a team player and can thrive in a team environment. Teamwork is integral to an engineering team, and not all engineers work well with other people. You can really shine in a technical interview by showing that you have more than just book smarts.

 

How to Prepare for an Engineering Interview

Preparing for an engineering interview is not entirely different from preparing for any other interview. You will need to brush up on your technical skills as related to the position you are interviewing for. You should also prepare for engineering interview questions by researching the company. Know what product they sell and how the position you are interviewing will fit into the business model. The more you know about them, the easier it will be to impress them. Ensure your resume is up to date and completely accurate. Dress for success and show up on time.

 

What to Expect

Technical interviews require a bit of brain power, and your technical ability will be put to the test with specific engineer interview questions. Neil Katz, the director of BlueCats, suggests that you are clear and confident in your answers to all questions. Be ready to explain why you decided on the solution and the approach you took. Here are some examples of the type of questions you might expect in a technical interview.

Be ready to solve a problem on the board. Many technical interviews will include hands on problem solving. The questions asked will likely be from basic engineering knowledge and require a little bit of math and creativity. The hiring manager is not really all that interested in the answer. He is looking to see how you think and how you approach a problem. Don’t sweat it if you cannot get to an answer. Just show that you can think on your feet and lay out a path towards a solution.

Expect a question related to your duties in the new position. If the position you are interviewing for requires heavy computing or programming, you should expect engineering interview questions related to those topics. If the technical interview is for a design related position, you may expect a question related to the aspects that go into a design. Don’t be surprised if you are handed a schematic or a piece of equipment to talk through. The interviewer is trying to determine what you already know. Filip Valica, founder of The Product Startup and 12 year engineering manager, says that he is interested in how a candidate thinks through a problem. “What are the key design features to consider? Walk the interviewer through your thought process. Most importantly, say what you would do if you got stuck and where you would seek help.”

Why do you want this job? Managers want to know that you are passionate about your job, and that it isn’t just a paycheck to you. Filip says that he wants to see how invested a candidate is in their own success and that he will not shut down when things get tough. Answer this question enthusiastically. This is where your research and preparation will come in handy. If you researched the company and read all you could on what they do and the product they sell, it should be easy to show how excited you are about the job.

Interviewing for an engineering job can sometimes be intimidating. The most important thing to do when preparing is to research the company and the job position. Once you know all that you can about them, approach the interview with confidence and passion. Show the interviewer that you not only strong technically but that you are a well-rounded individual and a team player.

Melissa Ricker, an engineering manager and technical writer, covers career topics for JobHero.