How To Ace Your Engineering Job Interview

Mike Grossman
Professional Engineer
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Minute Read
August 27, 2015
How To Ace Your Engineering Job Interview

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Whether you are starting your career or searching for a new opportunity, job-hunting can be a painful process.

When you submit your resume online, there is no guarantee the recruiter will see. If the recruiter does, he or she may spend 30 seconds reviewing it before moving on to the next resume.

If you make it past this first hurdle, the recruiter will call you to set up an interview. So now what?

With online job postings, a recruiter can receive hundreds of resumes for one job in days. The recruiter’s main goal is to find the best candidate from that stack of resumes as efficiently as possible. He or she is looking for reasons to eliminate candidates quickly, especially at the beginning of the process.

The interview process starts as soon as you make first contact with the recruiter. From the first meeting at a job fair, email communications, or a telephone interview, everything you do and say is potentially being judged.

Here are some crucial tips that could make-or-break your success when it comes time for your interview.

Plan ahead

Whether it is a phone interview your interview is over the phone or in person, you should take time before the day of your interview to research the company. At a minimum, you should read through the company’s website and any news regarding the company clips it may have appeared in.

This information should include any relevant contracts the company has won, changes in the company’s structure, and charity or philanthropic projects to which they contribute. You may also want to take a moment to research your interviewer’s LinkedIn profile.

This information can give you an idea of some questions to ask, as well as which questions to avoid.

Phone interviews

Phone interviews are an efficient way for recruiters to narrow the candidate list.

You should treat a phone interview with the same level of respect as you would a face-to-face interview. Find a quiet space indoors where you can speak privately. Background noise such as children, pets, or a TV can be distracting both to you and the interviewer for both of you.

Have the resume that you submitted readily available, along with a list of your references and a pen and paper. Do not eat, chew gum, or smoke during your phone interview. It shows a lack of respect and may give the interviewer a reason to eliminate you from the list.

Face-to-face interviews

After your phone interview, the recruiter may ask you to interview in person.

For a face-to-face interview, your appearance is an important factor. Engineering is a highly-respected, professional field, and you should dress accordingly. Conservative business attire is a requirement, even if you know the company to be a casual work environment.

You could be the most qualified person for the job, but you will not make a good impression on the interviewer if you arrive in anything other than a clean, pressed business suit.

Good hygiene is imperative, but you should avoid wearing perfume or aftershave. Many people are sensitive or allergic to strong scents. Any irritation to the interviewer, even to his or her sense of smell, will cause you to be viewed unfavourably.

When you arrive for the interview, from the moment you are on the property, act as if you are in the interview. Be respectful to everyone you see.

Someone you walk by in the parking lot may have a say in whether you are hired. The receptionist may note how you act while waiting for the interview. Are you courteous or rude to others around you? These initial impressions can make or break your chances at getting a job offer.

When you meet the interviewer, remember to smile and make eye contact. Always be polite and courteous, and be sure to say “please” and “thank you”.

You should not call the interviewer by his or her first name unless you are asked to. Let the interviewer dictate the duration and firmness of the handshake, conveying that you are receptive to the other person.

A handshake that is too firm may be perceived as aggressive. A weak handshake can also convey an unintentional message, especially if you are a man shaking a woman’s hand.

When sitting down, either wait for the interviewer to sit or invite you to sit.

Answering interview questions

Interviewers often start with something like, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” This opener is an opportunity for you to sell yourself upfront.

You should focus mostly on your professional activities and only include personal hobbies in a context relevant to the job. Technical skills are important in an engineering career, but interviewers are looking for other qualities as well.

How manageable are you? Are you a strong leader?

Are you able to balance your time well? Will you work well with a team?

For instance, saying, “I like sports because it gives me the opportunity to crush my opponent” does not show the interviewer any suitable qualities. By saying “we won the local championship by working together toward a common goal” instead, it shows that you can work well with a team.

Many books are available that list common interview questions and how to best answer these tough questions to them. You should familiarize yourself with some of these materials, but do not rehearse to the point that you sound rigid.

Think of the interview as a work-related conversation rather than an interrogation. Allow the interviewer to lead the conversation, but be an active part of the conversation.

When you are asked a question, make sure you answer the question that is asked. If you are not sure of the question, do not hesitate to ask the interviewer to clarify the meaning. Answer with more than a yes or no answer. Expand on your answer if it adds value, but do not add so much information that it sounds inappropriate to the question that is asked.

Engineers are required to be problem-solvers. During your interview, you will be asked questions that gauge your analytical skills. Provide specific instances when you were able to solve a problem effectively.

Explain the situation, any challenges you had to face, how you came up with a solution, and the results of your remedy in detail. This complete answer not only conveys your ability, but it also shows the interviewer how you approach difficult circumstances.

Do you have questions?

Engineers are expected to be inquisitive. If you are the type of person that freezes up when put on the spot, make a list of questions ahead of time using your research of the company.

Take notes throughout the interview, but make sure you are paying attention to the interviewer and not spending the entire interview with your eyes on your pad of paper. You can use the notes to prompt questions, allowing the interviewer to see that you were paying attention. Ask questions about the position and follow up with how you would be able to fill that role.

For instance, you could ask, “What type of projects would I be working on in the next six months?” After the interviewer answers, you can give examples of how you would be able to step into the position and be successful in the projects.

Avoid questions that are strictly in your self-interest. These question topics include salary, benefits, or future promotions.

These items can be determined after you receive your job offer. At the interview stage, the interviewer is trying to determine if you are the right person for the job, not if the job is right for you. You will want to show the interviewer what you can offer the company.

When the interview is complete, thank the interviewer for his or her time and consideration. Be enthusiastic and specifically state that you are interested in the position.

After the interview

Within 24 hours of your interview, email your interviewer to offer thanks for his or her time and consideration. Use this opportunity to remind them of who you are and how you can benefit the company.

Revisit some relevant conversation points, and state that you are interested in the position and why you would be a good addition to the team.

Recruiters rely on the interview process to determine if you are a good fit for the position and the company. You have need to be able to market yourself.

One way to get the interviewer to “bite” is to let him or her know how you can benefit the company. If you can show the interviewer that you will be an asset, you will improve your chances at ending your job search.

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