What do you view as the most important engineering issue facing our industry today?
Great engineers stay abreast of current trends and are able to think critically about them. This question will give you a better sense of how a candidate approaches problems on a macro level, while also helping you gauge their passion for the industry. Do their eyes light up when they talk about engineering? If so, then you know this a candidate who truly loves what they do.
How would you approach solving an engineering challenge or issue you’ve never faced before?
The best programmers are problem-solvers at heart, so an unexpected challenge shouldn’t phase them. Do they mention a go-to list of resources for troubleshooting problems, like GitHub or StackOverflow? Would they consider similar issues they’ve experienced in the past and try to apply what they learned to this situation? Their answer should demonstrate that they can think critically about a challenge and take proactive steps to solve it, rather than giving up.
What current engineering concepts do you think could be improved?
An engineering candidate should have a passion for the profession itself and be interested in improving engineering processes. They may have an example from their own experience of a concept that they felt could have been stronger, or their response may be purely theoretical. Either way, a thorough answer will demonstrate their thoughtfulness when it comes to these concepts, while a weak one will show that they struggle to think outside of the box and may not have the drive to make processes better.
What has been the most challenging engineering project you’ve faced in your career, and how did you drive the project toward success?
Engineering projects are often extremely complex, requiring a lot of careful thought to ensure their successful execution. Listen for answers that demonstrate the interviewee applies their analytical prowess to solve issues as they arise, and that they’re determined to overcome any and all challenges that a project throws up. Also, listen for cues of excitement and enthusiasm as they describe their experiences. The best programmers are usually very passionate.
What systems do you use to ensure mistakes are avoided on the job?
By avoiding engineering mistakes, employees can avoid potentially serious and even dangerous consequences. Whether they have a formal process or not, candidates may have a system of checks and balances in place to prevent mistakes without even thinking of it that way. Maybe they run ideas by a coworker or use digital tools to assess the different steps of a project. Whatever they do, they should be dedicated to reducing the margin for error to improve quality, safety, and more.
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult client or stakeholder on an engineering project? How did you handle the situation?
An engineer may encounter clients and stakeholders who are demanding or who don’t understand certain engineering decisions. A great answer will show that the candidate is comfortable and confident in explaining the decisions they take a project and has great judgment. Patience and a cool head are also important, since an engineer who is quick to anger may butt heads with key stakeholders on a project.
What excites you the most about coming into work every day? What are some new developments in engineering that you’re most passionate about and why?
Look for answers that showcase their passion for the job. It can also give you cues around whether or not they will actually enjoy the role at hand. This second question tests for whether a candidate has a continuous learner mindset. Engineering is a constantly evolving field, so it’s important that a candidate stay current on emerging trends, or their work may suffer for it. An eagerness to learn new things and adapt to new processes may mean a candidate will perform better in the long run, no matter what changes occur in their field.
What is the most recent criticism you’ve received from a supervisor? How did you respond?
Everybody gets criticism from time to time. How a candidate responds to it can tell you a lot about their approach to communication and their emotional intelligence, so their answer should demonstrate a willingness to listen and learn from mistakes. But it’s okay if they show they’re comfortable defending their decisions, so long as that defense doesn’t border on making excuses. Balance is key: a great response may show both humility and self-confidence—and an openness to new ideas.
How do you deal with the relatively mundane or routine tasks required of an engineer, like reports and paperwork?
Some parts of an engineer’s job may not be the most exciting, but they’re important nonetheless. A candidate should have a positive attitude about all parts of the job, as well as an understanding of their importance. Do they take pride in their work, even when it seems unglamorous? Do they bring the same careful approach to the little things that they do to bigger projects?
How have you demonstrated leadership skills in your engineering roles?
Even candidates who aren’t in leadership positions should be able to step up and lead when necessary. Past leadership experience (even if it’s unofficial) is a sign of a candidate who’s not afraid to rise to a challenge. Listen for references to how they rallied the team, how they ensured that everyone was collaborating effectively, and how they took both the big picture and the nitty-gritty details into account.