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Why this matters:

The best engineers are problem-solvers at heart, so an unexpected challenge shouldn’t faze them. Over the course of their careers, many engineers develop a list of go-to resources that they use for troubleshooting on a regular basis. They will also consider similar issues they’ve experienced in the past and try to apply what they learned.

What to listen for:

  • Evidence of critical thinking and good problem-solving skills
  • Possible mention of specific resources, like GitHub or Stack Overflow
  • Answers that demonstrate that the candidate doesn’t give up easily in the face of a challenge

Why this matters:

The field of engineering is constantly evolving. You want to know that your new hire has a true passion for the profession and is excited about these advancements. It’s this drive for constant improvement that will lead them to iterate and strengthen your company’s engineering processes, leading to better results.

What to listen for:

  • Examples that draw from their own experience, reflecting on a concept they felt could have been stronger — or responses that may be purely theoretical
  • Signs that they’re invested in advancing the field
  • Great answers that show an ability to think outside of the box

Why this matters:

This question will give you a better sense of how a candidate approaches problems on a macro level, while also helping you gauge their knowledge of the industry as a whole. Great engineers stay abreast of current trends and issues, even if they don’t directly impact their work, and are able to think critically about them.

What to listen for:

  • Answers that focus on a big-picture issue, with an eye to how it affects companies in smaller ways
  • An ability to clearly articulate why they believe this issue is so important
  • A strong answer that also proposes potential solutions or ways to mitigate the issue

Why this matters:

Engineering projects are often extremely complex, requiring a lot of careful thought and planning to ensure their successful execution. Finding candidates with a proven track record of tackling challenging projects (at work or at school) and coming out on top increases your chances of making a great hire.

What to listen for:

  • Answers that demonstrate the candidate’s analytical thinking
  • Evidence of enthusiasm, both when describing the successful outcome and when discussing the challenges they overcame
  • Great answers that reveal perseverance in the face of a challenge

Why this matters:

Engineering mistakes can have serious and even dangerous consequences, so taking the necessary steps to avoid them is critical. Whether they have a formal process or not, all engineers should have a system of checks and balances in place to prevent mistakes. It’s not just about safety — it’s about doing the job well.

What to listen for:

  • Specific measures they deploy, such as running ideas by a coworker or using digital tools
  • Answers that demonstrate a commitment to both safety and quality control
  • Strong answers that show a thoughtful approach to reducing the margin for error

Why this matters:

No matter how good they are at their jobs, engineers will sometimes encounter clients and stakeholders who are demanding or who don’t understand certain engineering decisions. An engineer who is quick to anger may butt heads with key stakeholders on a project, so an even-tempered approach is crucial.

What to listen for:

  • Evidence of good judgment and patience
  • Answers that demonstrate that the candidate can confidently discuss the rationale behind their decisions
  • Ideally, an example that shows how they won the other party over

Why this matters:

Even the best engineers will receive 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. It’s OK if they show they’re comfortable defending their decisions, so long as that defense doesn’t border on making excuses.

What to listen for:

  • A willingness to listen and learn from mistakes
  • A great response that shows both humility and self-confidence — and an openness to new ideas
  • Signs that the candidate has applied what they’ve learned to their recent work

Why this matters:

Some parts of an engineer’s job may not be the most exciting or glamorous, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. A disengaged employee is more likely to make mistakes, so it’s critical to find candidates who have a positive attitude about all parts of the job and an understanding of why these tasks matter.

What to listen for:

  • Evidence that the candidate takes pride in all aspects of their work
  • Answers that demonstrate that the candidate brings the same careful approach to the little things that they do to bigger projects
  • Dismissive or overly negative answers

Why this matters:

This question can help you gauge a candidate’s leadership potential and collaboration skills. Even engineers 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.

What to listen for:

  • Answers that show that the candidate can keep one eye on the big picture, without losing sight of the essential details
  • References to how they rallied the team and ensured effective collaboration
  • Answers that are confident yet humble
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