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Why this matters:

Strong mechanical engineer candidates are passionate about what they do. They relish the challenge of using their analytical and design skills to plan, concept, and create sound mechanical designs that solve real-world problems. This question will help you gain insight into your candidate’s experience and approach to the craft.

What to listen for:

  • Strong analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Ability to translate research and analysis into practical executions
  • Knowledge of basic engineering concepts, including mechanics, materials science, and thermodynamics

 

Why this matters:

The principles of thermodynamics are foundational to mechanical engineering. Whether designing a large-scale industrial power plant or an in-home refrigerator, a good mechanical engineer must not only possess a deep understanding of these concepts, but understand how the science can be applied toward solving practical, on-the-job challenges.

 

What to listen for:

  • A firm textbook understanding of the laws of thermodynamics
  • Knowledge of when and how to apply these laws in practical situations
  • Real-life examples how the candidate used these laws on the job

Why this matters:

Testing is crucial to the mechanical design process. Not only does it ensure products and systems are safe, but it can also help reduce costs and optimize performance. The testing process can encompass everything from materials evaluation all the way to evaluating a final product. A strong candidate can identify design flaws and course-correct accordingly.

What to listen for:

  • Ability to evaluate mechanical designs for flaws and other potential problems
  • Capacity to modify or improve a design for optimal safety and performance
  • Knowledge of specific testing methods, such as hardness testing or corrosion resistance.

Why this matters:

Steep challenges, tight deadlines, and high stakes are the daily reality for a mechanical engineer. Under these circumstances, the occasional mistake is bound to happen. This question gives you a chance to see how a candidate handles their stumbles — and whether they take accountability for their actions and use their errors as opportunities for improvement.

What to listen for:

  • Ability to discuss difficult situations with honesty and humility
  • An understanding of what went wrong, why, and the role they played
  • Examples of actions they took to avoid this outcome in the future

Why this matters:

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable — especially when it comes to creating mechanical designs that impact everyone from salespeople to fellow engineers to end users. It’s important for a mechanical engineer not only to defend and explain their work, but to respond appropriately to criticism or disagreements without becoming emotional or defensive. 

What to listen for:

  • A willingness to face conflict head-on
  • Ability to empathize with another point of view
  • Openness to compromise as a strategy toward resolution

Why this matters:

Mechanical engineers frequently need to communicate their ideas, designs, and recommendations to a nontechnical audience. This audience could be internal or external; a marketing team or a potential client. Either way, a strong candidate will use simplified language, visuals aids, and an engaging dialogue to get the message across.

What to listen for:

  • Ability to explain complex engineering concepts in simple language
  • A willingness to use visual aids like graphics or slide decks to convey ideas
  • Active listening skills to foster audience engagement and understanding

Why this matters:

Like any job, being a mechanical engineer involves a range of tasks. Some are more creatively demanding: solving equations, building prototypes, communicating a design. Others are more process-oriented, for example, filling out a status report or troubleshooting an equipment malfunction. This question reveals how well a particular candidate’s preferences align with the job in question.

What to listen for:

  • Specific tasks the candidate finds most enjoyable on a project
  • Specific tasks the candidate would rather avoid
  • An understanding that every job is a blend of ideal and less-than-ideal responsibilities

Why this matters:

Mechanical engineering projects can involve many moving parts, from defining project deliverables to navigating problems in design development, to interacting with a variety of stakeholders. A good mechanical engineer will often need to demonstrate leadership skills as they plan and execute projects alongside a diverse group of peers and clients.

What to listen for:

  • Strong organizational and project management skills
  • Ability to empathize and interface with various stakeholders
  • A resilient attitude for overcoming challenges and obstacles

Why this matters:

New technologies such as AI, big data, and blockchain are changing the role mechanical engineers play in everything from system design to product development. Optimal candidates will be enthusiastic about these new trends and demonstrate a willingness to stay up to date with the latest developments, both independently and among peers.

What to listen for:

  • Familiarity with emerging industry trends
  • Trade publications, websites, or resources they follow regularly
  • Relevant skills training or professional associations
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