Graphic that shows three different types of interview questions you should be asking.

Use these questions to identify a candidate’s technical knowledge and abilities

Use these questions to determine how a candidate handled situations in the past

Use these questions to assess a candidate’s personal traits and cognitive skills

Why this matters

This question is two-fold. First, you’ll be able to assess the candidate’s development process. How do they work through a project? What is their working style? Does this align with your company’s needs? Next, their answer will provide insight into the types of projects that they’ve done and the types of systems they like to create.

What to listen for

  • An understanding of how small components fit into a larger system of products and processes.
  • A focus on carefully articulated design plans and how they prevent bottlenecks in the handling of varying volumes of data.

Why this matters

Engineering is all about constant iteration, especially in the face of unforeseen problems. The best technical engineers have a flexible, step-by-step approach to solving system issues. They don't go with hit-or-miss guesses—they work through a structured yet adaptable process, understanding when to escalate the problem to a higher-level tier.

 

What to listen for

  • Answers that demonstrate the applicant has a thorough method for resolving issues.
  • A commitment to taking ownership of incidents, along with nimbleness and ability to adapt.

Why this matters

The field of statistics deals with the collection, presentation, analysis, and use of data to make decisions, solve problems, and design products and processes. Many of the decisions an engineer makes regarding variables and changes are explored using statistical hypothesis testing, which your candidate should have a firm grasp of.

What to listen for

  • An understanding that theories of statistical probability are used to evaluate whether certain datasets provide sufficient evidence to draw conclusions.
  • Top candidates may discuss how they gather appropriate data and what value this adds to development.

Why this matters

Technical engineers must use the principles and theories of science, engineering, and mathematics to solve technical problems in research and development, manufacturing, sales, construction, inspection, and maintenance. When designing a new system, for instance, they may call upon scientific knowledge around the laws of gravity or how fluid flows.

What to listen for

  • Specific examples of scientific theories or methods, such as Norton’s Theorem or Mohr’s Circle.
  • Strong answers may mention collaborating with scientists on the team who could provide unique insight and research into specific properties or methods.

Why this matters

Unfortunately, the notion that quality is everyone’s responsibility within a company isn’t always embraced. A strong technical engineering candidate should be able to discuss their experience adopting new tools, methodologies, and approaches with respect to measuring and ensuring quality throughout organizational projects.

What to listen for

  • Evidence the candidate considers documentation review a top priority during the design and development processes.
  • Mentions of rules, requirements, internal processes, and official procedures created and used in the pursuit of quality.

Why this matters

In addition to screening for expertise, this question also reveals whether or not the candidate can communicate technical knowledge to a layman. Not only will technical engineers have to work with other employees across many departments (including designers, sales personnel, and account managers), but they may have to guide clients through processes as well.

What to listen for

  • The ability to share information in a clear, easy-to-understand manner.
  • A focus on presenting the tangible benefits of technical concepts, rather than a list of facts or data points.

Why this matters

This question can help you discern both teamwork and communication skills. Whether the candidate is envisioning a hypothetical scenario or drawing from personal experience, their answer should indicate they’re not afraid to speak up when their insight could benefit the company—and that they know the importance of doing so tactfully.

What to listen for

  • Mentions of identifying the right people on the project to speak to in order to share ideas.
  • A collaborative spirit, regardless of whether or not they received credit for their contributions.

Why this matters

This question is an indirect way of asking whether the interviewee is actively pursuing professional development. To keep up with rapidly evolving technology, the best engineers take online courses, follow industry news, and join professional groups. Their answer may also help you to gauge whether they have leadership potential.

What to listen for

  • The ability to name several useful resources without hesitation.
  • Those who seem disinterested in continuing education or research may not be adaptable to change.

Why this matters

Technical engineering is a highly collaborative career, even though the bulk of an employee’s daily duties will be done independently. Their day-to-day responsibilities demand engagement with a number of teams and clients, all with different personalities and work styles, to create, evaluate, and fix technical systems, so a diplomatic approach is essential.

What to listen for

  • Signs that the candidate can work effectively with coworkers who have a different working style to their own.
  • Strong conflict-resolution skills.