Engineering interview questions

Not sure what questions you’ll be asked at an engineering interview?

If you’ve never had an interview in the engineering industry before, focusing on your technical skills and experience is a great way to stand out to interviewers – not to mention demonstrate that you have the right expertise for the role.

Aside from some classic curveball questions to assess your problem solving skills, here are five of the most common engineering interview questions you should be prepared for:

 

Explain mechanical engineering to a five year-old in three sentences

Whenever you’re asked to describe or explain something that an interviewer already knows the answer to – you’re probably being tested on your ability to summarise information, rather than on the information itself.

Engineering also often requires a tight brief. Especially when you’re working to strict deadlines, or need to relay information to clients who might not be specialists in the field.

This means straight forward (and jargon-free) communication is essential to ensuring projects can be completed quickly and efficiently, which is why your ability to summarise is so important to employers. Whatever subject you’re being quizzed on.

So whether it’s an engineering process, a type of software, or a broader subject, like your engineering specialism, the key to answering this question well comes down to knowing what is (and what isn’t) valuable information.

See also: when to stop talking.

Right answer: Mechanical Engineering is all about the design, development, testing and construction of machines. Without it there would be no mobile phones, car engines, robotics, or even computer chips. It’s a great job if you like building things and solving problems.

Wrong answer: Machines. And. Things.

 

What skills and abilities do you think are essential for an engineer?

Translation: do you understand what it takes to be an engineer?

This question serves two purposes: to check you know what key skills make a good engineer, and to test whether you fit the bill.

Start by describing the ‘perfect engineer’ – using your knowledge of the role, as well as the job description (which you would’ve read thoroughly before your interview), alongside your chosen specialism and personal experience in the field.

Then, explain how you know these skills are important for someone working in engineering – using your own experiences as an example.

That way, you’ll show you’re a good fit, whilst backing up your answer at the same time.

Right answer: Obviously excellent problem solving and communication skills are absolutely vital for any engineer. But I think good judgement is also really underrated. Even with all the right training, you need the experience to tell exactly what’s needed for a project – not to mention have the bravery to ask for help or go back to the drawing board when things aren’t working.

Wrong answer: I’d probably say good listening skills. And, um…sorry, what was the question again?   

 

How do you ensure you don’t make mistakes on the job?

Sloppy work is a common bugbear for many engineering employers – but it doesn’t mean mistakes don’t happen.

Depending on the type and size of the projects you’ve dealt with in the past, your answer should primarily demonstrate your attention to detail, knowledge of practical engineering processes, and project management skills.

Additionally, placing an emphasis on the importance of good communication is a great way to show your understanding of what makes a project work.

Because whether it’s between team members or clients, how well you use your interpersonal skills can often be the difference between a successful project and one that doesn’t go quite to plan.

To really add value to your answer, always try and provide real examples of how utilising these abilities have helped you produce work at a high standard.

Right answer: I think communication is essential to avoid mistakes, and can even help to spot them. During a recent project, I was having trouble understanding the feasibility of a technical drawing I’d been sent to work on. And because email chains can often get messy and confusing, I set up a face-to-face meeting with the team to talk it through. Not only did we manage to get on the same page, we also ended up catching a mistake, potentially saving hundreds of hours of the team’s time.

Wrong answer: Why, what have you heard?

 

What’s your favourite/least favourite part of engineering?

Aside from testing whether you have a genuine interest in the role and what it entails, this question is also asked to judge your attitude to work.

The best answers will be honest opinions based on your strengths and weaknesses – but will also focus on your willingness to grow, learn, and adapt, to make the tasks you don’t like become tasks you do like.

And although you shouldn’t say there’s absolutely nothing you don’t like about engineering, you should also be careful with what you complain about – especially if the duties you like least happen to make up a large part of the role.

Always read the job description thoroughly before the interview – and you’ll be able to make sure your likes and dislikes are in line with the role, as well as ensure it’s actually the right position for you.

And if all else fails, a little humour can go a long way…

Right answer: My favourite part has to be the practical elements of the job, especially when I solve problems hands-on to make a machine work. I’m not always a massive fan of the tedious paperwork side of things, but I also understand that it’s key to the smooth running of any project. You can’t have one without the other.

Wrong answer: Oh, do people actually enjoy work?

 

Give me an example of a time you’ve combined practical and technical ability in a project

Being a successful engineer is all about having a good combination of technical knowledge and practical experience – and this question is asked to gain proof of this.

As with any other type of competency question, the key to a successful answer is to back yourself up with a tangible example, and talk about how displaying these skills led to a successful piece of work.

Examples could include anything from using your technical knowledge from your degree or apprenticeship, to applying them practically in a work experience placement.

Also, if possible, try and talk about relevant projects you’ve been involved in that may be beneficial to the role you’re applying for.

Just always avoid the temptation to lie. An imperfect answer is always better than being fake.

Right answer: Learning about risk management was part of my degree, but I never had to use it until a couple of months ago – when a plot of commercial land my team and I were working on was damaged by large-scale flooding. I had to put my skills into practice fast, and learn as I went along. Eventually, we fixed the problem, and our quick thinking was even able to save the company money.

Wrong answer: Do guesstimates count?

 

Need more interview questions?

Not sure any of these questions will come up? Don’t panic. We’ve got plenty more…

Buy James Reed’s new book: Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again and start loving Mondays now.

 

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