How to prepare for your first engineering job interview

The key to being successful in any job interview is being prepared: researching the company, practising answers and working out what you’re going to wear.

But if you’re applying for your first engineering job you’re likely to face some challenges that other applicants in other professions may not encounter.

Much like your CV, you should create a positive first impression of yourself as an engineering professional, the interview process should reinforce your overall value to a potential employer and enable them to see you as a productive member of their team.

Here are the things you should remember to do when getting ready for your first engineering interview:

Know Your Skills and Accomplishments
Thoroughly review your CV and know everything that it includes. Don’t get caught by surprise by an interviewer’s question about something that you forgot was there. Make sure that you’re prepared to discuss each bullet point regarding your education, accomplishments, and experience.

Learn about Your Potential New Employer
Research the company. Thoroughly review their website. Understand where they fit in their industry or market sector. What engineering challenges might they be facing? Review online press releases in which the firm is mentioned, or company officials are quoted on an issue. This can yield useful talking points for certain industries, and across technical disciplines. Not all companies will have lots of information available, but research as much as you can.

Research your Interviewer
Try to learn in advance the names of people with whom you will be interviewing. Research their background via Google or professional sites like LinkedIn to seek common professional connections such as education, work history, or colleagues. Knowing their professional background and interests will help you prepare your own questions and anticipate potential lines of questioning.

Prepare Your References
Prepare an updated list of professional references, including past managers and supervisors, and have it ready for your interview. Make sure you have secured permission from each reference.

Plan Key Talking Points
Using the requirements and skills listed in the employer’s job description as your guide, plan some key talking points and relevant examples to use during the interview.

Examples of Common Engineering Interview Questions:

Project-based questions – Engineering interviews often involve questions that require you to discuss your specific role on a project, and the result. What did you accomplish?

Problem-solving questions – Engineers of all disciplines are often asked, “How would you approach this problem”, since hiring managers need to know that you can apply your technical knowledge in a reasonable and methodical manner. It is important to realise that there often isn’t a definitively right or wrong answer. Your interviewer simply wants to gain a sense of how you think and observe how you communicate your answer.

Consider How You Will Sell Yourself
Prior to the interview,  consider which of your unique traits and accomplishments you could discuss that could help the potential employer to overcome their firm’s challenges.

Dress Professionally
Men should wear a suit, or at the very least a suit jacket and tie with trousers. Women should wear a suit, conservative dress, or blouse/sweater and trousers. Even though today’s work environments are generally more casual than in the past, most companies still expect that candidates will dress smart for an interview as it shows you are a mature professional.


DURING Your Interview:

Shake Hands with Your Interviewer
Smile, make solid eye contact, and shake hands with your interviewer. This will be easier if you try to think of them as a professional colleague with whom you are excited to have a conversation.

Be Specific About Your Contributions and Results
Focus on your own contributions or results, and don’t use language such as “we” or “our team” excessively during the interview. Interviewers will be most interested in your specific role and accomplishments. You can explain that you were part of a team, but be sure to highlight your own specifics.

Ask Questions
Asking questions helps to demonstrate your interest in the position and company. Show that you’ve taken time to research the company. Don’t just ask questions easily answered by a cursory look at the website.

Don’t Ask About Compensation and Benefits
Compensation and benefits are topics generally reserved for a second or follow-up interview. Instead, consider asking your interviewer about opportunities for advancement, and career paths that can provide professional growth within their business.

AFTER Your Interview:

Reflect on the Conversation
While it’s fresh in your mind, take time to reflect on what went well, and things you believe could be improved about your conversation with the hiring manager. Consider following up on any specifics that were discussed, should you gain the opportunity for a second interview.

In conclusion, for all this preparation you need to do, it’s also important to remember that companies want to find out about YOU, not what you can recite from memory. This means you shouldn’t try to pretend to be something you’re not and you should try to relax.

If you do suffer from excessive nerves, try to remember that interviewers aren’t trying to catch you out: they want the interview to go well too.