“Good engineers aren’t necessarily good interviewees,” says Ken Pohl, an engineering consultant in Tampa Bay, Fla.
By Victoria Burt
“Most standard questions get a rehearsed answer and you really don’t learn anything about the engineer, or a blank stare and stutter, which usually means the engineer doesn’t interview frequently.” With that in mind, we asked managers who hire engineers to tell us their favorite interview questions and the thinking behind them.
Give an example of your most challenging design problem. “I am looking at the complexity of the specifications to understand the level of responsibility the individual has had, as well as the scope of the individual’s understanding,” says Bob Autrey, senior mechanical engineer, Knappco-Civacon. “I want to understand the various options he or she considered to solve the problem, the types of manufacturing processes involved, and if such things as ergonomics, ease of assembly, and standard cost considerations went into the final design solution. This also gives some insight into the project leadership the individual worked under and how much mentoring might be necessary in the future.”
Autrey also wants to know about personal involvement in projects. “Can the engineer effectively communicate proposed solutions in front of upper management? Do they have hands-on experience with the design, meaning have they built prototypes and tested them, or was this delegated to others? I believe engineers should evaluate designs by personally interacting with their own creation. I prefer engineers who have also prepared detailed drawings. This gives me an opportunity to see how well an engineer can communicate the intent of the design to others for manufacturing or assembly. A sense of ownership on the part of the engineer is reflected in the level of his involvement in all areas of the project.”
For upper-level engineers, Autrey asks how they have, or would, handle poorly performing engineers who are slowing down the project. He wants to know if “the individual only sees the project goals, or can they look at and understand people and know how to motivate others to do their best. Threats of losing a job have not proven to be long-term motivators. There are usually early signs of problems for those who look at engineers as people and are not myopically focused on the project,” he adds.
How is an engineer different from a technician? Ajay Sadhuneni, a certified Global Professional in Human Resources says “an engineer should be able to design effective technology-based solutions to address present and future needs of humanity. A technician solves problems that have known answers.” He also asks candidates to describe assignments that might be called innovative, and why are they considered “innovative.”
Tell me about a time when you and a team member disagreed on how to solve a problem and walk me through the steps you took to resolve that disagreement. “The answer gives me good evidence of how well they resolve conflicts and whether or not they work well with others,” says Tom Adam, senior recruiting manager, . “I’ll get evidence as to hoLevi Strauss & Cow well they go about persuading and influencing others, as well as the extent to which they’re willing to change their own mind when presented with compelling evidence or reasoning to the contrary,” he adds. Tell me about an accomplishment that affected the business as a whole. What did you do and how did it affect the business? Adam says he finds that “the best employees, engineers or otherwise, are those that see beyond the walls of their own cubicle or office and know what role their work plays in the business itself.”
Would you prefer to work on a design for brand new technology or improve an existing engineering system? “There’s no right answer,” admits Michael Weiner Teichberg, human-resources recruiter at Bay Cove Human Services, Boston. “The response tells you who the person behind the engineer is.”
What do you like the most about your current job? The best answer according to Pat Meehan, Author of “Career of a Lifetime” would sound like this: “I really like the product my company makes, as well as the manner in which it is made. There is a lot of teamwork and heavy emphasis on quality and employee safety. And I really know what is expected of me — which reminds me, in your opinion, if I started this position on Monday morning, what are the top two or three elements of this job that I should bring to the table in order to do it correctly?” Meehan says the question at the end of the answer broke through the written job description and keyed in on what the interviewer thinks are the most important. “Now the engineer can hammer away at these two or three items throughout the rest of the interview,” he adds. “He also painted a picture in the interviewer’s mind of him coming to work on Monday morning.”