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How to Interview Engineers + 20 Must-Ask Questions

Learn 8 tips on how to interview engineers and 20 of the must-ask questions for a productive engineering interview!

By Kate Dagher  •   October 4, 2022  •   8 min read

How to interview engineers differs greatly based on the exact position you’re hiring for, what kinds of projects you and your team are working on, your company culture, and your communication expectations. Because there are many different types of engineers, along with a plethora of sub-types, creating effective interview questions can be a challenge. 

Like many other types of interviews, you want to gain an understanding of a candidate’s soft skills and personality as well as their technical and developer skills. There is somewhat of an art to weaving in a way to evaluate interpersonal communications, teamwork abilities, and leadership skills into more technical, engineering questions. This article will cover the importance of hosting a good interview and some important tips for interviewing engineers, provide you with some interview questions for engineers, and also provide you with a free interview template. 

The importance of hosting a good interview 

Hosting a good interview is important for many reasons. First, interviews motivate leaders and HR to clearly identify what is the gap that needs to be filled, which kinds of specific skills are required, which projects require attention, and what the expectations of the role are. In this way, hosting interviews allows companies to gain a strong insight into what the talent pool looks like at the moment, what kinds of skill sets are out there, and which ones would be the best suited for the particular opening within the organization. Moreover, you can identify candidates that are in strong alignment with your company’s culture and values. 

Host productive engineering interviews

Increase productivity during your engineering interviews with a collaborative agenda so that both the interviewer and interviewee can remember what was discussed. Try using a tool like Fellow!

8 tips for interviewing engineers

1Decide which skills you’re looking for

First, clearly identify which kinds of skills you’re looking for. In truth, there’s not a specific set of skills that make a developer a good one. Diverse skill sets exist and some developers will be better suited for a certain role than other candidates. Ask yourself what the purpose of the role is, whether you need technical problems solved or products built, whether you want someone who uses a particular technology or would rather someone who can learn specific programming on the job. You should also think about soft skills if they are important to the position. Take your time and be intentional about exactly which skills you’re seeking. 

2Ask every candidate the same questions

It may seem inauthentic to ask each candidate the exact same questions, but at the end of the day, the whole point of hosting multiple interviews is to compare candidates and determine who is the best fit. There’s no real reason you should be asking different candidates different questions for the same job. Doing so will simply complicate the interviewing and hiring process because you’ll be taking on the task of comparing circles with squares. Find a way to standardize your interview questions and identify a solid means for scoring and evaluating responses in a fair manner. In short, to run good interviews, you need to be consistent. 

3Ask open-ended questions

Asking open-ended questions is an excellent way to delve into the experience of your candidates. Because simple “yes” and “no” responses aren’t possible with this type of question, individuals need to describe, explain, and elaborate responses, which gives the interviewer a greater opportunity to evaluate communication skills, while perhaps asking engineering or more technical questions. Open-ended questions can even be elaborated on further by asking questions like, “can you explain that a little more?”, “what do you think the most challenging part of that project was?”, or “how did that experience allow you to get to where you are today?”.

4Think about the big five personality traits

Many of us have heard about the infamous big five personality traits. This phenomenon comes from psychological trait theory, first pioneered by D.W. Fiske and later elaborated upon by many researchers, most notably McCrae & Costa. This theory of personality introduces a way of grouping personality traits into major categories. They include: 

  1. Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
  2. Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless)
  3. Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
  4. Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. critical/rational)
  5. Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident)

None of these traits are wrong or right—the desired outcome simply depends on what kind of personality you think would be best suited for the position that you’re trying to fill. 

5Test the candidate’s judgment 

Testing a candidate’s judgment is another effective component of interviewing engineers. Regarding judgment, you want potential employees to have strong strategic intuition and the ability to acknowledge that strategy is an essential part of any engineering job. Even if a candidate can’t necessarily give specific advice on creating a strategy, they should be able to communicate that they would choose to go to a leader in their team for direction. It’s important to ask candidates judgment-related questions during their interview—for example, “tell me about a time where you had to make an independent decision?” or “what are a few of your weaknesses?”

6Avoid being biased

Do everything that you can to avoid being biased. It’s easy to read an impressive resume with someone who has graduated from an elite college and has experience at massively successful companies and favor this candidate. Often though, just because someone looks impressive on paper, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be a good fit for the job. Don’t rely on these credentials too much because you’ll often miss out on exquisite talent that may not shine on paper. If you let credentials sway your final hiring decision, you’ll often be missing the opportunity to focus on what is really essential to the position, including specific skills, knowledge of particular technologies, software, code, and of course, personality and the overall fit for the role. Typically, an eagerness to learn can also contribute to a person’s potential and suitability for a job, which is another thing to which you should pay attention. 

7Avoid hard questions

The point of an interview is not to make it impossible for candidates to succeed. When a question is extremely complex or difficult, a significant amount of time needs to be spent determining the answer to it, and the amount of information provided becomes impacted by the nature of the question. What’s more, many questions aren’t simply correct or incorrect—responses should also be evaluated on the process that was selected to get to the answer and how easily the candidate was able to come up with and communicate that process. In truth, you want your questions to be ranked “easier” if questions fall on a continuum of “easy” to “difficult.” You’ll get more in-depth responses that can be built on and explained in this way. For reference, your other team members should be able to respond to the most difficult question of the interview in 15 minutes or less. 

8Evaluate the candidate’s talent 

Keeping in mind that questions shouldn’t take individuals more than about 15 minutes to answer, you can set up particular interview questions that help you to evaluate the candidate’s talent. Make sure that you develop a question that tests a particular skill you’re looking for your future employee to have. Whether this entails coding, problem-solving, or providing a feasible technical strategy, choose something that will truly highlight which candidates have a likely chance of succeeding in the role that you’re seeking to fill. Again, in evaluating tests or exercises in an interview, don’t necessarily look for correctness but for the process behind the candidate’s work. This way, if a candidate does not have a core skill that you’re seeking, it becomes an easy process of elimination. 

20 effective engineering interview questions

  1. How do you judge whether a new idea, trend or technology is a passing fad or a long-term opportunity? 
  2. What is the most challenging engineering project that you have been involved with during the past year? 
  3. How do you stay current with the latest technology?
  4. Describe a time you had to work on a team and something didn’t go well. What would you do differently?
  5. What checks and balances do you use to make sure that you don’t make mistakes?
  6. What is the most challenging written technical report or presentation that you’ve had to complete and why was it the most challenging? 
  7. What engineering skills have you learned or improved upon in the past six months?
  8. In what instances have you demonstrated leadership skills in engineering, and how would you describe your leadership style?
  9. What processes have you helped develop or singularly created that enhanced engineering performance capabilities?
  10. Have you been involved in cost reductions within the engineering department? Have you shaved expenses or been asked to work within a slashed budget?
  11. What software packages are you familiar with?
  12. Why did you select [type of engineering] engineering as your field of major?
  13. What strengths do you have that make you a good engineer?
  14. What’s your most successful engineering project?
  15. What are the differences between Corsim and Vissim models?
  16. Can you explain a time you had to use logic to solve an engineering problem?
  17. Have you ever had an experience with a difficult client, employer, or employee? How did you handle the situation?
  18. What is the process you use for writing a piece of code, from requirements to delivery?
  19. Why are you interested in this role? Why are you interested in working at this company?
  20. Where would you like to be in your engineering career five years from now?

Free interview template 

If you’re looking to hire an engineering manager, this is an excellent interview template that you can use to ensure that you are hiring the perfect fit. 

Parting advice 

There is no set way to interview engineers because this is a role where individuals acquire very different skills and experiences. Common questions for generic interviews won’t necessarily help you identify the engineering talent that you’re looking for, because you want to ensure that someone has both the technical and soft skills that you seek. Preparing an effective engineering interview requires time, attention, and patience. Developing the right questions could make the difference between hiring the right or the wrong fit for the job.

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