Engineering employers want to check out your technical abilities, drawing out your experience and knowledge to see how well you would match the role and how easily you can get your head around unfamiliar scenarios. Expect some questions to make sure you really do have the experience and background you've claimed on your CV.
The most likely technical assessment is a technical interview but you could also face:
- a short test
- a presentation
- some technical questions within a more general interview
- a technical exercise, for example a case study group exercise at an assessment centre
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What form do technical interviews take?
This depends on the employer but recruiters will typically be testing your technical competence and your basic understand of engineering principles.They will also be gauging how well you can explain technical concepts that you're familiar with, but your audience is not. Many technical interviews will start off in familiar territory, asking you about modules and projects from your degree that you found interesting or that relate directly to the organisation's work. It's essential to do some preparation, for example refamiliarising yourself with your first-year work.
Brush up on your basic engineering knowledge, particularly subjects that tie in with the recruiter's line of business, as you may be tested on this. It's definitely worth trying to get an insight into the employer's activities and any issues that may be of concern to the industry. Find out what sort of work it does and anticipate from that the sorts of basic questions you might be asked relating to its work. For example, an employer that constructs oil and gas facilities might ask you questions about steel structures, so you should brush up on your general knowledge about steel.
This can then lead on to more detailed questions where the recruiter will be trying to see how you apply your engineering background to something you may not be immediately familiar with.
Examples of engineering technical interview questions
Inside Buzz surveyed graduate engineers about the questions they were asked in engineering interviews and graduate engineers from nucleargraduates, Metaswitch Networks and UK Power Networks told us that they were asked the following questions in their technical interviews:
- What do you know about this industry?
- How would you explain a complicated technical concept to a non-technical person?
- Describe your degree subject as if to a five year old in three minutes
- How would your degree subject contribute to the production of Mars bars?
- What are the issues of installing underground cables?
- What is the minimum number of cuts needed to split a cube into 27 smaller cubes?
- Can you explain this jet engine/PWR reactor/geology profile to me?
Head to Inside Buzz to read all of the graduate engineers' reviews of their employers and get more interview tips and insights.
What other things might a technical interview involve?
One of my favourite techniques is to bring with me an engineering drawing of one of our products and ask the candidate to try to explain the basic components and operation around the drawing,' explains one engineering graduate recruiter. This isn't as daunting as it sounds and can often prove advantageous for candidates who prefer a hands on, practical approach.
Do technical interviewers only look for the right answers?
In many ways, a technical interview focuses on how you communicate technical ideas and information rather than whether you know everything. It's perfectly alright to ask for further clarification if you need it and, if a sketch or diagram would help you explain something, ask for a piece of paper. Engineering projects rarely present textbook problems so your future employer wants to see how you approach problem solving.
How can a candidate recover if they get stuck?
Don't let it phase you. Pause, perhaps ask the interviewers some questions, and try to work things out. If you don't know the answer, honesty is the best policy. 'There may be times when we don't expect a candidate to know the answer to a question,' says Nims Mepani, the graduate recruitment and programme manager at Bechtel. 'Don't try and guess or make things up. It's better to own up if you aren't sure.'
Can a candidate ask their own questions in a technical interview?
Approached in the right way, a technical interview can be a valuable experience, allowing you to learn about employers as well as the other way around. Most interviewers are happy for candidates to ask questions about how the company works and have a two-way conversation. If you're lucky enough to receive more than one job offer, this could help you decide which to accept. Being proactive and asking questions also tends to make a good impression on employers – it shows that you are thinking seriously about whether the role will suit you, and that you are not a wallflower.
Top tips for technical interviews
- avoid jargon and acronyms
- when talking about your experience and achievements, focus on your personal contribution
- listen to the questions properly before diving into your answer