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Essential engineering interview preparation

Engineering interview questions and how to answer

Take a look at these common engineering interview questions and our tips on how to answer them, plus what questions you could ask recruiters when the tables are turned.

If you're applying for an engineering internship, graduate scheme or entry-level job, you’ll face at least one interview as part of an engineering employer’s recruitment process. You may be interviewed by one or more members of the HR team, senior members of the engineering team you’d be joining or a mixture of both.

As well as questions about your reasons for applying to the role and the employer in question, engineering recruiters will be assessing your potential in two areas that are crucial to any engineering role: technical expertise, plus people skills and the ability to work in a team of engineers and with clients. Engineers may be asked to perform feats of fantastic technical prowess, but it will be as as part of a Justice League rather than as a solo engineering superhero.

Types of engineering interviews

  • Telephone interviews are often used as a first interview as part of the screening process. These are typically conducted by HR staff to test your motivation for applying and to get a better idea of who you are.
  • Many engineering firms use video interviews instead. This could be a live conversation with a recruiter over a platform such as Skype or a recorded interview, where you will be given pre-set questions and asked to record your answers within a time limit.
  • A face-to-face interview is usually the final interview and, if you are asked to attend an assessment centre, the interview will often form part of this day.
  • You may be asked technical questions as part of a wider interview, but several engineering employers’ recruitment processes include a separate technical interview with experienced engineers. To help you prepare, read our advice on technical interviews for graduate engineering jobs.

What questions will I be asked at an engineering job interview?

Inevitably, your interview questions will cover three themes:

  • Why should we employ you?
  • What interests you about the role?
  • Why have you chosen to apply to this engineering firm?

Employers will want to find out whether you possess the key strengths and skills that they look for in their engineers – and whether you share their company values. You can usually find out what these are by looking on the job description (if there is one) and the employer’s graduate careers website.

Questions you may be asked include:

  • Motivation questions, such as ‘Why do you want to work in the automotive/marine/power generation industry?’, ‘Why do you want to work for this company?’ and ‘Why have you applied for this job role eg electronic engineering/quality assurance/project management?’.
  • Competency-based questions, which usually start with something along the lines of ‘Tell me about a time when…’ and require you to give an example of when you have demonstrated the skill the interviewer is asking for, such as teamwork, problem solving, resilience, organisation or leadership.
  • Scenario-based questions, which are based on how you think you would act in a workplace scenario and usually start with ‘What would you do if…?’. These questions are designed to see how you think and how you would approach a situation – and whether this is in line with the company’s values and strategy.
  • Strengths-based questions, which aim to assess what you are good at and what motivates you. Examples of questions include ‘How do you judge success?’ and ‘Do you find deadlines motivating or inspiring?’. While these questions don’t require you to, it’s still good to draw on examples from your previous experience.

Past interview questions asked by engineering employers

  • What would you do if a project fell behind schedule and it was your fault? – Ten10
  • Tell us about your proudest achievement/tell us about a time when you managed a project – Ten10
  • What is one current issue facing the automotive industry? – Nissan
  • What sorts of problems do you think this company comes across? – MBDA
  • How do you cope with strict deadlines when there is not adequate time to make everything perfect? – Alstom
  • Part of the job requires making reports and general paper work. How do you cope with this part of the job that is generally the most boring? – Alstom
  • You are designing a software system for one of the Jaguars. Who is your customer? – Jaguar Land Rover

Head to our tricky interview questions section for more examples of questions you might be asked - and read our advice on how to answer each question.

How to prepare for these interview questions

  • Do some thorough research into the organisation, using our engineering employer research checklist to help you.
  • Make sure you know what is going on in the industry you're applying to (eg the aerospace or construction industry) and any issues it is currently facing or may face in the near future.
  • Re-read the job description, paying close attention to what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis, the training you’ll receive and the core skills you’ll need. If there are any graduate engineer profiles on the employer’s website or on its employer hub here on TARGETjobs, take a look at those too.
  • Use all of this research to help put into words what interests you about the job, the employer and the industry you’re applying to.
  • Think about what experiences you would like to talk about in your interview. It’s good to draw on a variety of experience, from engineering work experience to your degree, part-time job and extracurricular activities. Reading over your CV is a good place to start.
  • Think about your career ambitions too, both in the immediate and distant future, as you may be asked a question on this. What sorts of projects would you like to work on? Do you want to achieve chartership? Do you see yourself taking on a management role?

Likely engineering interview question 1: ’Why should we employ you?’

What the engineering recruiter is really asking: ‘What makes you the best fit for this role?’

Tip for answering: this question will require you to know what the ‘best fit’ for the role is. Basically, what skills and experience does the role require? You’ll need to show that you possess these by talking about your past experiences. Problem solving, for example, is a key skill for engineers. When have you thought of – and implemented – a solution?

Likely engineering interview question 2: ‘What interests you about the role?’

What the engineering recruiter is really asking: ‘How much do you know about this engineering graduate job or internship?’

Tip for answering: research, research, research! Look at the job description and profiles of graduates or interns who’ve done similar roles. Pinpoint what it is about the role that appeals to you, whether that’s the departments you’ll get to rotate between, the projects you’ll work on or the day-to-day tasks you’re likely to be given. Tie this in with evidence of your own skills and interests – for example, a work placement or project you’ve completed, or a module you particularly enjoyed. For example, ‘Project X appeals to me because…and I know I would be good at this because I recently did Y, which involved Z.’

Likely engineering interview question 3: ’Why have you chosen to apply to us?’

What the engineering recruiter is really asking: again, it’s ‘How much have you researched us?’ but it’s also ‘Do you genuinely want to work for us?’ and ‘How long will you stick around?’

Tip for answering: Similarly to question number two, show that you’re interested enough in the company to have done your research. For example, you might want to name a couple of its projects or other business activities that interest you. Again, link back to yourself where possible. This could also be a good opportunity to show that you share the employer’s stated values. Finally, employers want to know that you’re not planning on leaving at the first opportunity you get, so you should also show that your career goals and training and development needs align with the employer and what it’s offering.

What questions should I ask at my engineering job interview?

At the end of your interview you’ll usually be given an opportunity to ask a few questions, so it’s a good idea to have some up your sleeve. Don’t ask questions that have been answered during the interview and choose questions that you actually want to know the answer to – and that demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position.

Questions you could ask include:

  • How did you start at this organisation?
  • How has your career developed since then?
  • Could you tell me a bit more about the training I’ll receive? Will there be opportunities to develop skills outside of my immediate technical area?

Note that these questions are about information that isn’t easily obtainable. Don’t ask questions for which the unspoken answer is, ‘You wouldn’t have asked that if you’d done your research.’