Technical interviews for graduate engineering jobs

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:39

Use our example technical interview questions and our top tips to help you prepare for this stage of the recruitment process and secure an engineering internship or graduate job with confidence.

An engineering candidate at a technical interview, facing two interviews

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 technical, focuses 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

You can practise interviews using the resources available from our partners Shortlist.Me .

What happens in a technical interview?

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

Graduate interview candidates who have shared their experiences on review websites say that their technical interview questions typically fell into three camps: questions about their degree project work; questions about basic scientific principles relating to the role they were applying for; and questions about a diagram or model placed in front of them. The technical questions they were asked include:

  • 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 around 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?
  • What is the difference between stress and pressure?
  • Which is more elastic: rubber, mild steel, cast steel or plastic?
  • How do you calculate engine torque?
  • How is bending moment calculated?

You may be asked to undertake some basic calculations or, as mentioned, you may be given a diagram. One recruiter tells us that they like to bring a drawing of one of their products and ask the candidate to explain the basic components. They tell us that this is often advantageous for candidates who prefer a hands-on, practical approach.

If you are applying for a civil, structural or building services engineering role – or another engineering role connected to the built environment – check out our list of technical interview questions for construction engineers .

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, use a piece of paper (you can bring some paper or ask for some). 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 faze 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.

In summary: top tips for technical interviews

  • Listen to each question properly before diving into your answer and don’t be afraid to wither ask the interviewer to repeat the question or to confirm that you have understood it correctly.
  • Bring a pen and paper with you – you can use it to make notes on the questions or to sketch a diagram to help explain your answer.
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • When talking about your experience and achievements, focus on your personal contribution.

Next: search graduate jobs

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