Skills and competencies

What skills do engineering employers look for?

9 Apr 2024, 11:49

You need to show engineering recruiters that you have the skills they’re looking for. These five competencies are at the top of engineering employer's wish lists.


Different employers prioritise different competencies so, if you’re applying to multiple companies, don’t send a generic application to all of them.

When targetjobs attended the ‘spotlight on aerospace’ event at the University of Nottingham we got to hear from engineering professionals about what they want to see in candidates. Here are a few skills they mentioned and why they are important for an aspiring engineer.


As an engineer with any employer, you’re unlikely to find yourself working in solitary confinement. Bruce Pettit, careers outreach manager at the Royal Air Force, said: ‘Teamwork is an integral part of any career with the RAF. An RAF pilot relies on an engineer’s support. If you’ve got toothache, you’ll need to visit the RAF dentist. To get to the dentist, you’re going to be driven by an RAF driver. The food you eat will be cooked by an RAF chef.’

Employers want to know that you can thrive in a team environment and work well with your colleagues. Somebody who doesn’t work effectively in a group isn’t going to help their company achieve its goals.

To find out more, read our article on how to demonstrate teamwork.

Attention to detail

Accuracy and precision are essential for a career in engineering. Anthony Smeeton, a deputy chief structural engineer at Leonardo Helicopters Division, explained: ‘Mistakes can be costly so attention to detail is very important. When working with a £1m test specimen, you don’t want to get it wrong and have to spend another £1m.’ Failing to pay attention to the finer details can have commercial and social consequences; you could lose your company a lot of money or could even put somebody’s life at risk.


A major part of an engineer’s job is solving problems and developing new solutions. There will always be a demand to keep making things better, faster or stronger. In aerospace, for example, ‘There is a requirement for more efficient engines with less noise and reduced carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions,’ says John Schofield, an engineering associate fellow in the area of fatigue and fracture at Rolls-Royce.

Recruiters are looking for the people who are going to provide the answers to these demands. They want to see that you understand the need for innovation to solve real-life problems.

To find out more, read our article on how to show off your creative streak.


Communication is a big part of working life. Anthony pointed out that ‘Engineers don’t just sit at a desk and do design work all of the time. You will find yourself spending a lot of time in discussion with customers and making decisions.’ You will need to be able to build relationships with both colleagues and clients. Not everybody you speak to will understand the technical jargon so you will also need to be good at conveying your thoughts clearly and simply.

Recruiters will be assessing your communication skills so make sure you send in a well-written application and be polite but confident in person. Be prepared to give examples of when you’ve used your interpersonal skills. For example, maybe you’ve worked in customer service or you spent the summer teaching English abroad.

To find out more, read our article on how to impress recruiters with your communication skills.

Resilience and self-discipline

Bruce emphasised the need for candidates to demonstrate that they are resilient. He explained: ‘Challenges include being away from home and you could be on call 24 hours a day. It can be quite a nomadic lifestyle so you need to be able to be disciplined.’

Recruiters are increasingly looking for resilience: you will need to show that you are determined, perseverant and can pick yourself up after a setback. Before applying, it’s worth thinking about whether you are well-suited to the territory that comes with the job.

Read our article on resilience to find out how you can develop your resilience and how recruiters will assess for it.

Find out exactly what the employer wants

The five skills mentioned above are by no means the only skills sought by engineering employers. Remember that different employers prioritise different competencies so, if you’re applying to multiple companies, don’t send a generic application to all of them.

Before writing your application find out which skills the company values most and tailor your application to reflect this. Start by reading the job description and making note of the core competencies mentioned. It’s also worth taking a look at the company’s website or its specific careers website if it has one. Read up on its vision, values and culture to get a better idea of what the company stands for and what it is looking for in an employee.

Thank you to the University of Nottingham for inviting targetjobs along to their ‘spotlight on aerospace’ event .

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