Hiring the right engineers can make or break a project. This highly technical role requires creativity, problem-solving and clear communication to be able to realise success. As this is a technical field, you can use qualifications to identify the best candidates, but so many skills aren’t made obvious from a CV or a cover letter.
This leaves the interviewer with the unique challenge of trying to extract the information they need from the candidate. Good interview technique is not something that comes naturally to everyone, but you can learn to be a more effective interviewer. The best way you can improve your interview technique is through effective preparation, and this means choosing your questions in advance.
In this guide, we have pulled together 20 perfect interview questions to ask civil engineering role candidates. These questions will help you to dig deep into their education and experience to learn more about the candidate. Discover their key strengths and weaknesses with these 20 interview questions.
This question requires the candidate to delve into their work history. If their biggest challenge to date would be considered a minor blip for the role they are applying for, you might question if they are ready for the next step. However, candidates may surprise you with an incredible challenge that would put them right at home in the role. This is an excellent question to get an idea for the scope of their experience.
Engineers need to be time-conscious perfectionists. This is a difficult balance to strike, but the best engineers will have systems in place to help them manage their time more efficiently. If a candidate claims they don’t need time management techniques, you might wonder if they have ever been in a role that is time-sensitive. And if the candidate is actively telling you that they struggle with time management, you might wonder if they are the right person for the role. Look for a balance between someone who is aware this is a necessity for the role, and someone who takes steps to ensure time management never presents an issue.
A good engineer never stops learning, because the engineering sector never stops changing. The best engineers read widely about their sector and enjoy keeping up to date with the latest developments through trade publications, blogs, social media and in-person events. You can learn a lot about a candidate by how much additional reading they do outside of work hours. It’s very easy for candidates to over-embellish their avocational pursuits.
While engineering might be a technical and visual role, you need candidates that can communicate effectively. Written communication is often essential to keep key stakeholders in the loop on big developments. A candidate who can take all of this in their stride will be an asset to your organisation. Being able to communicate complex engineering concepts to a non-engineering audience is an essential skill to look for. Written skills aren’t essential for an engineering role, but they certainly are very desirable. If you have the choice between two equally qualified candidates, but one can create compelling and persuasive reports, it’s fairly easy to guess which one more employers would hire.
Engineering requires strong IT skills across computer-aided design, data processing and documentation. You need candidates that can hit the ground running and take the introduction of new systems in their stride. By asking when the candidate last learned how to use a new software package, you can discover if they are adaptable to new technology or more set in their ways. When a candidate has been in the same role for a long time, there may be no need for them to learn new software packages. Cross-check their answer with their work experience to determine if their answer fits this profile.
Candidates aren’t always given the opportunity to talk about their studies, but this can reveal a lot about their passion for engineering and why they got into the sector in the first place. By giving the candidate the chance to talk in detail about their studies, you can learn a lot about their motivation and wider interests. This question is the ideal opportunity to allow recent graduates to talk with confidence and passion about the engineering profession. The candidate might not have a lot of work experience, but their education will still be fresh in their mind.
Engineers should have systems of checks in place that allow them to catch mistakes. This could mean multiple checkpoints, asking for a second opinion, or reviewing with fresh eyes. This question will determine how self-aware the candidate is about their infallibility. Every candidate wants to be able to say that they don’t make mistakes, but only the best candidates will be able to outline the system of checks they have in place to catch mistakes before they become problematic.
Engineers often need to work in large teams, bringing together conflicting personalities and motivations. This can quickly lead to conflict, especially in tense situations where a deadline is looming. Learning how candidates recognise and diffuse conflict is often very telling. Pay close attention to their definition of conflict, as this can tell you a lot about their work personality.
Ask for an example of a time they have faced conflict at work if you want to get an idea of what counts as conflict. Those at the start of their career might be able to speak about conflict they have witnessed on placement or during university projects.
Some people hate giving presentations, but everyone should have a method for getting through them, despite this distaste for the task. Engineering is a complex field, and you need candidates who are effective in their communication. Effective communicators will be excellent with clients, as they will be able to break down complex concepts into actionable insight. A candidate who is an effective verbal communicator will also be an asset to your company, as they will be able to work effectively with other departments.
If you are looking for a client-facing candidate, you need to know that they will be able to handle anything a client throws at them. Some engineers buckle under the slightest demands, but others will know how to keep things on track. Keeping clients happy is often a part of the job for engineers, even if this means frustrating last-minute changes. Being able to stay cool and professional in the face of difficult demands is an excellent skill to look for.
This is another question that looks for some self-awareness in the candidates. You’re not asking why they are a good engineer, you’re looking for some understanding that they know what it takes to be good at the job. Engineering is a diverse and complex field, with many different branches and disciplines. By asking this question, you can learn more about the candidate’s understanding of the sector and what they think they need to have for success.
Engineers should always be learning and developing their skills. Whether this is in technical report writing or presentations. Candidates who can recognise their weaknesses and act on them are the ones that are worth holding on to. Candidates who can’t see their own weaknesses are unlikely to ask if there is a budget for training and development.
Many degree programmes will include a year-long placement as part of the course. This can be an excellent way to get some on-the-job experience and explore different avenues of engineering. Students will choose their placement for many reasons. Some are interested in the sector, and some will simply opt for the most convenient placement.
To be clear, it doesn’t matter why the candidate chose the company, what you’re looking for with this answer are self-awareness and motivation. Did the candidate make an active choice for a company, or was the choice passive and chosen for them. Those who make an active choice are often the most passionate about their work. But those who go where they are sent could be said to be more open-minded and curious.
Does the candidate thrive on continual feedback, or do they prefer to be left alone? Engineers often don’t have a choice in the matter, as engineering can be such a collaborative effort, but it’s interesting to learn what a candidate is looking for in a manager. Some will thrive on targets and milestones, while others will take pride in the day-to-day tasks. This question can tell you a lot about how a candidate will fit into your team.
Feedback is often an unavoidable aspect of the engineering sector. Try as you might, you can’t avoid it. How candidates handle positive and negative feedback can be very telling about their personality and how they will work with your team.
This is always a fun question that will get the candidate thinking. You can learn a lot about a candidate’s understanding of the profession and the skills that they believe are essential. They might tell you about a time they used logic to solve an escape room riddle, or how they modified a BBQ to make a charcoal smoker. The question isn’t about the grand problem they solved outside of work, it’s about understanding that engineering problems are all around us.
This question is more effective than the classic “what are your weaknesses” question because the candidate isn’t trained to answer it. Every candidate will tell you a weakness that is really a strength, but this just lets you know they prepared for the interview. The best candidates know where their weaknesses are. If the candidate struggles to think of anything, you could question if they are really aware of what it takes to be an effective engineer. Even an engineer at the height of their career will be able to tell you their blindspot.
Staying with one company for your entire career is a lot less common than it used to be. It’s normal for people to move jobs, particularly among younger candidates. By asking about their last role, you can learn a lot about what was missing and what they are looking for in their next role. If the candidate left their last role because they didn’t like working shifts on weekends, you can save yourself a lot of time and disappointment if you need someone who is happy to work weekends.
Candidates with security clearance are typically more experienced and willing to undergo additional training. Getting security clearance can be a complicated process, so you will know that this individual values their professional development. If a candidate doesn’t have security clearance, probe further to find out why. Perhaps they have never been given the opportunity, or perhaps they decided not to take on the additional paperwork.
This question tests the candidate’s understanding of the job description and what will be expected of the candidate. Ask them to focus on the role, not on the company. It will quickly become clear if this is simply a stepping stone to another role. If they are hoping to grow with your company, this is excellent news as you could be hiring a switched-on and ambitious candidate. But if they are simply looking for a stop-gap role before something better comes along, this will also be pretty obvious.