10 common civil engineering interview questions, with answers!

November 15, 2020

In this guide, we have gathered some of the most common civil engineering interview questions you can expect to be asked.

Heading into a civil engineering interview is much more daunting than most industries. It’s a highly competitive field, and the stakes are very high. Hiring the wrong person for the job could lead to a failed project that costs a company millions. This is why civil engineering jobs have such a tough interview process.

While the interview process may be gruelling, there is no reason you can’t prepare for it like any other interview. Understanding the kind of questions you may be asked and then practising your answers is one of the best ways to feel more prepared for your interview. At Nolan Recruitment, we encourage candidates to practice a range of interview questions so they can be prepared for anything.

In a civil engineering interview, you might be asked questions about your education, your motivation, your interests, or your style of working. You could be asked situational questions, in which you will need to elaborate on your real-world experience. Or you could get highly technical questions. 

None of these questions are intended to trick you. Instead, they are used to reveal key aspects of a candidate's personality and working style to help employers make an informed decision. 

Read on to find out guidance on how to answer these tricky questions.

common civil engineering interview questions

Why did you choose a degree in civil engineering?

This isn’t an aptitude question, but a question about your motivation. Are you from a family of civil engineers? Did you complete an internship that inspired you to pursue this career? Or do you just have a natural aptitude for this sector? 

Dig deep and think about why you are motivated to work in this field. If you’re just in it for the money, that’s fine to admit, provided you should show how the earning potential will sustain your interest.

Alongside questions about your motivation for your career choice, recent graduates may also be asked questions about their time at university. A follow-up question might be: what modules did you enjoy studying, or which did you find the most challenging? Run through your old university notes to jog your memory, as this will be easier than trying to think of something on the spot.

Explain a situation where you solved a technical problem

It might sound like an invitation to share your ingenuity outside of your professional work, but make no mistake, this is a question about your professional aptitude. Problem-solving is a key part of the civil engineering skillset, and employers want to know that you understand how to approach challenges.

For a situational question like this, try to answer using the STAR method. This means you explain the situation, to give your answer context. Then you explain the task that was expected of you. Next, you outline the action you took, and finally, you explain the result. By following the STAR method, you will ensure your answers are concise and always stay on track.

Describe an experience with a difficult client

Civil engineering often requires you to communicate with multiple stakeholders, including clients. Handling a difficult client says a lot about your interpersonal skills and your ability to communicate and negotiate. 

The situation you choose to share will also say a lot about what you consider to be “difficult” behaviour. Keep your answer professional and choose a safe example that doesn’t make you appear unreasonable. As much as client requests might be irritating, they are an important part of your role and you need to demonstrate that you can work with a range of different people, even those from a non-technical background.

How do you make sure you don’t make mistakes?

Every civil engineer should develop their own system of checks and balances to make sure they are not making easily avoidable mistakes. On an organizational level, most companies will also have systems to ensure mistakes are caught. This interview question is not asking you if you’ve ever made a mistake, it’s asking how you manage your work to ensure that mistakes do not persist.

If you are just starting your career, you might not have had a chance to put this into action yet. Don’t worry, you can talk about systems you have seen working in an internship or systems you have learned about during your studies.

Why did you apply for this particular role?

Civil engineering is broad in scope, and a civil engineering job will vary wildly between organisations. This question is often asked to find out if you have done your research on the company and understand the role. This is a chance to show off your research and let the hiring manager know exactly why the job is so perfectly suited to your skillset.

What makes a good engineer?

What makes a good engineer?

This is a very broad question that will often catch candidates off guard, perhaps because it is a question about civil engineers in general. To answer this question, you need to think back to your training. This question is looking for some self-awareness in the candidate. 

When a hiring manager asks this question, they want to know if you understand the crucial elements that make up your skillset. Some qualities are obvious, like mathematical strength, but curiosity is also a key skill for a civil engineer. Communication skills and people skills are also desirable traits.

What is the strength of cement?

Don’t be surprised if your technical knowledge is put to the test during the interview. Candidates are often caught off guard by this type of question. Don’t worry, these questions aren’t included to try to trick you. Instead, they are offering you an opportunity to show off your knowledge and to demonstrate that you can communicate complex concepts with ease.

Candidates who brush off these questions as simplistic can come across as arrogant. And candidates can also stumble with this type of question by making it more complicated than it needs to be. Relax, and answer the question in the simplest way possible. When you are done answering, ask if the interviewer requires more detail. This will prevent you from rambling.

Are there any areas you feel you need to improve?

This is another way of asking what are your weaknesses? Like the classic “what is your biggest weakness” question, this question requires some careful thought. If you are too honest, you could make the hiring manager think that you're not experienced enough for the role. Instead, you should choose something that can be taken as a strength.

When answering this question, you can also elaborate on areas that interest you that you would like to explore further. This shows ambition and a strong work ethic. You can also explain what steps you have already taken to improve. This will show that you are a self-starter and you don’t wait around to be told to improve before taking action.

Do you prefer being in an office or on-site?

Some engineers hate to leave the office, and some get their best ideas when they are looking directly at the problem. This is a chance to demonstrate your personality as an engineer, as the office Vs. on-site debate is one that divides many engineers. There often isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question, but it is instead an opportunity to explore how you work best.

This is also a chance for the hiring manager to find out how well you have studied the job description. If they have already mentioned that there is a lot of site work expected, and you state a preference for working in-office, you could be giving them an easy way to rule you out. But remember to be honest, because you don’t want to secure a job that isn’t right for you.

Business cv background

Tell us about your least successful role

Sharing a failure in a job interview can be a very risky move. In most situations, the question is not about the failure, but the steps you took after this to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Learning from your experience and taking steps to ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes twice is a key part of being a successful civil engineer

As with the technical problem question outlined at the start of this guide, you should answer this question in the STAR format. This will keep your answer on track and prevent you from rambling. 

Remember that it doesn’t have to be the tale of your own worst failure. Accepting that team failure is a key part of the job is often just as important. Think about times when you have failed to keep a project on track, when something has been delivered late, or a project has been shelved.

Closing thoughts

These are just some of the questions you may be asked in a civil engineering job interview. We have tried to offer a wide range of questions to get you thinking about the interview format and how to prepare for it. In general, you should expect to be asked a series of questions about your education, experience and your skills and strengths. You can also expect situational questions, technical questions and more. 

If you need support preparing for an interview, the team at Nolan Technical Recruitment can help you prepare. Through the educational resources available on our website to the expert support of our recruitment team, we can help you to get interview-ready.

Nolan Recruitment is a Specialist Engineering Recruitment Agency. One of the UK's best Engineering & Technical Recruiter

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