5 Tips for standing out in an engineering interview

The interview process can be challenging and awkward for engineers especially if the engineer is straight from the university or has been holding the same job for years and is out of practice. Throughout my career, I have been through the interview process both as the interviewer and as the interviewee many times. As I look back, there are several key points and memories that I recall that are critical to the interviewee if they want to make a good impression and secure their dream position.

Tip #1 – Bring a DIY project

There are few things that can get the conversation flowing more than to walk into an interview with a custom made gadget or breadboard. Bringing in a do it yourself (DIY) project with a circuit board and source code can take the conversation in directions that are well beyond the standard interview questions that the company is planning to ask every candidate. A custom project can make the interviewee stand-out in the crowd but also reveal several important key traits that companies are looking for:

  • Passionate about their field
  •  Self-directed / self-starter
  • Problem solver
  • Technical competency

A DIY project can start a conversation that shows how the interviewee thinks through a design project, executes its and solves problems that come up during the process. The project can even show a quality level and design skills that are not provable without actually doing work. An interviewee should prepare some key points to discuss about the design such as basic requirements, problems and unexpected issues that surfaced and how solutions were arrived at. Being able to talk intelligently about the project will also demonstrate that the interviewee has the necessary communication skills to succeed.

Tip #2 – Be Inquisitive

There are few things worse in an interview than someone who doesn’t have any questions for the interviewer. Every interviewer at some point gives their company overview and here’s what you will be doing speech. When the speech is complete, it is always followed by do you have any questions. This is not the time to simply respond, “No that sounds good”. An interviewee needs to stand-out and sometimes be remembered weeks after the interview. There are several areas that an interviewee should be asking questions about besides the traditional compensation package such as:

  • End clients and the company value proposition
  • Top challenges currently facing the company / division the interviewee will be in
  • Latest accomplishments
  • Employee growth rate, culture and turn-over rate

Make sure to ask good questions that show interest in the companies broader picture and don’t make everything just about how it impacts the interviewee.

Tip #3 – Be Confident, Not Arrogant

Someone that is pursuing a position at a new company should be confident in their own skills and capabilities. They should be able to demonstrate and provide examples on how they have been successful in the past and overcome issues. There can sometimes be a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Make sure that during the interview, confidence is shown and demonstrated and not arrogance. It’s one thing to think that you are the big dog and another to show that you are capable but open to learning.

Tip #4 – Dress Professionally

Dressing professionally seems like a no brainer when someone is going to interview for a position; However, I can’t describe how many times I’ve had interviewees walk in off the streets in shambles. Quite frankly, it makes an interviewer wonder if the person can’t take the time to look presentable will they take the time to do the job right. The only exception to this is when your skills and reputation so far precedes you that what you wear doesn’t matter. (There are only two people I know who have successfully gotten away with interviewing in a Hawaiian shirt, Clive (Max) Maxfield and myself). Dress for the part and look professional but don’t be afraid to stand out either.

Tip #5 – Don’t be afraid to say no

The interview process doesn’t really end until both parties have agreed to work together and an offer has been accepted. It’s important that during the process, an interviewee not be afraid to say no. If the company is working on something that is not interesting, say no thank-you. If the offer that comes in is not what is needed or hoped for but they obviously need the skill-set, say no. If there is some skill that is missing that is needed for the job, state that no I am not currently versed in that topic, it is interesting to me and I would love the opportunity to dig in and get up to speed quickly. The interview is like a speed date where at the end of the date, a decision has to be decided whether to fully commit or head for the hills.

Conclusions

Following these several tips will help interviewees stand-out in the crowd and if done well enough can help move the interviewee from just another average candidate to someone that is a rare jewel and forces the interviewer to take immediate action to hire the candidate. Early in my career by following these tips I was to turn-the-tables on interviewee and realize that by demonstrating what I could bring to the company effectively gave me the edge to pick and choose the company and salary that fit my needs rather than simply accepting a position because it was the first or only choice.

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