4 Steps to Ace Your First Engineering Job Interview

An 'Interview in Progress Sign' on glass with two people in a conference room behind it.
on 3 June 2020
  • job interview
  • 4 steps
  • tips

You’ve probably spent the past nearly 10 years doing the hard parts of starting your career. You’ve applied to colleges, finished high school, endured the college curriculum, graduated with honors of course, and suffered through tedious job applications.

It’s about time something was easy for once. I’m going to delve into some strategies for the final part of this process, the interview, to help make this the simplest part of the journey.

By this point you know the technical knowledge about engineering. You’ve probably done a co-op or internship, you’ve balanced equations, and you even have the gravitational constant of earth seared into memory. But are you doing the simple things that show you’re someone who should be hired? Below are four concepts which may seem fundamental at this point but are critical to landing your first big boy or big girl job.

  • Step 1. Speak with Confidence
  • You know what you’re talking about by now. There’s no reason for you not to be confident. Having confidence behind every word you speak helps to prove you’re an expert and shows you can think quickly. 

    Speaking to people in an interview environment is difficult especially if you have never done it before. Not all of us are great at the art of face to face communication. I am the type of person who will have much more confidence on a phone or video call than I will in person. Thankfully for people like me, phone and video interviews are becoming much more common these days. This might give you a small boost of confidence.

    One of the best ways to speak confidently is to know your own resume and experience inside out.
    It sounds like a no brainer, but not knowing this raises a lot of questions with the interviewer. The interviewer may get the impression you are not being completely honest about your experience if you falter on questions about it.

    Don’t fluff your experience.
    Your experience is already great, your job is to let them know that it is great.

    Everything on your resume needs to add up.
    If your resume says you worked in San Diego in March of 2020 and graduated from Clemson University in May, something doesn’t add up.

    Gaps in employment shouldn’t be an issue if you explain them honestly.
    Make everything crystal clear so the interviewer can follow along while you are proudly and confidently speaking about your experience.

Someone interviewing at a table with a group of interviewers.

  • Step 2. Stand Out in a Positive Way
  • You are a complex person with unique experiences. Unfortunately, so is everybody else. Find something that makes you more than just your resume.

    There are plenty of ways to stand out from other candidates, but make sure this is something that shines you in a positive light. The interviewer doesn’t care how many times you skipped class and still aced the test, and you shouldn’t want to tell them. Notable positive experiences go a long way. Below are a few ideas on how to give yourself that positive edge.

    1. Offer a life experience which makes you an exceptional candidate for the position.
    Perhaps you grew up in a family of engineers who talked about their experiences often. You might have worked a summer job after high school for a construction company. Maybe you have been subscribed to an engineering magazine since childhood and read it every month. Since you are likely very early on in your career and share the same educational background as other candidates, experiences like these will make you stand out a little more.

    2. Tell a story about overcoming a challenge from your college coursework.
    This could be taking on extra responsibility to carry a group assignment or putting in a ton of extra effort to persevere past something you struggled with. Nobody is perfect, so letting an interviewer know you have encountered problems and solved them is a great way to make yourself memorable among candidates.

    3. Find something on the employer's website to ask a question about.
    This lets them know you’ve taken the time to research them and have taken a sincere interest in working there. In my opinion it is better to ask a question about something on the website to start a conversation rather than regurgitate a fact you may be taking out of context. I’ve had a candidate before see one of our projects on our website and mention that they were very impressed with it when they saw it in 2012 … two years before it was built. Rather than pretending to know about something you may not be informed of, ask the interviewer and get informed. Getting conversations like this started leads us to our next step.

Group of interviewees sitting and waiting to be interviewed.

  • Step 3. Prepare for Conversations Instead of Questions
  • It’s kind of a cliché but interviews are definitely two-way streets. It’s easy to think that you’re in the hot seat on trial, but the interview is just as much about you as it is for the employer. Going back to our first step, it is easier to speak confidently if you are having a conversation rather than always trying to come up with the perfect answer to each question off the top of your head. You will gain a lot more knowledge and make yourself look like a stronger candidate by starting dialogues with the interviewer instead of being reactive to their questions.

    Showcase your ability to communicate.
    Strong communication is a very hard thing to teach and needs to be practiced every day. I’ve been in the workforce for almost 15 years and this is something I still struggle with. Showing outright that you know how to talk to people will automatically put you ahead of the pack.

    Learn more about the company you are trying to work for.
    Your first job will probably be the hardest job to get in your entire career. However, the company still needs to be the right fit for you. During your conversations you might notice that the position isn’t quite what you thought it was going to be. It is better to be honest with yourself and ask questions to nail down whether this position is the right one for you.

Two interviewers and an interviewee having a good conversation.

  • Step 4. Get in the Right Frame of Mind
  • You’ve got your resume locked down, you’ve researched the company, and you’ve prepared some conversation starters. Let’s move onto something less tangible: your mindset. Interviews are stressful. You need to be at the top of your game to leave a lasting impression. You’re going to want to get that stress level down as low as possible prior to your interview.
    A few strategies for lowering your stress include:

    1. Do what you can to schedule your interview at a time that works for you.
    If you function better in the morning than in the afternoon, try to schedule your interview as early as possible. Unfortunately, this might be something out of your control. Every company will have different practices for interviews, but it never hurts to ask if you can schedule your interview for the time of the day you will be at your best.

    2. Arrive early to your interview.
    If you leave early, you will hopefully arrive early and have time to get yourself more prepared. On the day of my interview with Summit, I left two hours early for a drive that should have been 30 minutes because I am a worrier. I got stuck in traffic for 90 minutes and arrived five minutes before my scheduled time. Needless to say, my stress levels were through the roof. Do everything in your power to make sure you can get in the building about 20 minutes early and get relaxed.

    3. Exercise the night before.
    Even if physical fitness isn’t a part of your everyday life, exercising the night before will help clear your mind and help you sleep better that night. It doesn’t need to be something intense that will leave your body sore. A brisk walk around the neighborhood will be all you need if you’re not much of a gym rat.

    4. Loosen up by talking to somebody in the building.
    Since you’re going to be arriving early, you could use that extra time to loosen up by starting a conversation with the person at the front desk or anybody else in the lobby. This is a good opportunity to practice those communication skills and get to know somebody you may be working with in the future.

Image of a girl reviewing a document at her desk with a laptop.

All of these steps are simple things you can do to give yourself an edge. Most of them seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how much they help and how few people actually follow them. Hopefully with your all-star resume, great communication skills and superior stress management talents, we will be seeing you around the office soon.