6 questions to hire an Engineer

Whatever the skills you use in your professional life, the pre-hiring interview is a needed step that the candidate engineer will have to go through. They prepare themselves as much as they ca. But the hiring people usually are relying more on their habits or experience and they do not prepare interviews too much (with the usual exception of Human Ressources personnel).

But Engineers also meet the candidates (the opinion of Human Ressources cannot be enough when hiring for a highly technical position). After a few years, you collect a few ideas and questions that could be asked to the candidates in order to build an impression about the adequation between the position and the various candidates. Here is the output of my own experience in hiring for technical engineering positions.

What do you expect from your supervisor? You generally know what to expect from the candidate, but too often it’s only after hiring him/her that you remember that s/he has some expectations that could lead to a bad situation, some misunderstandings and possibly to a very short partnership in the position. There is no right or wrong answer to this kind of question, but according to the way the destination department operates, it may be important to avoid too strong opposition (for example, “I need to feel confidence and to have autonomy” will not be a good answer IF the head of the department tends to pampers his team and needs to have an eye on everything). So, it is necessary to prepare such a question by trying to identify the saliant aspects of the ehad of the departement or team (not strong or weak points, but significant ones). And this is even more important if you are this team leader.

Describe your profesional objective for 10-15 years from now. Often, it is easy to project yourself in the next 3 years. The farther in the future, the more difficult it becomes. Nevertheless, this is a critical issue for an engineer who will have to make continuously startegical choices along his/her 40-50 years of pro career. I tend to prefer a clean project even if it is partly independent from the recruiting company (“I want to start my own company”, for example), if this is supported by a clear trajectory which naturally includes the immediate hiring position for a few years, or an ambitious and substantiated project (“I will take your position within 5 years because…”), rather than one of the following rather bad cases:

  • “I want management responsibility”: It will be automatic if the candidate has some qualities, but it’s not a career plan.
  • “I don’t know; What is your company’s development strategy?” which will probably only lead to disatisfactions since the company will have to permanently discover what is good for this ex-future employee.

Why and how did you choose your college/school/university/training/last company? Even if technical engineering training is often the automatic result of being good at school, it is freshening to find people who know why they work. Don’t ask about the initial training to a 50-year old engineer, but the choice of their last position may be revealing.

If you are hired today, what could our company do (or fail to do) in 3 years that would certainly lead you to leave? Yes! At hiring time you can also speak about the end of the common path. The personal criterias involved in employment stability may not be exactly the same as those leading to entering a position. Of course, it can easily be an extension of the common “why did you leave this company you worked for?” and the criterias may be intermingled a little. Anyway, since this form of asking may be a surprise, the lack of clear answer may come from surprise rather than willingness to hide something.

What makes a good progress report or a good activity synthesis? In nearly all cases you will be led to delegate some activities and you will need some kind of regular synthetic report. Two possible situations:

  • Reporting is well codified in your company/department: It is important to know if the candidate will easily understand the issues there and if the delivered data will be naturally usable (reporting is not only a matter of form).
  • Your company/department leaves a lot of freedom to report hierarchically or functionally: The candidate will have to find by themselves ways to meet the objectives of readability, usability, synthesis and precision that are always central in this context; Don’t forget that when under crisis/holidays stress, you will have near to no time to be fully informed of the activities of your team members. Will this person be able to reduce significantly your workload while keeping you informed of important issues – to the point of utter confidence?

Of course, the question itself asks for a priori capacity to answer synthetically. So, even the way the answer is given will be part of the answer. But all cases may be different.

In the past year what has been your most significant participation to the company you worked for? (You can adapt to a work team, college team, internship department, etc. for people looking for a first job). One of my teachers (he was coming from the industry and teaching in ENSEIRB, Bordeaux, France in 1985) told us that a good engineer had two obligations:

  • Bring one innovation per year to be worth being more than a mere worker;
  • Be the actual source of one major change for his/her company every 5 years.

It is never too late to ask ourselves how we did significatively change the company we work for in the last 5 years. An (fair and honest) answer may be distinguishing workers from change managers among the ever-more-numerous people holding a Manager title.

What company do you admire? (You must exclude answers with the name of the hiring company). This is a question which makes very difficult for the candidate to go around. For two main reasons:

  • An answer with the name of a direct compatition may allow you to dig into the difference between those two companies and leads to comments for a better understanding of what would create problems for the candidate if hired. I advise candidates to avoid that situation. It is always sensitive and difficult to manage correctly -it may lead to some misunderstanding.
  • An answer with the name of a company fully different from the hiring one allows to better understand the image criterias and the personal work culture that is significant for the candidate. If the talk is kept open, it leads to a very fruitful exchange.

All those questions are a ground that you may use to reinforce your capacity to analyze a candidate during an interview. But it is still obvious to me that few candidates can be put in clearly delimited . As I tried to explain, it is important to identify the fundamental criterias of the candidate to the open position. There are few good or bad answers. Only some good or bad ways to anwer.

If you think that you may have some other good questions to add to the list feel free to comment hereunder.

1 comment for “6 questions to hire an Engineer

  1. Emachine computers
    July 15, 2009 at 23:20

    personal and business computers doesn’t need to have similar characteristics

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