How to Ace Technical Engineering Interviews
Every engineering job requires different sets of technical skills and experiences. Employers use technical interviews to assess and scope out their best job candidates.
Generally all engineering job candidates, regardless of seniority, will be technically assessed. Despite this, even the most experienced engineers can get tripped up during technical interviews.
Technical interview guide for engineers
1. Brush up on engineering fundamentals
An engineer often relies on their understanding of fundamental concepts to solve problems. Technical interviews are an opportunity to showcase your familiarity with these concepts.
Now don’t go dusting off your old textbooks just yet. In most interviews, advanced concepts will not be tested. Instead, understand the relevant areas of focus and nail down the basics.
So what are relevant areas of focus? Which technical topics should you prepare for?
In order of priority, technical topics should be prepared if they are relevant to:
- The job description
- Previous projects listed on your resume
- Industries the company specializes in
This may seem like a lot of topics to prepare for. Don’t worry, it’s not as many as you think. Overlap between these topics is to be expected.
While you may have studied the concepts many moons ago, interview anxiety can freeze up even the most seasoned engineers. Don’t overlook the importance of preparation. Knowing the basic concepts like the back of your hand can keep you cool and collected.
2. Know your audience
Before answering any technical questions, assess your audience, and adjust your language to fit their level of technicality. There are three levels of technicality:
You can encounter all three types of audience members during technical interviews, so adapt your technical language accordingly.
Engineers and line managers are typically informed or experts on the technical topic. HR managers tend to align better with a general audience, though they are usually briefed on some jargon and context.
3. Understanding the styles of technical assessments
Technical interviews are comprised of one or more technical assessments. While there is an endless number of assessments, all assessments can be boiled down into three main styles:
Presentations challenge the candidate to present complex concepts. Short-answer questions quiz the candidate’s knowledge. Explanation questions gauge critical thinking.
To perform well in these technical interviews, it’s crucial to understand what the interviewers are looking for in each assessment style.
4. Keep it short and simple
Engineers can grasp very complex concepts, but many have trouble concisely conveying their knowledge. It’s important to know what you’re talking about, but delivery is equally as important.
It’s common for engineers to get caught up in details when explaining their thoughts. It’s tempting to go down the rabbit hole, droning on and on about specific technical details. Unfortunately, this can make even the brightest engineers appear incoherent and disorganized. Remember, brevity is the soul of wit.
Some technical interview types like presentations also have a set time limit. You must stay within their guidelines. Engineers who go over the time limit severely hurt their chances.
5. Admit what you don’t know
If a technical question stumps you, it’s okay to admit that you don’t know. Managers prefer honesty to overconfidence.
However just because you don’t know, doesn’t mean you can’t take an educated stab at it. Using engineering fundamentals, sometimes it is possible to work your way through the problem.
Unless you’re completely stumped, this approach should always be taken. It’s often more impressive, as it shows off your critical thinking. Make sure you explain your thought processes out loud.
A general format you can follow is:
“That’s a tough question that I don’t know the answer to. However, based on my understanding of […], I know that […], thus my educated guess would be […].”
Regardless of what happens, remember to ask for the answer they’re looking for. Not only is this a learning opportunity, but it also shows the interviewers that you’re eager to learn.