9 Questions to Ask on an Interview

Featured in 2015 Guide to Getting an Engineering JobIn a job interview, asking focused, intelligent questions of your interviewer demonstrates initiative, thoroughness, and careful analysis of your options – qualities every engineer should have.

To get you started, we’ll consider nine solid questions to ask while interviewing for an engineering position. What you learn about the position, your prospective employer, and your team will not only position you to advantage as a candidate but enable you to make a more informed decision moving forward.

We divided our list into three general categories:  Job, Company, and Personnel.

Investigate the Job

Not all positions are alike, though key responsibilities and skill sets may appear identical. Every engineering company holds slightly different expectations of its employees, which you’d do well to investigate before accepting a position.

1. What would my first priority be in this role?

There’s  a reason the company needs this role filled. Determine what their particular needs are, and you can better present yourself as the solution.

2. What are my goals for the first 30 days in this position? For the first year?

Companies have varying expectations of employee growth and initiative. Learning more about your performance targets helps you decide if the company’s expectations are reasonable, achievable, and appropriate for the compensation they offer.

3. What metrics gauge success?

As specifically as possible, determine by which standards the company will measure your success or failure. An engineering firm unable to clearly, perhaps even numerically, define success presents a serious red flag.

Learn More About the Company

Corporate culture is hard to quantify but should be a critical element in your decision-making. These questions will reward you with insights into what the company values, its overall health, and how its engineers are treated.

4. Is this a newly created position? If not, where is my predecessor?

This may seem like a difficult question to ask, but it’s a very important one. A new position may indicate a healthy, growing company. If not, the fate of the previous engineer in your role is very informative. They may have been promoted, for example, or moved laterally within the firm – this suggests a company which develops its engineers rather than hiring from outside. If the last person quit or was fired, the way an interviewer answers (or doesn’t answer) this question can provide important insights into performance metrics and corporate culture.

5. Tell me about the performance review process.

Having a well-defined performance review process is a sign of thoughtful management. This can be a natural follow-up to questions about which metrics gauge success – how a company conducts performance reviews of engineering staff and what those reviews mean provides real insight.

Further, what does the company do with the information gathered during a performance review? Do they reward successful employees? If so, how? Is the performance review process part of a broader staff development plan? The answers to these questions show not only what the company values, but how well it is managed.

6. Is there a formal mentoring or training program for new hires?

Every company has its own tools, processes, and procedures. The amount of specialized knowledge required to fill almost any given engineering role is such that serious firms typically place new hires in mentor relationships or formal training programs. If such measures are in place, learn as much about them as you can. If not… the lack of such measures is certainly interesting, though not necessarily disqualifying. Their reasoning for avoiding such formal development programs will prove informative, in any case.

Who Will You Be Working With?

Corporations are people, people you will have to work with every day. Ask about the team you’ll be working with, your supervisor, and which particular employees the interviewer might hold up as an example to new hires.

7. What can you tell me about the team?

In the course of your daily responsibilities, the most important relationships you have are with your own team members. How would the interviewer describe the strengths of your team? Are there areas where they need improvement?  What is your immediate supervisor like? Not only is this an opportunity to learn about your prospective coworkers but to position yourself as the team’s missing element during the remainder of your interview.

8. Which engineers stand out as worth emulating? Why?

This question encapsulates many others on our list. You can learn much about performance metrics, culture, and expectations by asking the interviewer to single out an engineer on staff as exemplary. If the interviewer is insufficiently familiar with the company’s engineering staff to answer, this may  affect the reliability you assign to their other responses.

9. How long have you worked here? Are you happy with your position?

This is an interesting question, psychologically. Aside from the surface-level information in their answer, you can alter the dynamics between you by pushing them out of their formal role in the conversation. To put it another way: If you can get the interviewer to relate to you as something other than The Interviewer, you can create a more casual, honest exchange between the two of you. They will relate to you more as a person and (possible) coworker than as a stranger coming in for an interview.

This may sound fuzzy, but it’s an excellent rapport-building tactic. Try to work this into the earlier stages of the interview, if at all possible.

Close Strong, Not Hard

A final word on which questions to ask your interviewer: Some people recommend you attempt to close the deal at the conclusion of the interview, right there and then. This is only sometimes appropriate – no one likes being put on the spot, and there are very likely other people scheduled to interview after you. “Hard selling” your interview can backfire all too easily.

A better idea is to try and schedule your follow-up directly with the interviewer. Get their direct contact information and determine a time to continue discussions. This allows you to “take their temperature”, rather than demanding a decision, and establishes that you expect them to agree, after consideration, that you are the right engineer for the job.


What questions do you always ask in an interview? Why not share it with your fellow engineers? Comment below or tweet us @EngineerJobs to join the conversation.

Image credit: YooperAnn

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About the Author

JF Stackhouse is a veteran content creator and huge fan of engineers. When not studying the interplay between science, art, and social systems, he plays needlessly convoluted pranks on his dog. Follow him on Twitter for your daily dose of science, history, and invention.

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