HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING INTERVIEW

While a Structural Engineer interview may be similar in content to other professions, there are some key differences. But what’s the best way to prepare for your Structural Engineering Interview?

I have been an interviewee as a Structural Engineer looking to gain employment. I have also been an interviewer in my role as a technical manager looking to find the best talented engineers.

While I’m not an HR expert, I have seen both good and bad candidates to learn what strategies work well in your job interview. I’ve also learned which strategies to steer clear from.

In this article, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned along the way. I’ll also share some tips on how to prepare for your structural engineering interview so you can find that dream role.

As a summary check-list, the following items should be part of your preparation for a Structural Engineering interview:

  1. Research what questions the potential employer may ask you and pre-rehearse how you may respond to them
  2. Clarify your selling points and what you may bring to the organisation
  3. Be realistic about what your perceived weaknesses may be when reading your CV. Prepare some answers to concerns that the interviewer may raise based on the information on your CV.
  4. Perform your own due diligence on the organisation; size of the company, culture, what kind of projects they work on and the clients they work with.
  5. After researching the company, compile a list of questions you have for them. Its as much you assessing them as they are assessing you.
  6. Research the market salary for someone of your experience. Decide what salary level you are expecting in advance before entering the interview.
  7. Practice a mock job interview with a friend or partner.
It is important to have a check list and a strategy when you prepare for your Structural Engineering interview.
It is important to have a check list and a strategy when you prepare for your Structural Engineering interview.

Structural Engineering Interview Questions

A great way to prepare for your structural engineering interview is to brainstorm some potential questions you may be asked. To this end, you can then think about your responses and even start to rehearse how you will answer.

The goal of the potential employer is to make sure that you will be a good fit for their company. They will be assessing this based on a few metrics:

  • Does your technical ability fit in with the advertised role?
  • Personality wise, will you get along well with the rest of the team?
  • Do your values align well with the business culture of their organisation?
  • Are your salary/package expectations in line with those already in the team with similar experience and capability

The questions you may be asked will be dependant on you level of experience. It will also depend on the title or role you are being interviewed for. Lets take a look at a few specific example questions you may be asked based on your level of experience.

General Technical Interview Questions (For all Structural Engineers)

Whatever level of experience you are at, you may find that you are tested directly on your technical ability and knowledge during your job interview.

There is a general accepted minimum level of knowledge that Structural Engineers should know and you may be quizzed on some of these to test your ability. For a discussion about what all Structural Engineers SHOULD know, take a look at THIS article.

Its a good idea that you brush up on these elements before your interview. In summary, you may be asked to perform any of the following tasks in your interview by way of technical “tests”…

  • Draw a bending moment or shear force diagram given a simple beam and applied loading
  • Be aske to recite a simple beam formula (such as bending, shear or deflection of a simply supported beam with a point load at mid-span).
  • Review a structural drawing to identify errors in documentation or design
  • Draw a free body diagram

Interview Questions for Graduate Engineers

As a graduate Structural Engineer, you won’t be expected to have a large amount of in-field experience. Therefore, If you have been fortunate to have completed undergraduate work an other related work experience this is a great differentiator. You should definitely highlight this on your CV and also discuss it during your interview.

When I’m interviewing a potential Graduate Structural Engineer, I would ask general technical questions that are usually covered at University. It is important to make sure that the basic level of understanding of Structural Engineering has been established. I’ve also been known to ask a graduate Structural Engineer to recite the Structural Engineers Secret Handshake.

Some other general interview questions you may expect to hear as a graduate Structural Engineer may Include:

  • What subjects had you found the most enjoyable during your study, and why was that subject particularly enjoyable for you?
  • What were the aspects of your study that you found you enjoyed the least?
  • What attracted you to Structural Engineering as a career choice?
  • When you were involved in group project work at University, did you encounter issues with working alongside the other group members? If so, how did you resolve these issues? If you didn’t encounter any issues what strategies do you think contributed to the success of the project?
  • What are you looking to get out of your career in the short and medium term?
  • While at University, you would have had project work, study requirements and preparation for exams. What strategies did you put in place to help manage your time and competing commitments? In particular, how did you ensure that you were able to complete your work at the required deadlines?

Interview Questions for Intermediate Engineers

By the time you are regarded as an intermediate engineer (anywhere from 3-6 years plus) you would have had a few projects completed under your belt.

The interviewer may want to talk about specific projects you have been involved with. Some project specific questions you may receive may include:

  • What was your role and responsibility on the project?
  • Briefly explain to us how you designed *insert structural element here” from start to finish?
  • Were you managing a team of other engineers during the project delivery?
  • If the client were to give an honest appraisal on your performance on the project, what do you think they would say?
  • What structural design software packages are you familiar with using?
  • Have you had experience with *insert potential employers favourite software*?
  • How do you manage communication and liaising with the documentation/modelling team to ensure your structural design is documented correctly?
Rehearsing possible interview question is a great way to prepare and set yourself up for success
Rehearsing possible interview question is a great way to prepare and set yourself up for success.

Interview Questions for Senior Engineers

There are a couple of paths you may go down on your journey to becoming a senior engineer. You may choose to remain purely technical, you may choose to be exposed to more non-engineering based activities such as bids/tenders, business development, forecasting, cost control and team management.

Here are a few questions you may expect to be asked at senior engineer level.

  • On *insert project name* what strategies did you put in place to ensure costs were controlled and the project was a financial success?
  • How did you manage change control and variations with the client?
  • Explain an example where the client may have requested an un-realistic deadline, how did you manage the clients expectations through that process?
  • Explain a time where you had to resolve conflict within your team. What measures did you put in place to resolve such a conflict?
  • When you leave your current employer, which clients do you believe will want to work with you again at your next role in the future?
  • When joining our organisation, what would be your strategy in regards to building your own personal relationships with our current clients and introducing our organisation to your past clients?
  • On *insert project name*, how did you ensure technical quality and consistency across the design?
  • Explain how you manage the flow of information between the structural design team and the documentation/modelling team on the projects you have worked on in the past?
  • How do you stay up-to-date on advancements in structural engineering, technologies in construction and updates of design standards?
The questions you are asked in your job interview will be dependant on your experience level and the position you are interviewing for
The questions you are asked in your job interview will be dependant on your experience level and the position you are interviewing for

Other Interview Questions you may Encounter as a Structural Engineer

There are also a range of left-field and general questions that you may encounter. These are usually extremely hard to predict or prepare for up-front. At some interviews (not always) a HR representative may be present. If this is the case, you may expect to hear one of these left-field questions. The HR representative is more interested in understanding your skills that are less “tangible”. Some may call this you soft skills. It is also important that you can demonstrate these skills in your job interview.

The following list is a flavour of these more general and potentially left-field questions you may encounter (some are cliché and some are cringe, but they do get asked!):

  • What is something that people often have a misconception on you regarding your personality?
  • Why are you the right fit to succeed in this role?
  • How do you think your skills will add value to our organisation?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Tell me a little about yourself?
  • What are your interests outside of work?
  • What do you consider to be your most significant professional achievement?
  • Why do you want to leave your current job?
  • What are you looking to get out of your next role that you currently aren’t getting in your current position?
  • What is the toughest decision you have made in the last 6 months?
  • How honest are you?
  • Are you a lucky person?
  • What is the last gift you gave someone?
  • How do you handle, digest and internalise constructive criticism?
  • What motivates you?
  • Have you attended other interviews?

When you Prepare for your Structural Engineering Interview, do your own Research.

One of the best things you can do in preparation for your interview is perform your own due diligence on the organisation you will be speaking with.

This can have multiple advantages for both you and the potential employer:

  • You can determine if you would be a good fit for the company in terms of culture
  • Determine if the organisation is well renowned or do they have a bad reputation
  • See what projects they have delivered, both past and current. If you have similar sector experience to the projects they specialise in, this should be highlighted on your CV and in your interview.
  • If you can somehow find an insider or a contact in the organisation detailed items such as, how they deliver projects and what software package they use can help you speak their language in the interview.
  • Try and determine what clients the organisation deals with, if you have personal connections with some of their clients this will go a long way to strengthening your hiring position.

Questions you Should ask During your Structural Engineering Interview

The discussion between you and the potential employer is a two-way street. While the potential employer is testing you out to see if you would be a good fit for their organisation… you should equally be making sure that organisation is a good fit for you!

Your personal questions to determine this may differ to others. It’s a really good idea to have a list of questions to prepare for your Structural Engineering interview. Here are a few examples to give you some inspiration:

  • What would I need to achieve in this role to be deemed a success? (This is really important to get an understanding on the exact requirements of the role. You need to know in advance if you can actually fulfil their needs and what their level of expectation is. This sets you up on a great path for success in the event that you are awarded the position)
  • Who would be my line manager I will be reporting to? (If your line manager isn’t present at your interview, it is a great idea to try and organise a discussion directly with him/her before you formally accept any offer. It is especially critical for more senior roles that you get along with your manager not just on a technical level but a personality level).
  • What is the career advancement path at this organisation and for this role? What next steps could I expect in my career should I perform well? (moving around a lot is not always a good look. If you are interviewing for a new position you need to make sure you won’t be hitting a ceiling or becoming bored in your only a couple of years in).
  • What is you organisations policy and process around performance reviews and providing feedback? (an organisation with a structured approach to giving you feedback and formal catch-ups with your line manager is very valuable for advancing your abilities and therefore your career.)

Research your Market Value

It is an unfortunate truth that those that stay in the one organisation for an extended period do not see the same advances in pay as those who move from company to company. There are obviously exceptions to this however in average terms this seems to be the case.

Therefore, regardless of what you current salary is, at the time of looking for another role, you should check the market for what your value truly is. You can do this by looking at the following avenues:

  • Use a website like Glassdoor to research organisations in the Structural Engineering field to determine their wages at each grade level.
  • I would recommend also using the assistance of a third party recruiter. There are a few reasons for this, however as far as salary goes, they have their ear closest to the ground on where you sit in the market.
  • If you have close enough colleagues, you may be fortunate enough to have them share their thoughts on the topic (although this may be rare, especially in Australia).

At the end of the day, your job interview is a courting process between yourself and a potential future employer which will ultimately end in a negotiation of salary. It is important to know where you stand prior to setting foot in the door of any interview room.

How Should an International Engineer prepare for their Structural Engineering Job Interview?

Qualified international Structural Engineers have some unique things they should do when they prepare for their Structural Engineering interview in addition to the ones outlined in this article.

The predicament of an international engineer is the perception by the interviewer that there may be a lack of understanding to local design codes and construction techniques. Gravity, steel and concrete are very similar all over the world however there are subtle differences in how each countries code is written and worded.

Majority of overseas engineers arriving in Australia will have a number of years experience aboard already. They key is showcasing that and connecting the dots between what you have achieved abroad and how that will benefit your employment locally.

Even before arriving in your target country the best thing you can do is obtain a copy of the local important design codes. For Australia these would be:

  • AS 1170.0 – Loading Code – General Principles
  • AS 1170.1 – Permanent, Imposed and Other Actions
  • AS 1170.2 – Wind Actions
  • AS 1170.4 – Earthquake Actions in Australia
  • AS 3600 – Concrete Structures
  • AS 4100 – Steel Structures
Learning the local design standards will help underpin your expertise gained overseas.
Learning the local design standards will help underpin your expertise gained overseas.

These are not all the design codes used in Australia obviously, but they will get you through 90% of what you need. Once you get your hands on these standards you should read them, study them and take notes.

This will be enough to allow you to put “familiar with local design standards” on your CV. However the real way to show that you have studied and read them is to bring them up in conversation during your interview.

A couple of ways to bring your local technical knowledge up in conversation may include:

  • Talking about the local design codes and mention the similarities and differences to the design codes you are used to overseas. (This is something you can easily take notes on during your preparation studies beforehand. Also if you can actually tech the interviewer something they didn’t know during your interview, this will greatly increase your perceived value.)
  • There are always new code revisions coming out and renowned clauses that some engineers take different interpretations on. See if you can form connections with local engineers on platforms such as LinkedIn to figure out what these are. You can raise these particular clauses and changes in your interview to get the opinion of the interviewer to start a technical discussion.

Another form of preparation you can do beforehand is learn what the local construction techniques are like. This will heavily influence how you design and detail your engineering solutions. If you can demonstrate to the interviewer that you are aware of what the local techniques are and even the differences to where you come from, this will show significant value in your interview. Subscribing to websites such as Sheer Force Engineering can give you insight into the construction process of different building elements. For example take a look at THIS article for a discussion on basement wall construction and THIS article about lateral stability systems.

International Structural Engineers have unique things they should do in order to prepare for their job interview compare to local engineers
International Structural Engineers have unique things they should do in order to prepare for their job interview compare to local engineers

Practice, Practice, Practice

To prepare for your Structural Engineering Interview you should practice. Don’t be a afraid to run a mock interview to hone your skills. Lets be honest, having job interviews is not something we do every day. Like everything else, the more you practice the better you get at it.

Try to set up a scenario interview with a partner or close friend. If they aren’t in the engineering industry, that’s fine, they can research interview questions online and keep you on your toes with questions you may not have heard or thought about.

It may be daunting but a fantastic way to self critique your performance is to record the interview to see how you went. In job interviews, how you say something can be as important if not more important than what you say.

Once you have done your research you should practice a mock job interview scenario with a friend or partner.
Once you have done your research you should practice a mock job interview scenario with a friend or partner.

Conclussion

Job hunting can be stressful and damage your confidence. It is important to try and stay positive and understand that not all organisations will be the best fit for you. Patience, preparation and practice is the key, if you stick to these principles eventually you will breakthrough with that great opportunity.

Have you experienced any bizarre interview related questions? Do you have your own methods for preparing for Structural Engineering job interviews? Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

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Quentin Suckling is our founding director.  Prior to starting Sheer Force Engineering, he spent almost 2 decades working as a practicing Structural Engineer at Tier 1 engineering consulting firms delivering multiple billions of dollars worth of projects and managing large multi-disciplinary engineering teams. View More Posts

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