After making it through an intense nanotechnology undergraduate program complete with four co-op placements, Laura Burgess has learned how to engineer a great job interview.
In high school, she liked the idea of combining creativity and technical skill to solve complex problems. With a background in math and problem solving, Laura pursued this interest through the University of Waterloo’s Nanotechnology Engineering program.
Laura set to work learning about every tiny piece of technology, but when it came time to interview for co-op positions, she faced a big challenge.
Like most university grads, Laura’s experience with job interviews was mainly limited to part-time positions and, while her past helped her with the general process of going in and meeting with prospective employers, the content of the actual Q&A period varied dramatically.
Engineering interviews were a whole new ball game.
With help from Waterloo’s Co-op and Career Services, Laura trained up quickly. She learned that the major difference between engineering job interviews and other job interviews is the technical content.
“In an engineering interview, it is common to be asked to solve problems on the spot,” she says. “This could be a question or two, or a few pages of problems the interviewers want you to work through.”
One of the biggest challenges she found when facing engineering interviews was the problem solving portion. Completely different than any other interview process, it involves complex problems that you can’t always prepare for.
She says the toughest situation she faced was being handed a booklet of queries ranging from electrical circuits to pharmaceutical formulations. She was tasked with completing the booklet, right then and there, while her interviewer loomed over her shoulder checking her work.
“Technical problem solving-type questions are definitely the most challenging,” she says. “The rest you can prepare for very easily.”
To prepare for engineering interviews, Laura recommends the following:
- Research all aspects related to the job description so that you’re able to perform any tasks that they ask in the interview process.
- Learn about what the company does on a high level as well as the details of the specific area or group that you’re being interviewed for.
- Review previous work experience and know the details of your projects since interviewers will typically ask about your role in a job and what you contributed to any previous employers.
- Study any notes or textbook material relating to the job since technical questions and problem solving is often involved
Now completing her master’s in Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto, Laura has some advice for students interviewing for engineering jobs: “Prepare and know your material, but keep a clear head,” she says. “Confidence and a clear mind are crucial to performing well at an engineering interview.”