How to Interview Engineers

Quote of the Day

If something is important enough you should try, even if the probable outcome is failure.

- Elon Musk


Figure 1: Team Interviewing.

Figure 1: Team Interviewing. (Source)

My youngest son has a long drive to and from work everyday. During his drive home, he frequently calls me to help him pass the time. During a recent drive, we talked about how I interview engineers, which I have done hundreds of times. I have a fairly standard interview methodology. The key part of any interview is how you go about grading the applicants.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I look for three things:

  • Pisstivity
  • Anality
  • Prima Donna Factor

My son was wondering what questions do I ask, and if they were anything like the challenging microsoft interview questions. Clearly, it was different from what he thought, and I explained it to him. He seemed to think the discussion was interesting and I thought it was worthwhile capturing some of it here.

Interview Process

I should go through my interview process quickly. From my point of view, there are three parts:

  • resume review
  • phone screen
  • in-person interview

I depend on the resume and phone screen to tell me if the candidate has the technical chops to work in my group. The resume gives me a feel for the candidates general work history. It also shows me how well they present information. An engineer must be able to write to work in my group. During the phone screen, I ask a lot of questions about things like their projects, the roles they played, and tools they have used (e.g. simulation, schematic capture, etc).

During the in-person interview, I really am looking at how well the person interacts with people. My basic approach is to start off with a few minutes of chit-chat to try to put the candidate at ease. After that, I try to find out what drives the person. I focus on questions like:

  • What project gave you the most satisfaction during your career?
  • Tell me about a project where you really made a difference technically?
  • What me about a project where you really made a difference non-technically (e.g. organizer, facilitator, mentor)?
  • Do you do anything technically in your spare time (e.g. astronomy, amateur radio, car stuff)

When I mentioned my questions, my son said that he has seen a good list of questions in a paper by a person named Buckingham that were similar to mine. Here are Buckingham's questions:

  1. What was the best day at work you've had in the last three months?
  2. What was the worst day at work you've had in the last three months?
  3. What was the best relationship with a manager you've ever had?
  4. What was the best praise or recognition you've ever received?
  5. When in your career do you think you were learning most?

Questions 1 and 2 give you an idea of the candidate's work values. Questions 3 and 4 tell you how a manager can motivate them. Question 5 tells you about their learning style.


I like Buckingham's questions and I have incorporated them into my basic set of interview questions. I am always looking for good interview questions. If any readers have questions they like to ask, please drop me a comment and tell me what you ask.

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