Interview tips and tricks

Author: Geoff Hunt MIStructE and Dr Monika Brindley

Date published

31 August 2023

The Institution of Structural Engineers The Institution of Structural Engineers
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Interview tips and tricks

Date published

Geoff Hunt MIStructE and Dr Monika Brindley

Date published

31 August 2023


Geoff Hunt MIStructE and Dr Monika Brindley

Learn how to excel in your first interview, either as a student or as an early professional. Geoff Hunt, Arup Group’s Commercial Director, and Dr Monika Brindley, Senior Asset Engineer at Network Rail, will be sharing their experience.

As you enter the workforce, securing your first interview is an exciting milestone for engineering students. It is an opportunity to showcase your skills, knowledge, and passion to potential employers.

However, interviews can be nerve-wracking, especially for those who are new to the process. To help you excel in your engineering interviews, we talked to Geoff Hunt, Arup Group’s Commercial Director, and Dr Monika Brindley, Senior Asset Engineer at Network Rail, and compiled their advice to guide you as you enter the workforce. 


During the assessment

1. What are they looking for? 

The main priority of the assessment phase is to observe your behavioural skills; your ability to problem-solve, work in a group, and see how you handle challenging situations. They are looking for an aptitude for working in a team, how you come to a consensus, and a strategy for the outcome. Even if your answer isn’t “correct,” it is more important that you can demonstrate your thinking process clearly and effectively. 


2. Not everyone can be the spokesperson. 

While the assessment period is an excellent opportunity to showcase your leadership skills, being dominant isn’t always a standout quality. As Geoff shared with us, “it is more important that you ensure everyone in the group is heard and has the opportunity to give their input”. Not everyone can be the spokesperson for the group when presenting, but it is essential that everyone has the opportunity to share their part. That’s an essential part of working in a team-and that is what will be assessed as well as technical competence. 

For the interview


1. Thoroughly research the company (do your homework) 

This may seem like a given, but you’d be surprised how often this step is overlooked. Before your interview, make sure to research the company extensively. Understand their mission, values, and recent/current projects. This knowledge will help you align your answers with the company's goals and demonstrate your genuine interest in working for them. Additionally, researching the company can help you ask insightful questions during the interview, displaying your enthusiasm and engagement. 


2. Use the rule of three 

Giving your examples and experience in threes is a straightforward way to organize your responses, and ensures your answers are memorable while demonstrating your ability to communicate effectively. Our brains are wired to remember information in threes, creating a clear framework for the interviewer to follow and remember your key points and experiences. This technique also highlights your critical thinking skills and your ability to prioritize your strengths, while keeping your answers clear and concise. You may be one of many being interviewed, so make it easy for the interview panel to remember you. 


3. Guide the interviewer to your strengths (and be upfront about your weaknesses) 

It is crucial to steer the conversation to areas where you excel, giving you the opportunity to showcase your abilities and how they can contribute to the role. This positions yourself as a strong candidate and an asset to the organization. The easiest way to do this is through the information and experience on your CV, but even if you don’t get a chance to showcase your expertise or achievements during the interview, make sure to mention them in a key summary at the end.  

The dreaded “what are your strengths and weaknesses” question may not always come up in an interview, but it is important to be prepared. Be honest about your weaknesses and be sure to include actionable steps you are, or are planning to take, to remedy them. For example, if you want to work on your leadership skills you can outline how you have become more involved in campus or community groups and are starting to adopt more responsibility. This demonstrates your self-awareness and proactivity- both great skills that employers look for. 


4. The way you carry yourself matters. 

Whether your interview is in person or online, how you present yourself forms the initial impressions you make on the interviewer. By projecting confidence, professionalism, and positive body language, you establish yourself as a candidate worth pursuing. Even if you are nervous going in, “fake it until you make it” with strong eye contact and good posture. Dressing well also shows that you appreciate the opportunity, and “it may sound old school, but a firm handshake at the end of a face-to-face interview goes a long way”, Geoff shared. 


5. Always have a question to ask 

One of the easiest ways to stand out in the interview is to ask questions that make the interviewer stop and think. The first step to doing this is ensuring your questions aren’t something that can be answered on their website or a google search. “I’m always impressed when a candidate asks a specific question about [Arup’s] current or recent projects aligned with their interests as an engineer”, Geoff shared, as this demonstrates a genuine interest in the company’s work. Equally, Monika said that one of her favourite questions “is when the candidates ask me about my (and my colleagues) experience working at the company, and what challenges and opportunities the role brings professionally while maintaining a good work-life balance.” 


Additional advice

  • Jobs are looking for more than just technical experience. “Nowadays, being a great structural engineer isn’t good enough on its own, because we need engineers who can see the bigger context, taking into consideration sustainability, carbon, and social values, all of which need to collaborate with a great design that is safe” Geoff shared.  

  • It’s okay not to know the answer to a question- it’s much better to be honest than trying to make something up. As Geoff has noticed during his time interviewing candidates, an impressive way to approach a question you aren’t familiar with would be to share that you “haven’t come across this in my studies, but I imagine some of the issues you would have to address to answer would be this, this, and this”. This approach demonstrates your understanding of the industry and realism as an early engineer without extensive experience. 

  • Think about what kind of projects you would like to work on at the company and be prepared to share this with the interviewer, especially if there might be a choice of different locations you could work. Have an example such as; “I’d like to work in the London office because I like some of the commercial buildings that you are working on”, etc. Even if they cannot align you with your first choice, it shows that you have an opinion and have thought about the projects you would like to pursue as an early engineer. 

  • If your interview contains a presentation, always make sure to send a copy in advance in and have printed copies of the slides in case you have any technical difficulties on the day of the interview.   


Interviews can be daunting, but you can use these tips to showcase your skills and secure job opportunities with the proper preparation and mindset. Remember to research the company thoroughly, come prepared with questions, and use the rule of three when giving examples. Stay current with industry trends and highlight your strengths as an engineer and leader to demonstrate your potential as a well-rounded engineer. Navigating the interview process will take practice, but confidence and a passion for engineering will pave the way to a successful career. 


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