Interviewing Tips for Construction Engineers

A question was recently asked in a forum that I like to participate in: Do you have any advice for a job interview I’m going on next week?

I presumed the individual has an interview for a civil engineering position: I offered the following advices (and yes, the proper term is “advices” Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Pumping Iron” )

For some perspective, over the years of my career, I’ve interviewed, dozens of candidates for positions with companies that I’ve worked for. I’ve had to interview for positions too. The interviewing process is something we all go through now and again, so you are certainly not experiencing anything that most of us have not already done before.

There are of course the basics that you have heard dozens of times: Arrive early. Dress appropriately. Have copies of your resume, a note pad and a pen. Shake everyone’s hand. Make eye contact. Those are the easy ones.

Let me give you 5 pieces of advice that you might not have already heard:

1. Know Your Why

You made a conscious decision, before today, to consider taking a position with this company or agency. You sent a cover letter and a resume, you submitted a statement of interest on their website. You got a call from them and they want to meet you.

Simple question: Why are you doing this? Why are you attending this interview? Why are you taking the step towards working with this company/agency?

It is critical that, as Dr. Steven Covey says, you begin with the end in mind. There is a reason (or reasons) for you commencing this journey. As you prepare to meet & engage with people, remind yourself of why you are doing this. Going into an interview with your most-viable outcome will foster a purpose-driven dialogue between you and those you are about to meet. You want to be able to explain to the interviewers your reason for being here.

2. Be Yourself.

This is the best piece of advice I can give when it comes to interviews. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Let your personality shine through your discussion with the interviewers. An interview is one of the rare environments when you can talk, and even brag a little, about yourself. Get through the first couple minutes of nervousness (it’s OK, it happens to everyone in an interview…), but just find your stride and be your “regular self.”

3. Be Honest.

It is easy for any of us, as human beings, to be able to tell when someone is not being forthright with their information. Don’t feel like you have to answer every question with a perfect answer, or with the answer that “you think” the interviewer would like to hear. If you try to BS your way through a question, you might raise some eyebrows. Be up-front with your experience and your knowledge-base. If you really know a subject well, talk about it. But if a subject matter comes up that you are not knowledgeable in, don’t pretend, just be honest. It’s OK to say “I don’t know about….” or “I don’t have any experience…” just follow that with “…but I’m willing to learn/try…” and show a willingness to want to get involved with the topic at hand.

4. Be Enthusiastic.

I can tell you this from my perspective as someone who has interviewed and hired engineers: I ALWAYS like enthusiasm. People who are excited about their profession, who look forward to getting up in the morning and going to work, who love their work and what they do, those are the kinds of people I want to work with. Someone who is enthusiastic and has a willingness to learn new skills becomes a natural fit in any work environment. Show that you are eager to try, to learn new skills, to help the project team, the company and the agency/clients we work for, however you can. Let them know you are willing to roll up your sleeves and help, daytime, nighttime, weekends. If you have a “Whatever It Takes” attitude, let me tell you…

5. Be Willing to Work 24 / 7 / 365 – Whatever It Takes.

The construction industry works at a different pace than the technical engineering side of the house does. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings in the design shops, it’s just the simple truth. There are long days that turn into 14-hour shifts, sometimes in less-than-optimal weather conditions. There are overnight shifts to do traffic staging and hang overhead signs. There are weekends, especially when the weather is good. And it takes individuals with a kind of dedication and work ethic that love the pace & the challenge that it brings to be effective in their duties as part of a team. If you are eager to work in the field, you need to be prepared to work. Construction isn’t an 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday role. It just isn’t.

6. Know Your Standards

This one might not come into play if the is your first job out of college, of if the role you are interviewing for doesn’t have a significant managerial aspect attached to it. But for those who might be interviewing for a junior or senior leadership role, having a firm grasp on your core tenets will allow you to address those types of questions in an interview setting. You want to work, manage & lead people and teams within an organization that is aligned with your standards. If they don’t align, you will not enjoy your work.

I know that one of my foundational requirements for myself and my teammates is unmitigated hard work. I expect nothing less from myself, and I expect it from those around me. A team that is founded on a hard-charging collective attitude about our mission and dedication to what we do, who we are serving, etc. will be successful. We can always supplement & teach our teammates missing knowledge or skills, but we cannot teach work ethic. If I was to walk into a job interview and be asked about my management style or how I formulate teams, you better believe I will be talking about these issues. This is my opportunity to make this potential employer know what I expect. And it may or may not align with the company’s/agency’s systems or attitudes. Quite frankly, I’d rather know that up-front so that we (the interviewer AND I) can understand whether our relationship has a chance to be successful or not.

7. Remember – An Interview is a Two-Way Street.

Just because YOU are being interviewed doesn’t mean that you are the only one in the room who is being interviewed – You are also interviewing the people and the company who you are interviewing with. Don’t feel like the spotlight is solely on you: I mean, yes, you are the person the interviewers want to meet, but remember: Are the people who you are interviewing with going to be your supervisors? If so, what are your first impressions? Does it sound like you will be a good fit with their company culture & work environment? Does it sound like the position they are considering you for meets your near-term job/education/career goals? You can do much to calm you mind (let’s face it, interviews can be a bit nerve-racking for anyone…) by understanding that, as much as they are getting a feel for whether you would be a good fit, you are doing the same with them.

After Actions

You’ve read this article. No doubt you’ve read others, watched YouTube videos on how to interview successfully. You’ve done your homework. You’ve prepared as best as you can. Now it’s just a matter of showing up and executing.

Here’s my suggestion: Grab your planner, of a field book, or some note cards, and simply write down the paragraph headers in this article. Do the same with the other resources that have provided you usable insight. Have that card with you. Arrive early at the interview, and before you enter their office, read through them. A couple of times to get your mind flowing around you, your work, your experience & your values. Don’t over-analyze your thoughts. Don’t try to develop “rehearsed” answers, just have your core bullet-points fresh in your mind on what you want your first impressions to include.

You are ready. Don’t be nervous. Relax. Be yourself. Enjoy the process. Hopefully, the outcome of the interview will be right for you.

You’ve now just hit the Refresh Button on YOU. You are ready to talk about yourself and answer questions.

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