Job Interviews

Structural Engineering Jobs: Interviewing Basics

Structural Engineering Jobs: Interviewing Basics

As a graduate working to get structural engineering jobs, there are several steps to follow that will help you position yourself as a top ranking candidate.

Understand the Job

Prospective jobs in civil and structural engineering are holding steady or even on the rise. Driven by recent government initiatives, green energy and environmental protection efforts, candidates should find an ample amount of employment opportunities. As a branch of civil engineering, structural engineering offers a diverse number of applications. A majority of the work is design-based, working with architects to design and build buildings, bridges, tunnels, towers, etc., although inspections can also be part of the job. The engineer makes sure the structure will stand up under normal and extreme circumstances. Structural engineers are also needed for demolition and repair projects. It’s important to remember engineers hold the lives of others in their hands. It’s an enormous responsibility but can be extremely gratifying as well. Salary for structural engineers varies with experience and by location. Recent graduates can expect to earn around $50-60K annually. The average salary is roughly $80K while a highly experienced engineer may earn more than $120K. Most engineers also receive attractive benefits packages complete with retirement plans, healthcare coverage, paid time off, and insurance options.

Have The Right Background

Core engineering skills are gained through a four-year program at an accredited university. After passing a formal examination the engineer achieves a chartered Structural Engineer status. With this degree, employment is achievable, however it is highly recommended to get a master’s degree in structural engineering as soon as possible to gain career advancement as soon as possible. Other skills can greatly help an aspiring engineer secure a job. Engineering requires the ability to interact with other technical and non-technical professionals as well as clients. Communication, sales ability, time management, and problem resolution skills are a must to achieve success.

Apply To Firms With A Good Fit

A good type of firm to select when entering the workforce is a firm with a wide range of projects to provide a strong base of structural engineering background. It provides exposure to many different types of projects as well as the various phases throughout. If you already have interest in a specific type of structural engineering you want to focus on, look for those firms with experience in those areas. Specialties can be defined in many ways including:
  • Materials: brick, concrete, steel, etc.
  • Structure types: shopping centers, pipelines, industrial plants, mechanical plants, chemical plants, roofs, towers, churches, etc.
  • External influences: earthquake, fire, wind, etc.

Prepare For The Interview

Preparation is the most crucial step in succeeding in the interview process. Research of the firm you are interviewing with is essential. Study their website, look at corporate mission and goals, examine prior projects, gain an understanding of the firm’s specialties, and try to understand their design/build or project management philosophy. Then make a list of questions you’d like to know more about and bring that list with you to the interview. Also review the firm’s recruitment literature to ascertain what skills they are looking for in an employee. Be prepared with examples that prove you have the skills listed. Although you can’t possibly prepare for every technical question that may be thrown at you, brush up on the fundamentals. In general, to succeed in an interview, put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. How can you make their firm better? Why are you interested in structural engineering? Why do you want to work for their firm? Craft good responses to these questions before you walk into the interview.

Showcase Your Talent At The Interview

Most firms are looking for three main things in a structural engineer:
  1. Analytical problem solving
  2. Ability to work effectively on multi-disciplinary teams
  3. Good communication with (often non-technical) clients
As you can see, two of the three involve the ability to communicate. Effective engineers must be able to ask questions and understand answers. The interview is your stage to prove to potential employers that you have this skill. Be conversational and show your enthusiasm. Interviewers want to see the real you, not a scripted one. You should be prepared to answer fundamental technical questions but it’s unlikely you will be asked anything beyond basic concepts. Typically what they are trying to understand is your thought process and how you solve problems. If you don’t know the answer, say so. It’s better than guessing wrong. Show interest in the firm by asking questions from a list you generated in preparation for the interview and don’t be shy to ask about more personal topics as well:
  • What graduate training and professional development programs are available?
  • Describe a typical day on the job.
  • If it’s a new city, ask what it’s like living in the area.
These questions show that you are genuinely interested in the job and are seriously considering the practicalities of taking it. Photo Credit: Shutterstock