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Civil Engineer Interview
Questions

30 Questions and Answers by Ryan Brown

Question 1 of 30

Tell me about a time when you were in disagreement with the construction crew. What was the problem and how was it resolved?

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Civil Engineer Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    Tell me about a time when you were in disagreement with the construction crew. What was the problem and how was it resolved?

      As engineers move up the ladder, their responsibilities evolve to include more direct conversations with clients and construction crews. This is where conflicts can begin to develop. Construction crews have their own agendas, which might differ from how you saw it as an engineer when you drew it up. Construction companies have their own internal procedures, driven by their ultimate goal of completing the job safely for the lowest cost possible.

      Ryan's Answer

      "On a large bridge project, the construction team kept pushing us to design a temporary shoring system to their specifications, but there was no way their proposed section could be safely installed. They went to another firm in the hopes that someone else could give them what they wanted. Ultimately, they came back to us to complete the design of their shoring system as we had originally intended."

  2. 2.

    When did you realize you wanted a career as a civil engineer?

      This will be a very common interview question for internships and entry-level civil engineering positions. At this early stage of your career, companies aren’t necessarily as interested in your technical engineering knowledge as they are about your willingness to learn and fit in the company culture. They’ll be able to bring you up to speed on the ins and outs of actually working in the field after college, but they want to make sure you’re enthusiastic and eager to learn as a young engineer. Companies are looking for people who are truly passionate about their work as engineers and are in it for more than a paycheck.

      Ryan's Answer

      "As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with bridges and skyscrapers --- structures that seem to defy gravity and stand as a testament to our human ability to solve impossible problems. I just marvel at some of our iconic bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge that were built without computers and modern engineering software. So, studying civil engineering seemed like a natural fit for me, and I’ve concentrated my studies within the major in structural engineering. I have loved studying and learning about structural engineering and can’t wait to start my career."

  3. 3.

    What role do you generally like to take in team projects?

      Be candid with the interviewer. The interviewer truly wants to hear how you fit best with a team. Giving an honest answer will allow the interviewer to determine whether or not you'd fit well on their team. Being dishonest or trying to tell the interviewer what you think they want to hear could backfire on you if you are hired with the expectation that you will handle a role on a team that doesn't mesh with your personality. If you usually like to take the lead, speak up! If you usually like to generate new ideas and allow someone else to execute them, now is the time to share your creative side. If you usually like to carry out ideas as you are told, be sure to mention that you are the execution person. Whatever your strength is, now is the time to share it!

      Ryan's Answer

      "When I work on a team, I prefer to actively lead discussions and contribute my own ideas for the group to debate. I find this keeps me more engaged with the day-to-day project work and I enjoy developing creative ideas to share with the rest of the team."

  4. 4.

    How do you handle stress on the job?

      Talk to the interviewer about your ability to manage pressure in the workplace. Civil engineering isn't necessarily the most stressful career path in the world, but there will be times where you're facing a tight deadline or dealing with a difficult client with a long list of demands and little patience.

      Ryan's Answer

      "I think I handle stress very well. When I am under pressure on the job, I focus on the task at hand and make sure to not get distracted. Staying on deadline is very helpful and I will delegate when necessary to alleviate some stress. I've found that I am able to manage my stress levels much more effectively when I keep a running checklist of tasks that need to be done each day."

  5. 5.

    What part of being a civil engineer do you dislike the most?

      Let's face it, we can't all be in love with our job every single day. Employers know that, and they realize that there are certain tasks that aren't exactly scintillating or exciting. When you answer this question, it's ok to be honest about what you don't like, but provide some insight into how you still find a way to stay motivated to do your best work even when you're not loving your job.

      Ryan's Answer

      "Try as I might, I struggle to get excited about working on box culvert projects, but I understand they're a good way for a smaller office to build up trust with the DOT and generate revenue. Even if I'm not excited about a specific project, I try and remind myself that it's still important to do my best work."

  6. 6.

    When do you have difficulty working in a team environment?

      The interviewer wants to hear that you enjoy being on a team and thrive in the team environment. Tell the interviewer that you really like working with other people, and you do not have difficulty working in a team environment. Share that the team environment excites you, and you look forward to getting to know your team members each time a new team project starts.

      Ryan's Answer

      "For me, the best part of being a civil engineer is working as part of a team to solve difficult design problems. I love bouncing ideas off each other and collaborating to find creative solutions for our clients."

  7. 7.

    What was the most challenging team you worked with? Why?

      There are some people who create challenges at work by simply opening their mouth. Some individuals waste time and energy by causing distractions or being lazy. Working with personalities that are different from you can always pose an extra challenge. If you have experienced issues with conflicting personalities or worked with others who just didn't seem to carry their weight or weren't willing to work hard, share how you made an effort to bring the team together and work collaboratively.

      Ryan's Answer

      "At my previous company, there was a senior engineer whose demeanor just rubbed me the wrong way, very abrasive and stubborn when it came to accepting other people's ideas. It's a difficult position to be in when you don't get along with someone in charge of you, but I handled it by striking up conversations with them unrelated to work and seeing where we had similar interests. We worked together much better after that."

  8. 8.

    Describe a situation where you had a confrontation with a construction crew.

      Navigating relationships with construction crews can be tricky for civil engineers, especially younger ones who are typically assigned the duty of monitoring work or inspecting construction sites. Construction crews have their own way of doing things that might not always run in tandem with engineering plans and calculations. They may be reluctant to deviate from their own methods, but the engineer must step in if something unsafe is happening or if work is not being performed to a high standard. Discuss with the interviewer a scenario where you had to step in and stop work until steps were taken to correct the construction team's method.

      Ryan's Answer

      "On my last big job, I was monitoring the construction of a basement for a multi-story apartment building. The construction team was cutting corners on their safety protocol and leaving their workers exposed to a potential cave in while excavating. I halted work until they agreed to correct their work in accordance with the proper OSHAA standards."

  9. 9.

    What was your favorite class in undergrad?

      When a company is interviewing you for an entry-level position, they're really trying to do their best to get to know you. If you've made it to the interview, they're already interested in hiring you. Now, their focus is on getting a feel for whether or not you're a good fit for the opening. When making their recommendation, a good interviewer will also be honest about whether or not the position is a good fit for the applicant's career goals and passions. If you're applying for a job with a niche engineering firm, hopefully your favorite class falls into that discipline.

      Ryan's Answer

      "My favorite class was Introduction to Geotechnical Engineering my junior year. I had no idea how interesting and complex soils could be. I love that geotechnical engineering doesn't always have a correct, by-the-book answer and that geotechnical engineers have much more freedom to exercise their own judgement when evaluating a site."

  10. 10.

    Tell me about your greatest work related accomplishment.

      Talking about your greatest accomplishment will give the interviewer a strong idea of where you place your values. It will also show the interviewer more about your personality, how you like to be motivated, and how to coach you in the future. It is okay to brag a little bit when answering this question. This is your chance to add more color and personality to your resume Show that you are proud of yourself and your career accomplishments!

      Ryan's Answer

      "The greatest accomplishment in my career was leading the bridge design team on a massive Interstate reconstruction project. It was my first time being given a chance to work as a project manager on such a large project, but our team successfully managed design of 10 bridges."

  11. 11.

    What is the best way to deal with a difficult client?

      In retail, they say the customer is always right, and that applies to engineering to a degree. Civil engineers will no doubt cross paths with difficult clients throughout their career and will have to find a way to grit their teeth and get through it. A client may be too demanding or lacking in communication skills. It's up to you as the engineer to navigate your clients' whims and moods to prove to them that your firm has what it takes to get the job done. Highlight an experience you had with a difficult client and how you were able to make the relationship work and complete the job successfully.

      Ryan's Answer

      "At my previous job, we worked with a land developer who was constantly micromanaging our work. He always felt he could figure out how to do the job better and was critical of our work. However, we knew that he was a valuable client with potential for repeat work, so we made it a point to afford him opportunities to feel involved in the design process."

  12. 12.

    Do you have experience using 3D modeling software or finite element software?

      Your interviewer will want to gauge what type of experience you have using higher-level engineering software, especially if you are applying for a structural engineering position. Engineering software has gotten incredibly advanced and is now able to model more complicated structures and bridges. Having experience using finite element analysis or 3D modeling tools like BIM or BrIM will help you stand out. Be honest with your experience and level of comfort using these programs. Highlight past projects where you used the software and how it helped advance the project. If you do not have experience, discuss your willingness and eagerness to learn.

      Ryan's Answer

      "I have experience using Bentely's LEAP software to design a curved steel bridge. I really enjoyed using the software to perform a more complex design. I have also used Open Bridge Modeler to perform quantity and cost estimates."

  13. 13.

    What do you think is the most important trait for a project manager?

      Having strong project managers is one of the most critical aspects of running an engineering firm. The project managers are responsible for managing budgets and schedules, distributing workload fairly and efficiently and developing junior staff and helping them mature into more valuable members of the team. A good project manager needs to be organized, have strong attention to detail, communicate effectively and have confidence in their engineering judgement. Stress to the interviewer that you possess these traits and give concrete examples where possible.

      Ryan's Answer

      "First and foremost, a good project manager must be organized and extremely focused on details. This helps keep projects on track. I have experience developing budgeting and tracking tools that contributed significantly to my prior firm setting new records for profitability in the last quarter."

  14. 14.

    When have you taken an existing process and used your own engineering judgement to make it better?

      Innovation in the field of engineering happens when staff is given the freedom to draw on their own unique skills and experiences to make existing processes better. Being given the license to use your own creativity to improve an internal process is a sign that your coworkers and managers respect your judgement and think highly of your abilities as an engineer. Talk to the interviewer about your ability to take an existing process and improve it in a creative way.

      Ryan's Answer

      "I have developed a new approach for calculating bridge quantities using 3D modeling software. At my current firm, I have led the charge into changing the way we perform cost estimates by using the most current modeling software available to us and it has greatly improved our efficiency for quantity takeoffs. My method is now being implemented across the firms branch offices."

  15. 15.

    Tell me about a time when you had to work long hours to reach a project deadline. How did you handle it?

      Overtime will be required at some point in your engineering career, and the interviewer wants to know how you handled a situation where more than 40 hours was expected of you. Explain to the interviewer that going above and beyond to complete a project on time is not something that scares you. Engineers who do not shy away from putting in the extra effort to hit a deadline or keep a project on schedule are invaluable to a company.

      Ryan's Answer

      "My team was facing an end-of-year crunch to turn in final plans for a highway bridge last year. I embraced the opportunity to work extra knowing that things would slow down and get back to normal after the submission. I don't mind working overtime if it's required to help our firm meet deadlines and keep clients happy."

  16. 16.

    What's your dream project to be a part of?

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  17. 17.

    What do you enjoy most about being a civil engineer?

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  18. 18.

    How would you handle a situation where a design flaw led to a serious accident?

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  19. 19.

    What should be the top priority for civil engineers today?

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  20. 20.

    Why are you interested in joining our firm?

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  21. 21.

    How familiar are you with using AutoCAD?

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  22. 22.

    Tell me about a time when you created a unique idea or solution, and it was rejected by your colleagues. How were you able to bounce back?

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  23. 23.

    When have you had to think outside of the box to solve a problem?

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  24. 24.

    What qualities do you believe are most valuable for a team?

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  25. 25.

    Tell me about an error or mistake you made because of a breakdown in communication from you or one of your team members.

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  26. 26.

    Tell me about a time when you improved communication between yourself and a co-worker or client.

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  27. 27.

    Tell me about a time when your communication skills greatly benefited your team.

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  28. 28.

    Describe an ongoing problem at your current or former employer that you were able to overcome.

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  29. 29.

    Can you talk to me about your GPA during undergraduate/graduate school?

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  30. 30.

    What part of being a civil engineer brings you the most stress?

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