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Interviewing New Graduates

Interviewing New Graduates

(OP)
I work in a small civil engineering and land surveying firm. Engineering staff has about a dozen employees. I've moved up to a position in my company where I am interviewing and making hiring recommendations to my boss.

Getting a feel for the skill sets and ability of people with some experience and conducting those interviews goes pretty well. The last couple of people with experience I have recommended we hire have turned out pretty well.

I am struggling with the how to assess the new graduates with little to no experience. GPA and some internship experience has not necessarily been great predictors on the last couple of guys we hired right out of college.

How technical are you with your interviews with new grads? Is it just a gut feeling on these people that they will work out? I'd really like to give new grads some kind of test, but I'm pretty certain that would just run them off.

What types of interview questions or processes do y'all have in place for vetting new grads and finding capable newbies?

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

I give 'em a few questions that they should be able to figure out, like:
- Sketch a simple beam, call it a bridge across a creek, and ask what they need to know to figure out if the resident alligator can bite them as they walk over. Not asking for a specific formula for deflection, just asking for what parameters must be known in order to solve such a problem.
- Ask a little about the metallurgy of steel, like what makes it different from iron, and how much of that something makes a difference.
- Ask about preloaded bolts and fatigue.
- Ask specific questions about things they claim to understand; only the ones you actually understand, of course.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT answer the questions or reveal whether the candidate was correct or not. Just note their answer and keep going. The intent here is to not educate the candidate during the interview, to not waste your limited time, and also to apply a little pressure, the same sort of pressure they will feel every day at work, when they are given problems for which the answer is not known by anyone beforehand, and the correctness of which cannot be established right away.

After the interview, find a quiet place and write a summary of what was said, and how the candidate reacted. Include the candidate's name and the date. Candidates who know their stuff will either not be bothered, or will ask questions about what you are trying to figure out about them. The ones who are just winging it will either seem oblivious, or will sweat profusely.

Keep your notes and summary in your possession, preferably at home.
Do not forward them to HR to accompany the inevitable form.



Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

One of the more important jobs of engineers is how they present their data and recommendations. How much do they know about computers and what is their grasp of the English language. What are their outside interests and how do they get along with others. Is this a person that some day will be grinding out work or will they be a supervisor? I've also found t that having some mechanical ability and experience outside in muddy and bad weather helps in the early years.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

As a geotech, I like to see that a college grad took a geotech elective class (even better if they took two). This helps to weed out those interested in my field and those just looking for a job. It also gives them a stronger fundamental base to work from. I also ask why they want to do geotech. They won't fully know why, of course, but you can still get a feel from their answer.

Internship experience is good, but like you said, not necessarily a slam dunk. I do like to see real world work experience of any kind. Even working in a restaurant for more than a year shows maturity. Kids who worked part time in high school probably have a good work ethic. I ask technical questions, but I don't expect them to answer it correctly. I'm more interested in hearing how they process the problem. I do share the answer with my candidates because it engages them. Remember, you are not just picking them, they are picking you. If you want a good candidate to pick you, then you need to show them that they can learn from you.

Mostly, just asking open ended questions to get them talking is the best way to interview. Don't lead with your questions or you'll get canned answers. Questions like "do you mind working long hours to meet a due date?" are the dumbest kinds of questions.

It's good to have a list of questions prepared and ask everyone the same (or at least mostly the same) questions so you are getting a less biased comparison. There will be some gut involved and you will make bad picks given enough opportunities to hire people. That's okay.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

One thing to poke at are claims of experience on things or software. I once asked a candidate what systems they had modeled in the software that they claimed to be familiar with. Their response was that they "watched" someone else use the software, and hadn't ever used the software in question.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

Review the resume closely for lies, omissions and exaggeration etc. anything fishy or doesn't pass the snuff test then question them on it. Often Software falls in this category as IRstuff alludes. I once noticed the claimed number of hours experience on a specific CAD SW on someone's resume looked high (not a new grad) so I did the math. Basically the guy was claiming 40 hrs per week using the SW - no vacation or holidays off, no time in meetings or other activity, no sick and no on the clock toilet or coffee breaks etc. - from the day he graduated. Speaks to him either purposely trying to mislead me or not thinking thru something as important as what he put on his resume- I extrapolated that to what he'd be like to work with and did not recommend him.

I also back up the language/communication skills oldest guy mentions. We have a lot of non native speaking applicants historically and I used to try not to be too harsh in assessing their English skills. However, the ones that got hired turns out that those with better English skills turned out to be better employees overall and some with weaker skills really didn't work out at all. So now it's almost a deal breaker if I have any communication skills at the interview. Obviously there will be exceptions but for my kind of work few and far between IMHO.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

I'm not big on the technical questions. I'm hoping that anyone who got or is getting a degree can do the simple problems we can ask in an interview. And if they can't, maybe they don't work good under the pressure of having some old guy toss confusing, poorly presented problems at them. I prefer showing them what our work involves and seeing what questions and input they have. I remember at my first interview, the assistant division head asked what I would space the columns in a building. (By the way, they didn't design high rises)I looked around the office and guessed 40 ft. Wrong, but I got the job. I lasted there 20 years, so I guess I did all right.
I'm much more interested in sizing up their work habits. Will they show up Monday through Friday at a set time, basically for 40 years. Are they curious? Are they interested in actually doing engineering? Will they work well with others? Are they going to bring a lot of drama to work? Can they travel?
If they learned the basics in college, I can hopefully fill in the gaps.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

I think I would mainly just suss out if they like engineering. Most stuff can be self taught or learned and most engineering jobs for the most part aren't as technical as we would like to pretend them to be. Not being able to write and be understood would be a deal breaker with me.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

"I'm hoping that anyone who got or is getting a degree can do the simple problems we can ask in an interview. "

Not always. We had a candidate who supposedly got a 4.0 GPA in college, but couldn't solve a freshman EE problem, not once, not twice, but three times during the day, AFTER getting the solution the first two times. That was sad, but sadder was the fact that was the best question the 3 of us could come up with winky smile

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

I always find it interesting to see if you can get a new grad to say those three hardest words:

"I don't know"

I'll also second the value of working during school, and being able to articulate why you like engineering.

----
The name is a long story -- just call me Lo.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

I don't interview a new grad to find out what someone knows. I interview to find out how they think.

Who is right doesn't matter. What is right is all that matters.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

As others have said you need to find out how they think and solve problems. Just ask them to explain how they would approach it and what tools they would use.

What do you expect them to know from school? Formulas, material properties, terminology?

I have always paid close attention to what questions they ask. I find that most interesting in any interview. How do they react to a shop tour or when you show them your products or drawings?

Honda is one company I know has written tests. There are others.

This difficulty in demonstrating what a student knows to someone in industry is why I always recommend students work on design projects or competition teams.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

I haven't been back in industry long (I've been teaching college for a while, and yes, I emphasized design skills), but I'll be asking two questions.

I will ask them to describe the engineering design process, then explain how they applied that process to solve a design problem at school, including discussion of constraints. Recent grads are typically well-prepared to answer engineering analysis questions, but clueless when it comes to design. Those that can discuss design will get my approval. Those that show they don't know what design is by describing analysis and explaining how they solved an analysis problem don't get my approval.

Since I'll be hiring electrical engineers, I've decided I will ask one multi-part technical question related to electrical design. I've tested this question on many classes full of students, so the results I'm discussing below refer to their behavior.
  1. You have been tasked to power a 5 V ± 10%, 1 A resistive load from a 10 V supply. You've been told to use a voltage divider to create the 5 V. Select resistors for use in the voltage divider.
  2. Determine the efficiency of your design. Propose alternatives that will have a better efficiency.
For Part a, most of my students would know the resistors should be the same resistance value, but then they'd get stuck. They didn't know how to choose a value for the resistance. Most threw up their hands at this point and said "I don't know how to continue."

Once in a while, someone would arbitrarily proposes a resistance value (often it was me - one I knew to be incorrect), then we'd analyze the circuit to see if it would meet the specified voltage to the load. Usually, their design didn't work, so I asked them what they wanted to do next.

Someone who understood the design process would suggest we iterate (I often had to bring up this idea, but occasionally it was a student), choosing a different resistance value, and analyzing again. They'd usually go in the wrong direction with their next proposed value. Since now everyone in class saw the need to iterate, they'd iterate again and go in the opposite direction from their first iteration, and after a few cycles, they'd get a workable resistance value.

Once they'd get a resistance value that works, I asked them if we were done. Only a select few knew they need to spec a wattage rating also.

It would be pretty straightforward analysis at this point to calculate the efficiency for Part b. My students could usually do this.

I imagine, like my students, most recent grad interviewees won't do well with this, so I'll move them on to Part b at any point that they give up. My plan is to give them some resistance and wattage values that will work to get the voltage within tolerance and have them show that the values work using analysis. Then they'll have to calculate the efficiency of the design I've given then - it's horribly low. I will finally ask them what more efficient alternatives they would propose and how they would push back against management's direction to use a voltage divider. This will let me judge some of their soft skills.

xnuke
"Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life." Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.
Please see FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

2
I've been doing this for a decade. A few tips:

1) Interviewing is a crapshoot. After a decade doing it, I'm better at selecting people via an interview than I would be picking the resumes of my pre-screened candidates out of a hat at random, but I'm not sure by how much. Sure, I can weed out the total dolts, but I'm not 100% confident that I'm selecting the very best candidates either. So treat it as a pre-screening tool only, similar to reading and reviewing interview packages (which include a resume and a transcript for a fresh grad)
2) Ask technical questions. That will rapidly allow you to sort out the people who merely have good marks from the ones who have real conceptual access to their education. You can test for "practicality" with the right questions, and find the people who have an understanding which is informed by experience with the real world, if that's important to your business. It definitely is important to ours!
3) Hire them for a paid internship with a definite end date, preferably short- ours are 4 months. The problem with 1) is greatly mitigated when you're just using the unreliable interview process to select candidates for what amounts to a 4 month paid interview. We don't like 8 month internships and hate 16 month "experience year" internships because the selected people inevitably become part of the furniture, and can make it on to staff for reasons other than their abilities or potential as engineers.
4) If you like the student, and they like you, hire them back for a 2nd four month interview, after more schooling. After eight months of interviews, you'll have a very good idea who they are as people in a work environment, which you can only get the vaguest sense of in an interview.
5) Select the very best from your former interns, and hire them on staff. The customary contract period at the outset isn't really required at this point- they've been on contract with you for four or eight months already.
6) Invest some effort in training them on the job, with proper mentorship.
7) Pay them fairly and give them interesting work.

That's been our formula. It has worked like a charm. We have a far higher failure rate with staff who were hired after nothing but interviews, even when we used 3rd parties to do psych evaluations etc. Our former interns almost invariably turn out to be excellent employees. And if you do 6) and 7), turnover is quite low. You do get those who leave for family reasons etc., but that's inevitable.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

I have found that it is not necessarily what he or she has learned in school that counts, its that they have the ability and willingness to learn what school did not teach them. College does not always teach you what you need to know, it teaches you how to learn.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

Ask how many millimeters are in one inch. (I am serious - you may be surprised)

"For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert"
Arthur C. Clarke Profiles of the future

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

Quote (CheckerHater)



Ask how many millimeters are in one inch. (I am serious - you may be surprised)

A LittleInch or a BigInch ? ponder

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

Metric Inch 3eyes

"For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert"
Arthur C. Clarke Profiles of the future

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

I used to work for a company that did business all over the world, in inches and in mm.
We were constantly converting/scaling CAD files back and forth.
For a while there, we were making parts that didn't fit.
... because one of our experienced fabricators was subbing as a designer,
and using 25 mm := 1 inch for his conversions.
It took months to undo the damage.



Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

My favorite is when people translate a CAD file (can be done 2D or 3D) and mismatch the units so it comes out a factor of 25.4 off. Customers are the worst for it when we send them floor plans for setting up some of our big instruments.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

My employer has just hired a few new or recent grads. A very different process to interview them for sure.
While we use a very structured interview system (interviewing in teams with guide questions) I leaned in a different direction for these interviews.
I see three keys:
1. Natural desire to do the job. To be an engineer you have to like problems solving and be able to live with some level of uncertainty, no one ever gives you enough info so asking questions and making judgements is critical.
2. Ability to communicate. Yes peoples communications skills can improve, but you are starting with decent ability it is easier to improve. Not just spoken language as much as comfort and poise are what I want.
3. No afraid to get dirty. That could be in a factory, the field, or just an undesirable part of the job it needs to be done and the new hires should expect to carry a fair part of this work.
If they can look me in the eye and convince me that they want to do the job I am interested in them.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
P.E. Metallurgy, Plymouth Tube

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

One of our senior engineers would interview by literally quizzing the candidate from various engineering textbooks. Not coincidentally, this fellow is also an adjunct professor and his work is highly rigorous and calculation-based. I find such exercises largely wasteful in an interview setting.

Where we are, one big question is how technical and introverted each engineer is, by their nature. We put engineering grads anywhere from R&D (highly technical, highly detailed, good for introverts and high GPA students) to outside technical sales (know the concepts behind engineering, great with people and self-motivated). In between we have inside sales roles and design engineering roles which are more middle ground. We spend plenty of time going through which of these tracks aligns best with the individual. No point putting a great candidate into a job that isn't great for them.

I look for communication skills - not everyone is a verbal wizard or wins prizes for their prose, but has to communicate effectively in some channel. I look for motivation - will they stay here long enough to be useful and skilled, or will they immediately jump to another department or company entirely. I want team players with good business culture. I look for practical decisionmaking skills - I want an engineer who knows how to numerically rationalize or perform the simplest possible calculation in order to drive a particular decision - I don't want a robot who makes a full blown analysis of everything.

We introduce our candidates to some of the design elements of our product. Just having a discussion quickly reveals their knowledge and ability to listen, communicate, and learn.

Notice that none of this is relevant to prior experience. Of course that's tremendously valuable but by no means does a lack of experience mean a short, shallow interview.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

Quote:

How technical are you with your interviews with new grads? Is it just a gut feeling on these people that they will work out? I'd really like to give new grads some kind of test, but I'm pretty certain that would just run them off.

What types of interview questions or processes do y'all have in place for vetting new grads and finding capable newbies?

I don't know that there is a magic question anymore than there is for seasoned personnel. I've seen a lot of guys with decades of experience under their belt that gave a great interview........and didn't turn out to be worth 2 cents on the job. You'll just have to do the best you can.

Whenever I've talked to them, I always try to get a feel for where they are at. Do they use ASD or LRFD for steel (most of them are LRFD at this point)? How familiar are they with Appendix D (in ACI 318)? (And how to design when loads are in excess of those capacities.) What have they done/not done with FEA software? And so on. If you are interviewing new grads, your expectations can't be that high to begin with.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

That's exactly why we now (to the extent possible) only use interviews to select people for four month, paid interviews with a defined end point, i.e. paid internships. We want them to move in for at least four months so we can discover the underlying person in their native habitat. Anybody can be perfect for a couple interviews with enough effort and planning and a little luck, but after two four-month stints as a live-in, you get a pretty solid idea just how people are going to work out!

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

I have found it takes me about 6 months before I have a relatively firm grasp on whether someone should stay or go. We have a 90 day probationary period and I have had instances where I felt pretty strong after 90 days that someone I hired was the wrong fit. However, I just didn't have the confidence to pull the trigger to release them at 90 days. Chalk this up to having less than 10 years management experience, perhaps. Anyways, by 6 months, I made some adjustments of my own and that individual was able to perform as required given my changes in management. It turns out that it wasn't strictly a matter of them meeting my standards. I also needed improvement as a manager.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

Same here. The 3 months is seen as a formality and we don't put much pressure on people during that period. And yes it's much harder to pull the trigger on someone in that situation, than to tell an inern naah we're not hiring you after your 3 months internship.
I'm totally convinced about moltenmetal's approach.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

My only problem with moltenmetal's approach is that it might not be that easy to find great candidates willing to take what could essentially be perceived as a temp job if they have other full time offers.

I know when I graduated from college, I would have laughed at the prospect of proving myself for a MAYBE job when there were plenty of offers for full time work on the table. Fast forward one year when the economy crashed in 08/09 and I would probably have jumped at the opportunity - but only if there were no full time opportunities already on the table.

All successful strategies for hiring people have to be made in the context of the overall job market.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

@Terratek

In my experience during college and working professionally since then (graduated 5 yrs ago) generally the 4-8 mo internships are done while still as an undergrad student, before graduation. So there really isn't much of a conflict with full-time offers for most students taking internships.

Beyond that for entry-level graduates, some companies do a 18-36mo onboarding where the new hire rotates 6-9months between a few departments to find a best fit (for example, one may rotate though quality, project management/capital, safety, process/manufacturing). These are still full-time, salaried hires.

RE: Interviewing New Graduates

Our interns are typically engineering students. The very best hires we have, are people who were picked up after graduation as the cream of the crop, selected from a larger group of people who all did one or two 4-month internships with us with some school terms between these. However, the market for engineers in Ontario and Canada generally is so terrible at the moment, particularly at the entry level, that we've seen fresh graduates- really good ones- willing to take the chance on a 4 month post-grad insternship with us (paid at the same rate we'd pay a fresh grad we take onto staff, plus a small premium for the fact they are given no employment benefits as a contract worker). It is really hard to send someone on their way after 4 months on the job unless they're dreadful, so we really prefer students who MUST depart at the end of that term. That way we can avoid being saddled with staff who turn out to be an imperfect fit, putting a strain on our VERY imperfect management skills to try to change them into what we need them to be.

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