Get Noticed by Engineering Employers

Get Noticed by Engineering Employers

Landing a job at an engineering company with a stellar reputation and strong talent pipeline takes a mixture of specialized skills, passion, and personality.
There’s strong competition to land a mechanical engineering position at some of the country’s top companies.

But as a job candidate, sometimes not having all the answers, but knowing how to ask the right questions, is the key to getting hired.

For example, Louis Abbott, a principal of mechanical engineering in the San Diego office of Coffman Engineers, gives applicants a simple 20-minute test with some algebra equations and questions specific to the industry.

“That little test isn’t to know their knowledge,” explained Abbott. “I tell them, ‘If you don’t know something, ask me.’ I want them to be inquisitive. I want them to show me they want to find the right answer more than trying to prove to me they know how to fill out some equations, because we can teach them what to do. I’m looking for someone receptive to feedback. That shows an ability to learn.”

Pi-shaped engineer

Landing a job at an engineering company with a stellar reputation and strong talent pipeline takes a mixture of specialized skills, passion, and personality.

Steve Chisholm, vice president and functional chief engineer for mechanical and structural engineering for The Boeing Company, said he sees great value in progressing from the “T-Shaped” engineer to the “Pi-Shaped” engineer. The former is deep in an engineering discipline (forming the vertical leg of the T) and has breadth of perspective, while the latter adds another vertical leg that represents knowledge of data science, which could be machine learning, data analytics, or augmented intelligence.

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“In the not-so-distant past, we’d have to go to two different people and maybe two different departments sometimes to get that knowledge,” he said. “And if we have that together in one individual, that’s really powerful.”

Culture fit

Sometimes the right hire is as much about the company as it is the candidate.

“The single, most important factor we look for is whether someone is a culture fit,” said Mike Brewster, vice president of new product development engineering at Milwaukee Tools. “It’s not only about how they will mesh with teams internally. It’s about whether they have that personality, that drive, that DNA that matches ours that’s going to push us into the next round of industry disruption.”

At the cutting edge of technology in emerging areas, Brewster added, “At times there is ambiguity, and we need people who are going to be comfortable with that.”

Employers may be looking for a sense of ease even when a candidate is least expecting it.

Abbott recalled a recent second interview with a candidate he wanted to introduce to a co-worker. He brought the candidate to a food court beforehand and asked where the man would like to eat.

“Man, that guy could not give an answer,” Abbott said. “He was like a deer in the headlights. It’s really through casual conversation that you can get a feel for people. It wasn’t a planned question and I didn’t try to trap him, but the result was a telling response.”

Abbott looks for a strong interest or proficiency in areas outside of engineering as well.

Possess passion

“Everyone is going to say they work hard and know how to multitask, so how do I see through that? I look for the passion,” he said. “You could play an instrument or be into fishing. I don’t care what it is, but show some passion for something.”

Chisholm emphasized that while all engineers are expected to be problem-solvers, he also expects them to be “problem-preventers.”

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“I want them to be thinking about, ‘What is our desired future state and how do we get there?’” he said.

Although not mandatory, Brewster noted that “it's both exciting and intriguing” when candidates choose to share either a prototype related to the company's product line or a simulation they've independently developed.

People skills

People skills, meanwhile, can’t be emphasized enough.

For Brewster, that means everyone, whatever their role, works together as a tight-knit team.

“Being open and honest is a big part of our culture,” he said. “We want everyone to ask questions and really dig into projects, making informed decisions. We believe in transparency, empowering each team member to share any challenges or opportunities they spot. This proactive communication helps us tackle issues quickly and have meaningful discussions.”

The ability to articulate thoughts and connect is paramount, added Chisholm: “You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you’re not able to communicate your ideas, that has very little value.”

Robin L. Flanigan is an independent writer in Rochester, N.Y.

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