The role of lead engineer is something that many engineers and developers pursue in the early stages of their careers. It’s also a position that many engineering companies hire for when beginning new projects or looking to promote existing members of their company.
The final stage of a job interview usually involves a face-to-face discussion where questions are asked to determine a candidate’s suitability. This article goes through some of the best lead engineer interview questions and is ideal for engineers preparing for the interview or employers wondering what to ask their candidates.
What is a Lead Engineer?
A lead engineer is a similar role to a project manager. It involves being in charge of a team working on an engineering project and taking responsibility for ensuring that this project delivers the required outcomes.
There are a lot of similarities between project managers and lead engineers, but the key difference is that a lead engineer is often someone who has a background in an engineering discipline and has gained project management experience through the roles they have worked in. They may have a different official job title, but act as lead engineer on certain projects.
Lead engineers are responsible for coordinating a team of other employees to complete all the tasks involved in a project. They act as the point of contact between the team and relevant stakeholders or senior members of a company, managing deadlines and budget to keep everything on track.
An employee may get promoted to a lead engineer role as part of a journey towards a managerial role. In many businesses, it’s seen as a ‘mid point’ for engineers who want to take on more responsibility eventually but need experience before they are promoted to a top position in the company.
What does a Lead Engineer Do?
In order to be prepared for your lead engineer interview, it can be useful to understand the typical responsibilities that belong to someone in this role. Below are examples of what a lead engineer may be required to do on a day-to-day basis in their job.
- Working with clients and project managers to define requirements of the project and understand what is expected from the final product
- Planning everything that needs to be done to reach the finished product and creating a schedule for each of these tasks
- Delegating tasks to team members and providing support and training where necessary
- Completing their own work associated with the project
- Running tests to highlight errors and refining products to remove these
- Ensuring that deliverables meet relevant safety and quality standards
- Assisting with the production of relevant technical documentation such as product specifications or user manuals
- Delivering updates and progress reports to more senior members of staff where required
Lead Engineer Interview Questions
There’s a huge variety of questions that can be asked in a lead engineer interview. Here are some of the best examples, along with explanations of what to include or look for in the answer.
Why are you interested in this role?
It may seem an obvious way to start an interview, but it is important to ask a candidate why they are interested in a lead engineer role in particular. Not only is this a good way to lead into other questions about the job, but it will instantly identify whether the candidate is actively keen to take on the role and whether they’ve done their research about what it involves.
Why do you want to work for our company?
This is another question that will prove how much time a candidate has spent preparing for the interview and researching your company. Someone who lists off exact sentences from your website has perhaps tried a little too hard in their research, but someone who can mention specific projects or clients that they’re interested in, and who demonstrates that they have taken time to learn more about their potential employer is the kind of person you want to hire.
Why do you want a leadership position?
This is a question specific to the role of lead engineer, as whilst it’s not a position with masses of managerial responsibility, it does involve leading and taking charge of others. For many engineers, this job is one of the first opportunities to take on more responsibility and have the power to make decisions without consulting others, and candidates should demonstrate a clear pathway in their career to wanting a role with leadership opportunities.
How would your previous employer describe you?
This is a great question that most candidates won’t be expecting, as it takes the traditional approach of getting an interviewee to describe themselves and puts an unusual spin on it. Asking how a previous employer would describe you illustrates how a candidate was perceived in their previous job but also gives them a chance to sell themselves in a professional capacity.
Tell me about a successful project you led
This question allows candidates to talk about a relevant example of a project in a previous role, demonstrating qualities and work that they are proud of. Understanding how a candidate defines success is important in an interview, as is listening to them talk about work they have done in the past and what they were proud of.
Tell me how you manage priorities
A lead engineer has to juggle multiple tasks and decide on a project’s priorities, so asking a candidate how they approach priorities is a great tactic in a job interview. You’re looking for someone who is comfortable deciding what needs to be done and taking charge of a project by identifying what is the most important, and it also gives the interviewee a chance to explain their thought processes when it comes to deciding what to work on.
How would you motivate your team to meet deadlines?
Being a successful team leader means developing a positive relationship with your team members and understanding the best way to help all of them complete their work so that a project reaches its conclusion on time and to a high standard. Motivating team members when things get hard and ensuring that they complete work on time requires excellent people and organisational skills, and this question will help you identify whether a candidate has both of those.
Tell me about a time things didn’t go as planned. What did you do to handle this situation?
Whilst an interview should involve getting a candidate to talk positively about themselves, it is also really important to see how they reflect on negative experiences and present these to someone else. Asking an interviewee to talk about a time when things went wrong will demonstrate their ability to bounce back and learn from their mistakes, both of which are essential for a successful team leader.
How do you keep current with technology trends? Are you currently working on any side projects?
If you’re looking to hire a really outstanding candidate, you want someone who has a vested interest in your company’s area of engineering or software development outside of their job. Asking if a candidate has relevant side projects and what they use to keep up with the latest trends and news will indicate who is really passionate about what they do, which may be essential for your company.
Advice for Clients
If you’re a business hiring for a lead engineer role, the above suggestions should have given plenty of inspiration for questions that you can structure your interview around. These will likely be questions for the final stage of hiring, as most candidates don’t get interviewed face-to-face until the last stage of the selection process, when the pool of applicants will have been really whittled down.
When you’re interviewing for a lead engineer position, it’s important to consider a candidate’s attitude, personality and the way that they conduct themselves throughout the interview. You’re not only meeting them in person to conduct an in-depth interview, but also to get a feel for whether they will be a good fit for your company. It can be a good idea to get other employees to speak with them before you do, so you have a range of opinions on which to base your final judgment.
Having a clear set of questions is a great way to structure an interview, but you should be prepared to go off-topic if something comes up that you feel needs more discussion and explanation. This could be because a candidate has a particular area of experience or knowledge that you want to know more about, or because a certain topic leads to lots of follow-up questions to clarify a point.
When it comes to deciding about hiring, there is usually one member of a company who has the final say. However, it is usually worth considering multiple points of view before making the decision to offer a candidate a job, placing weight on their attitude and behaviour in the interview as well as their skills and answers to your questions.
Advice for Candidates
The role of lead engineer tends to be given to engineers with a fair amount of experience, so if you are interviewing for the role then it is likely you have at least some interview experience already. However, because it is a more senior position, the interview process is likely to be a lot tougher and you’ll be expected to handle a range of interview questions with skill and confidence.
Before the interview, it’s a really good idea to read over the above questions and prepare answers to them, so that if they come up you know what you want to say and can deliver your answer much more coherently. Also think about anecdotes or examples of exceptional work from your previous roles, which you can use as evidence to back up your answers and give a better impression of yourself.
When it comes to technical questions, the content of these will depend on the company you are interviewing for. If they specialise in embedded systems software for example, they will likely ask you about your experience with this technology in particular and ask you to solve questions relating to the project they usually do, so be sure to study the company’s website beforehand. Problem-solving abilities are usually being assessed here, so even if you answer wrong, if you can justify your reasoning you’ll still do well.
Overall, remember that if you’re doing a lead engineer interview face-to-face, the impression that you make with your attitude and behaviour is just as important as how you answer the interviewer’s questions. The role requires excellent people skills, the ability to communicate well and confidence in your abilities, so demonstrating all of these with your delivery and body language is something to consider.
The final piece of advice for candidates is to remember to be yourself and be honest. The interviewer will warm to you much more if you stay away from an overconfident and over-rehearsed facade and instead show true personality and openness throughout the interview, all whilst maintaining a professional attitude.
Finding the right questions to ask in a job interview can make a huge difference to your hiring success, and the questions we have listed above are ideal for identifying the best candidates and getting to know an interviewee in a short space of time. A lead engineer is a very important part of a project team, and no matter the sector of the engineering industry you work in, it’s likely one you have to hire for.
If you’d like the support of an expert in recruitment for lead engineers then get in touch and tell us more about what you’re looking for.