The Three P’s of Technical Interviews for Contract Engineers

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

While interview questions vary by company and assignment, some questions are designed to explore your technical knowledge. For example, software engineers may be asked to solve a series of coding problems on a whiteboard, while civil engineers might be asked how they determine the size of elastomeric bearings.

Whether the queries explore engineering fundamentals or obscure conversion factors, the secrets to acing a technical interview are preparation, practice and performance. Unless you master the three P’s, you might freeze up under the pressure or blurt out a hasty answer.

Sell Your Skills

Here’s how to increase your confidence and avoid awkward moments of silence in technical interviews for contract engineers.


Most technical questions center on skills, engineering practices and methodologies germane to the assignment. Discern focus areas by reviewing the job description, company website, scope of work and speaking with your recruiter.

Prepare for the interview by refreshing core engineering principles and basics. This is the perfect time to revisit algorithms and essentials that you haven’t used in a while. Study the answers to questions in PE and certification exams, and review sample interview questions posted on the Internet. Even engineers with decades of experience will reap the benefits of preparation.


Interviewing is a bit like acting. You’re bound to get bad reviews if you don’t rehearse before opening night. Practice with a trusted colleague until you’re comfortable deciphering and solving technical problems on-the-fly. Role playing is critical since it takes confidence to solve complex engineering challenges in front of a panel of your peers. Plus, having a fellow engineer critique your answers and interviewing style is always beneficial.


The engineering manager will be evaluating the way you solve problems and how you handle pressure, as well as your technical knowledge. Here are the keys to a stellar performance.

Clarify the question

Some interviewers intentionally ask vague or ambiguous questions to see how you respond. Avoid the trap by clarifying murky details before you formulate an answer.

Ask for hints

Stumped? Your fellow engineers want you to ask for hints; in fact they expect it. Still stumped? Explain your problem solving methodology. You’re not expected to know all the answers, but you need to know where to look for answers when you’re stumped. In fact, walk the interviewer through your steps as you solve a problem. That way, you can showcase your critical thinking skills and engineering approach while you devise a solution.

Offer textbook solutions first

Always cite traditional practices and solutions first. At that point, feel free to share shortcuts or other ways to solve a problem gleaned through your experience. Offering multiple approaches to a challenge is a great way to showcase your mastery of engineering principals and your ingenuity. Moreover, it transforms an interview into an insightful conversation.

Learn something new

If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it. Then, turn a negative into a positive by demonstrating your intellectual curiosity. By asking for the correct answer you just might walk away from the interview with some new information. After all, there’s no reason to squander a learning opportunity. Moreover, demonstrating your interest and your humility are desirable traits that can help you land a contract engineering assignment.


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Other information of potential interest

Defining the Ideal Resume for Contract Engineers

Five Tips for Landing Repeat Assignments

How to Create a Personal Brand to Promote Your Engineering Skills

Want a Raise? Top Paying Cities for Contract Engineers

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