Interviews are stressful, and that’s normal for most. It’s especially hard when they start asking you job specific questions about the role.
I still get a bit anxious when it comes to meeting any potential employer. It’s all about the preparation and mindset!
How can you prepare? By knowing what might be asked of you before you get to the meeting.
So, here’s 30 project engineer questions that you can use to prepare yourself for your next interview!
This will apply for people who are looking to enter the field of construction project management and if you have some experience as well. I will provide a break down of the questions and split it up into different sections based on the level of experience that you have.
If you’re confused on why I mentioned project management. Just know that being a project engineer is just one step before becoming a project manager.
If you want to understand more about the responsibilities of a project engineer, click here. That way you’ll know if this is the right fit for you.
Let’s move on to the interview questions!
Tips for before the interview
Before you get to the job interview, make sure you research the company. Check out the company website and figure out what they do. Find out what they’re known for and use this to emphasize why you want to work there.
This is a great way to show that you’re passionate about the job and dedicated to do well.
Also, consider wearing business casual attire, a suit may be unnecessary when it comes to a construction interview.
The interview questions
For each question, I will provide some recommendations on what you should consider when formulating your answer. Review these and see if they will work for you.
Also, understand that interviewing really is a skill in itself. You have to learn how to sell yourself and convince people that you are the best candidate for their company. So, if it’s your first interview, just do the research to prepare yourself for the questions they may ask.
Know that most of these are common questions, but there are some that are more specific to the role. I’ve included a sample answer with each question to guide you on developing your response.
People who are just starting in the industry
1. Tell me about yourself
This is your opportunity to give a bit of background on yourself and how you ended up applying for the position. I would recommend talking about the following things.
- Where you are from/your home town.
- What you went to college for and why you decided to study your major.
- Brief introduction on what you are looking for in your career.
2. Tell me about some of the projects you work on in college?
If this question comes up, it’s your time to demonstrate the project you worked and your role. The interviewer is trying to see how you work with a group of people with this question. Construction is all about being able to work with people to finish a project.
It would be great if you’re able to tell the interviewer that you took over and delegated the work between the team members. Also, that you coordinated each stage of the project, setting deadlines for the team to complete the project. You’re essentially displaying that you possess the skills of a project engineer.
Do not tell them that you just took over and just did all the work yourself. While this shows that you’re a hard worker it does not show your ability to work with others. If there were other issues that resulted in you working alone then you can mention that here.
The goal is to show your ability to work as a team.
3. Why did you select your major?
When talking about why you selected your major, you should think about giving a broad answer here. If you’re at a project engineer interview, don’t tell the interviewer that you’re passionate about design work. This will just tell them that you are not the right fit for the position.
My go to answer is, “I like to understand how things work in the world, which is why I love engineering”. As this demonstrates my interest in all things within the engineering realm. I believe this shows you’re willing to learn their work and you bring your skills to apply at their company.
4. What experience do you have with project management?
Since you’re just starting in your career, they won’t expect you to have years of experience with project management. So, I suggest you try to consider any real world experiences that you might have. If you’ve taken any PM related classes, you should mention that here as well.
Like the example with the college project, if you coordinated the work to be completed this shows some PM/PE skills. Also, if this project involved any material procurement, this is another skill to add to your list. With the responsibilities provided earlier in this article, think about ways you applied that to your college or personal projects.
You can also look at some real world situations where you managed a project.
Birthday or holiday parties are good specific examples. You need to work with your family and friends, delegating tasks between them to run a successful party. It requires coordinating the schedule of the party, determine the materials needed, who needs to be included/involved, and more.
You should be able to see that project management can apply to many things in life, not just construction. These can be good examples to display to your potential employer.
5. Why should we hire you for the project engineer job?
Here you can dive deeper into what you’re passionate about. Ask yourself, “why do you want to work in construction?” If you love problem solving, construction is a good fit for you.
This type of job is about working on your problem-solving skills. While it might not be required every day, it’s still a good skill to have.
You might also want to talk about your strongest skills and what you can bring to the company.
Do you have excellent communication skills? Do you work well with others? Do you have any skills talking to customers?
These are just some examples of skills you might be able to offer. If you answered yes to any of those questions, give examples of your skill set. This is the best way to show your worth in a project engineer interview.
For those with some experience:
6. Tell me about the projects you’ve worked on in the past.
If you get asked this, you should discuss your past experiences of your most successful projects that you’ve worked on. Talk about the scope of work, your job title, and how you made the project successful.
Even if you were only tasked with a portion of the project, you were still involved with the job. For example, lets say you were tasked with the roofing portion of a large project. You can talk about what you did to implement quality control to that portion of the work to produce a quality product.
Make sure to talk about the highlights of the project of course and how you improved it.
7. What was your most successful project?
This is your chance to demonstrate the skills that you have with managing projects. Discuss any steps that you took in order to increase the profit margin of the job. For example, you were able to identify any bottle necks in the construction to save labor costs and meet deadlines.
Show what you did to make that your most successful project. While showing that you worked on a project with a high dollar value is great. The employer wants to know if you possess the skills to increase the profit margin of a job.
Some examples of finding savings is by finding other subcontractors that can perform the work for less while maintaining quality. This can also apply to vendors, by finding equipment that is equal to what was spec’d but costs less that what was budgeted. Think about the job you worked on and how you saved the company money.
8. What are the skills you possess for a project manager/project engineer in construction?
You have an opportunity here to go over what you excel at with your position. Each project manager/engineer is different in their own methods of running a job, and that’s ok. Try to think about your day-to-day activities while you’re at work.
Some things you can think about:
- Are you good at team building? Can you bring people together to understand the common goal of the project? How do you work with the team?
- Are you an effective communicator? When you delegate a task, does the person fully comprehend what they need to do? Do you provide all the information your team needs for a task?
- What is your ability to identify change orders for a project? In the changes orders you’ve done, did it result in making the company more money?
9. What was the biggest challenge that you faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
When asked this question, try to think about any problem that you were faced on a project. What steps did you take in order to solve the problem? Did you get others involved to help collaborate to come up with a solution?
The interviewer wants to know your ability to solve problems in the project. As project engineers/project managers, one of our primary responsibilities is to be a problem solver.
For example, let’s say you were faced with poor weather on a project and it pushed out the job for a week. You would need to go back to the construction schedule and adjust it accordingly. While you’re looking at the schedule, you should also see how this impacts your ability to meet the project deadline.
You found that the bad weather would end up delaying the job. So, you made the decision to have the crew work overtime to make up for the loss time. You understood that this would cost more to pay the overtime rate, but accepted this to meet the deadline.
This is an example that will give the interviewer an idea of your thought process. Choose the example you use carefully and think about it in advance.
10. What is your approach to a construction project?
Talk about the initial steps you take to identify the tasks on a newly assigned project. If it’s a new project you know that you will need to complete all the pre-construction tasks. This can be your submittals, creating the construction schedule, issuing subcontract agreements, and more.
For jobs that are in progress, you need to get your footing in the project. What I mean is you need to know where the job is at and identify the current problems that need to be solved. From there you can determine the next steps in picking up on the job.
The interviewer will want to see how you plan out your duties for a project.
11. What experience do you have with construction software?
Construction is an industry that is continuously evolving. With an evolving industry comes new technology. Technology that allows people to work more efficiently and save the company money.
There’s software programs for many of the different tasks in the construction industry. You have software for billing, document, budget, PO, and SCA management. The list is endless.
The reason why this is important to employers is because if you’re familiar with the software, the quicker the onboarding process is. You will not need to be trained to use the software, and you can get into the action sooner. As a result this saves the company money as well.
Some of the most common software out there is PlanGrid, Bluebeam, Primavera P6, Microsoft Projects, and Timberline. A lot of these are project management tools that help run projects. Having these technical skills will add value to you as a candidate.
12. What is your understanding of change orders? What is your process to submit a change order?
This it more of a technical question, it may not be asked but I believe it’s good to have an answer ready.
You’ll want to mention that a change order is a change from the original scope of work on a project. This can either result in additional work or some parts being descoped. It’s also an opportunity for your company to make a little more money on profits from the project.
Talk about a time where you had to put together any cost estimates for a change order. What was your process to estimate the cost? How did you determine the scope of the change order?
These are things you need to know in order to produce a change order.
13. What’s your knowledge of construction schedule development?
If you’ve ever had to work on a construction schedule you should know that it’s a tricky process. You need to be familiar with the work involved to complete the project, this include the sequencing of the work.
When talking to the interviewer I think it’s important to mention that you collaborate with your job leaders for schedule development. You should be working with your superintendents to validate your schedule and project when the work will occur.
Also, you should know that with a schedule, you need to make flow so it’s easy to read. If you’ve ever seen a Gantt chart, you will notice that the tasks form a descending appearance. This helps with the readability of the schedule.
Know that there’s your typical construction schedule and there’s also a 3-week look ahead. The look ahead schedule will contain more detail as it breaks down each task in a phase. This will tell the team when their work falls within the project.
14. What’s your experience with budget management?
With this question, you should mention the steps in reviewing the budget and what you are doing during the review. When it comes to the budget, you’re looking to see where your project is at financially. Talk about ways you analyze the budget to identify if there’s an issue with the job.
Let’s say you look at the budget and see that you’ve used 75% of your budgeted hours. You know that the work is only 50% completed, this should tell you there’s a problem. If you notice this, you should be having meetings with your job leaders to see what’s going on.
This is one example that you can use if you were asked this question. The budget can tell you a lot about the project. So, it could take some thought on what you want to mention here.
15. How do you handle conflict on the job site?
Project managers need to have people skills to excel. They need to be able to recognize the different personalities within the team members. You should also know that personalities can clash, which can create conflict on your job.
You can cover ways that you have tried to diffuse the situation and what was the outcome of that. If things got heated, did you just need to give the person some space? Were you able to get things resolved?
Don’t say you just let it go, because you hurt the project if the issues go without correction.
If conflict exists, then you effectively lower the morale of the team members. To improve your efficiency in the project, you will need to determine how to resolve the problem. So, if you’ve ever gotten into this situation, sometime it’s best to just get HR involved.
16. How do you manage multiple projects?
This is an operational question that will display how you think when tasked with multiple jobs. The interviewer may want to know how you operate projects and if you work efficiently. By showing you can effectively run different projects it will showcase your time management ability.
Think about the systems you have in place in order to manage multiple projects at a single time. Personally, I use the standard practice of taking notes of the individual tasks that I have for my projects. I will check back on the list daily and cross out items I’ve completed.
Periodically, I will update the list or create a new one and transfer some of the lingering items over. This is just the way that I manage my projects.
I’ve also seen people utilize spreadsheets to provide them with a overview of all their jobs. They would then have separate sheets detailing the outstanding items or tasks.
If you use any construction software for managing multiple projects, then that’s fine as well. I know one popular software is monday.com. I personally have not found a use for it, but some people swear by it.
17. What is your experience with quality control and quality assurance?
With the punch list, you likely walked the job site and identified work that did not meet the specs. You would then need to make sure that the crew or subcontractor is made aware of the issue. Also, that you saw the work through until they corrected the problem.
By doing this you also demonstrate your ability to comprehend the plans and specs. It also tells your potential employer that you can coordinate work to be done.
18. How do you implement safety on a construction site?
Every person that is involved with the construction in someway should be trained on safety. Each company and project will have some sort of safety plan and expectations from the construction workers. If the crew works in an unsafe manner, then they can expect to be sent home.
So, talk about your understanding of safety on a construction site and how you practice it. If you’re using an A-frame ladder, you should know that you can’t step above the second to last step. By practicing safety, you set an example for other team members.
As a project engineer, you will be required to wear the appropriate PPE for any job site. This is your hard hat, steel toe shoes, vest, long pants, and safety glasses. If you start leaving these off around the site, then the crew will do the same.
If you have any safety certifications, like your OSHA-30, then mention this here as well. The goal here is to demonstrate your knowledge with job site safety.
19. How do you deal with safety issues on the job site?
When you see someone performing an unsafe act, what is the first thing you do? Your immediate response is to approach them and let them know they’re committing an unsafe act. You should let them know what the consequences are if they’re caught again.
The workers working unsafely can get thrown off the job and they wont get paid if they can’t work. The worst case scenario is that they get injured, then that looks bad on the company. This also looks bad on the management staff, including the project engineer/manager.
This is some of the things that the employer is thinking when they ask the question. This is why they need to make sure you value safety and are willing to call it out when seen. The company suffers when team members get injured on the job site.
20. Explain a time you had to deal with a difficult general contractor, subcontractor, vendor, construction manager, or stakeholder.
You’ve likely had to work with someone who is a bit more aggressive than others. They are demanding and want things done now. They don’t think about their subcontractors, they think that since they’re paying you should follow all their orders.
If you’ve ever had to deal with someone like this, then what did you do to reason with them? Did you remain calm and end up working something out?
You can demonstrate how well you maintain your patience when facing difficult situations or people. The interviewer will want to know if you can remain calm and do your job. The last thing they need is a short tempered person.
21. What is your experience with material and equipment procurement?
Tell them about the time you had to order equipment or material for a project. What steps did you take to procure it?
When you’re ordering equipment, you need to make sure that you have the correct spec and configuration. If not, it will get to the field and the crew members will question your ability to do your job.
Talk about how you confirm that you’re ordering the right equipment. Do you work with superintendents to determine you’ve ordered the right thing? Did you perform a job walk and determine what’s needed based on existing conditions?
You need to validate your material/equipment orders so talk about how you do so in the interview.
22. How do you keep a project on track when you encounter unforeseen conditions?
If asked this question, as a project engineer/manager you should immediately think of these things.
- How does this change the project scope of work and is there additional cost associated with this work?
- If there’s additional work that needs to be done, how much more time will you need to complete it?
When you answer those two questions, you can begin the process of submitting your change order. With the change order you will also include a request for a time extension. The contractor is entitled to an extension should they encounter an unforeseen condition.
To keep the job on track, you need to determine the answer to the two questions above right away. Then get the proposal and time extensions request approved and get the work completed. Talk about how you would make this a high priority to get done so it doesn’t create further delay.
23. What do you do when you notice that a subcontractor is falling behind schedule?
To answer this question, you need to ask yourself, how do you really know the subcontractor is behind? Really, the only way to know is by looking at the construction schedule you’ve provided.
For example you’ve given them five days for their task, but they’re only half way done at day four. This is a problem because due to their delay, this will push out the entire schedule. If you’re already on a tight schedule, you will need to determine a course of action.
The best thing to do here is to approach your subcontractor and ask why they’re falling behind. Since they’re obligated to maintain the schedule they will need to determine a solution. The most likely solution will be they work over time until they get the work done.
They’re better off paying for over time than pay for liquidated damages.
24. What is your knowledge of project close out and turnover?
If you were ever involved with the close out of a project, this is your chance to talk about it here. If you have performed the following tasks then you have experience with close out.
- Put together closeout documentation for a project. The following items are considered closeout documents.
- As-built drawings
- Operation and maintenance manuals
- Warranty letters
- Lien waivers
- Completed punch list
- Test reports
- Coordinate and attend pre-final and final inspections.
- Perform client training for building operations.
- Coordinate cleanup for project turnover.
- Final billings once close out tasks are completed and finished product delivered.
It’s good to let the interviewer know that you are familiar with the process or you’ve participated in a closeout. Demonstrate your knowledge so they know you can run the closeout.
25. What is your approach when dealing with difficult people?
As mentioned, there’s many different people and different personalities in construction. Some people may be difficult in the sense that they don’t listen or can be demanding.
One approach that I take is to talk to them when you’re ready. If you need to psych yourself up mentally, it’s ok to let the call go to voicemail. Then, call them back on your terms when you’ve come up with a response.
If you try to answer right away with a response that is not thought out, this can get you into trouble. Part of project management is thinking about the scenario you’re in. You know that the conversation could go a few ways, so think about it and develop your response.
26. What is your approach when you come across an unforeseen condition?
Similar to the change orders, when you come across an unforeseen condition, determine how it impacts the scope of work. Typically, with this scenario, there will be more work involved and added cost as a result.
I would talk about the process in which you go to identifying what needs to be done. Then working on the change order proposal to submit to the customer to complete the additional work.
You should give an example so to demonstrate you know how to identify the added work for the change order.
Let’s say you’re working on an excavation. Based on the boring logs, you anticipate that you will only be dealing with soil. As you begin to dig, you end up encountering rock which will take more time to remove.
You know that you’re required to hit a specific depth and the rock will prevent you from achieving that. So, as a result you need to determine the amount of hours and equipment cost required to complete the added work. This will then be sent to the customer in the form of a change order.
27. What steps do you take when your project has a tight budget?
Usually, when the budget is tight on a project, that means you have little room for error. To reduce the amount of error on a job, this takes careful planning.
Let the interviewer know about how you would go about planning out the different tasks with your team. It will need to be a collaborative process to identify bottlenecks from the project plan.
One tool to use in the planning stage is the pre-task planning form. If you’ve ever had to go over one of these, then it shows your experience with planning.
28. How do you prioritize tasks?
This is a good question because as project engineers/managers, we have hundreds of tasks to do for each project. Add some additional projects on your plate and the amount of tasks will be countless.
So, try to think about what you did when the tasks built up all at once. Ideally, you would focus on the tasks that were most critical to the project. You would also try to complete the task that had a deadline coming up.
If you have some experience with projects, you will know which items hold precedence.
For example, you have a handful of submittals that need to be sent for review. Do you just create a list and complete each submittal as it’s written down? Probably not, good chance you’re thinking about which items might impact the schedule if it were to sit.
If the equipment has a long lead time, you would want this to be sent for approval first. By waiting any longer to place the order, you can delay the project.
29. What are your long term goals in this industry/career?
Be honest here, if you’re striving for the next level in your career, you’re thinking about how to get there. With project management, consider working towards the PMP certification.
The interviewer is likely looking for what the future holds for you. They also want to know what kind of asset you might be for the company.
30. What do you like about construction? Why do you want to be a project manager/project engineer in Construction?
Another question that is purely opinion based. You probably found something about the construction process that you enjoy. Just avoid saying something like, “construction pays well”.
Personally, I let the interviewer know that I like to see the project develop. I enjoy seeing the job from the start and seeing it through to the final product. It’s very satisfying when you get to the end of the job and turn it over to the customer.
What is a Project Engineer in Construction?
As a project engineer, you will be tasked to coordinate the work to be completed for the job.
Here’s a list of some of the responsibilities you can expect to have as a project engineer. You might also see this included in the job description.
- Attend stakeholder and contractor meetings
- Create and maintain a project budget
- Create and update the construction schedule
- Manage the submittals on a project
- Submit requests for information (RFI) as needed
- Issue subcontract agreements and schedule the subcontractor to be onsite.
- Identify and create change orders
- Material and equipment procurement
- Implementation of quality assurance and quality control
- Understand and maintain site safety
- Project close out and turnover
As you can see there are many responsibilities in project engineering. Over time you’ll gain the experience to be able to manage each one of these tasks on your own. When you’re first starting off, you’ll work closely with a construction project manager to learn about these responsibilities.
I hope that the first project manager you work with is a good mentor to you. That they teach you the new skills that you need to excel in the industry. I was very fortunate to find good mentors to make me the project manager I am today.
In my personal experience, construction can be very rewarding once you see the final product. You can see what your hard work has helped to achieve. The path to becoming a project manager is not an easy one, but it’s most rewarding.
I want you to use the answers to the questions in this article to formulate your own response. You likely won’t be asked all of these questions, but having an answer will make you the ideal candidate.
If you don’t have experience on a certain task in construction, that’s ok. The key thing is that you’re willing to learn in any new position. You can demonstrate that you’ve done the research on the topic, you just never had the opportunity on the job.
Thank you for reading.
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