It is a common misconception to believe that you will face a lot of technical or scientific questions in your interview for a job of a Chemical Engineer.
First of all, your interviewers (HR managers and generalist, recruiters) do not have the knowledge to interpret your answers to technical questions related to designing experiments, creating safety procedures for working with dangerous chemicals, or to manufacturing synthetic drugs.
And secondly, they have no a reason to doubt your qualifications. You cannot apply for this job without a degree in Chemical Engineering. Certainly you didn’t spend all those years at schools doing nothing :).
In reality you will face mostly personal and behavioral questions, plus they will inquire about previous projects you worked on. You can prepare a portfolio of your best works, with pictures and illustrations, to make it easier for them to understand what exactly you did as a chemical engineer (either at school or in your previous job). Let’s have a look at some questions you may face.
Please tell us something about your previous engineering experience.
This is actually the most important question in the entire interview–and typically it will be the first one or the second one they ask you. When talking about your former works (or current projects) try to remember the following:
- Avoid excessive technicalities. Your interviewers are not chemical engineers. Try to describe your experiments in the language of common people, something an average Joe should understand.
- Talk about the added value of your work–that means how your engineering work helped to improve certain production process or quality of a final substance, and how your employer, or the end user, benefited from your work. They should get an impression that you aren’t passionate only about experimenting, but care also about results you deliver for your employer.
- Show pictures or charts anytime you can. To see something one time is better than to hear about it a thousand times. Make a portfolio, and show your interviewers exactly what you did, and what purpose it serves in the society.
Why did you apply for this chemical engineering job with us?
You have a few options for a good answer. One is referring to the field of work–drugs, synthetic materials, clothes, environmental regulations–whatever they do in the organization. Say that you’ve been always interested in the field (perhaps you also did something similar before), and see a meaningful purpose in what the organization does, or a huge potential money wise.
Second option is talking about something that makes their company superior in your eyes. Perhaps they have modern equipment in place, or some smart engineers or scientists work for them (people you look up to), or perhaps they offer an interesting package of benefits to each new employee.
Third option is saying that they were the only company in the area advertising a vacancy for a chemical engineer, and hence you applied :).
How do you imagine a typical day in work?
The key is to show realistic expectations. Read the job description carefully. In some chemical engineering jobs you may spend a substantial amount of time in the lab, in other cases you’ll work solely with the computer. Of course each of us has different preferences and expectations. It’s important that your expectations meet the expectations of your prospective employer.
You can also list some duties, such as:
- Applying mathematical, statistical, and engineering principles to solve problems and improve processes in the production.
- Designing, proposing, implementing, reviewing, and correcting plans to ensure company goals are achieved.
- Conducting research, and finding ways to increase efficiency and quality in the production.
Describe a time when you had to meet a tight deadline.
Pharmaceutics and biochemistry is a superbly competitive business. Teams of engineers and scientists in various companies compete against each other, trying to come with a new breakthrough, or at least with some substantial improvement to the existing drugs, materials, or their production process.
You will be under pressure in this job, and you should describe a situation in which you were under pressure before, and had to meet a tight deadline. You can even say that you enjoy the adrenaline, and know that they expect results from you, and not only experiments. Show them that you aren’t afraid of a battle against the clock, and are ready to try your best to meet all deadlines in your new job.
Describe a time when you had to solve a difficult problem without having enough information.
Another tricky behavioral question. This time they try to understand whether you can deduce, make hypotheses and test them, simply whether you can move forward in the project though you may lack an important piece of information.
If you do not have such an experience from the past, you can at least ensure the interviewers that you do not give up easily, and if you do not have enough information you rely on your cognitive abilities and experience, to help you solve the problem. Remember that your attitude matters more than the particular situation you narrate.
Special Tip: To know how to answer a question, and to come up with a great answer on a big day, when facing a panel of interviewers, are two different things. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will help you streamline your interview preparation, and get this great job.
Describe a time when you struggled with motivation in work (it was repetitive, you didn’t make any progress for a long time, etc).
Once again, your attitude matters for the interviewers. Every researcher and engineer struggles with motivation sometimes. The results are not as expected, we cannot solve a difficult problem and frustration comes, or we repeat the same calculations and modeling a thousand times, just with minor variations, which is boring.
Everybody experiences these situations in work, but a difference between an average an excellent employee is how they handle them. Ensure your interviewers that you managed to find motivation in difficult times. You had a final goal in mind, you pushed hard, you kept going even when everyone else gave up on you already :). It doesn’t have to be so dramatic, of course, but I hope you got my point…
What also matters is the way in which you talk about your work and everything related to it in an interview. If there’s passion and enthusiasm in your voice, they will have no reasons to doubt your motivation.
What are the latest trends in [specific field] of chemical engineering?
They will likely ask about their field, and you should do your research prior to the interview. Check their latest products and innovations, learn more about the technology and role of engineers in the process. You should also check the industry journals and basically get a basic grasp of what’s new in their field of business or engineering.
The key is to show some passion for chemical engineering. You do not do it only for money–though the job pays extremely well. You do it because you enjoy your work, and therefor you are also interested in the latest trends and discoveries in the field.
Some other questions you may face in your chemical engineer job interview
- What would you like to accomplish while working as a chemical engineer for us?
- What are your expectations on researchers and scientists working for our organization?
- Why did you leave your last job? (Why do you want to leave your present job?)
- What do you consider your biggest weakness when we talk about engineering?
- Describe a time when you faced a conflict of personal and professional interests.
- Tell us about a time when you used logic to solve a problem.
- What are your salary expectations?
- Tell us about a time when you felt overwhelmed with work.
- Do you have any questions?
Conclusion, next steps
Interview for a job of a Chemical Engineer belongs to interviews with average difficulty. You typically won’t compete with many other people for the position, which makes your situation easier. What’s more, unless a senior engineer sits in the interviewing panel (which isn’t the case most of the time), they won’t ask you any difficult technical questions.
On the other hand, they will typically ask you some tricky behavioral questions, just as I described in the article (conflicts you solved, tight deadline you met or failed to meet, conflict of personal and professional interests, etc). If you are not sure how to answer such questions, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Brilliant answers to all difficult interview questions will make your life much easier on the big day. I wish you good luck!
* You can also download the list of all questions in a one page long PDF, and practice your interview answers anytime later:
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- Chemist interview questions.
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- Chemistry lab assistant interview questions.