By Dan Foran '07
Advice for Your Next Interview
My name is Dan Foran. I am a Senior Mechanical
Engineer at iRobot and a 2007 Olin grad. I write in declarative sentences. At
iRobot I am the Lead ME for one of our home care products,
where I ensure we deliver a mechanically sound design to manufacturers in
Asia who then produce hundreds of thousands of robots per year for sale around
In addition to my day job, I help run our internship
program, which means I've had the opportunity to interview dozens of potential
engineering interns. Hopefully my experiences from the other side of the table
can help you on your next interview.
First, my goal in an interview is to find the
candidates that are the best fit for the job. I look for sharp students that
are eager to help the engineering team and gain professional
experience. I'm also looking for students that understand that product
development isn't always glamorous--my interns have learned more about dirt and
hair than they'd care to admit!
Olin students are exceptional, and you should make that clear in
an interview, but do so with humility. You
are often trying to join a team with dozens of other engineers; too much ego definitely sets off alarm bells. Trust me.
With those goals in mind, here are a few questions I always ask
and the types of responses I'm looking for in a strong candidate:
Why do you want to work at iRobot?
I am trying to gauge a candidate's interest in
the position. Do your homework! You should be able to say why you are excited
about the position, and have some familiarity with the company and their
products. Most students spend a few minutes clicking around the website. You
can dig deeper: understand their major business areas (and what you're applying
for); read recent press releases (latest quarterly reports for public companies
or articles in popular or industry media); and come up with questions you want
to ask during your interview. It is more than okay to bring notes!
If you do your homework, and aren't super excited about the
position, that's okay too! Use the interview for practice, and maybe you'll
learn something that changes your mind. But if you'd never accept a job with
the company because they make Dalmatian skin coats, kindly decline the
interview and save everyone's time.
Why do you want to be an engineer?
There are variations on how this is asked, but they all provide an opportunity to tell your story. The best answers show
passion! Are you a tinkerer? Do you read
up on technology constantly? Do you wish there was a 'How It's Made' network?
Have your story ready ahead of time. Practice it on your friends! I am looking
for candidates that are clearly excited about the work an
engineer does and are able to articulate that excitement.
Tell me about yourself.
I usually don't know much more about a candidate
than what she has on her resume. Anything there is fair game, and anything that
looks like an internship, volunteer work, or major project is going to catch my
attention. Be ready to discuss everything on your resume and distill the
experience down to the best parts that show what you accomplished and learned,
and what you'd like to change if you had a second chance. Practice!
What was your favorite and least favorite course?
There is no wrong answer here; I focus on how a student explains
his choice. For the favorite course I want to see enthusiasm for the subject,
projects, team, or all of the above. For the least favorite I want to see how
he conveys criticism of his own performance, the material, or others (I've also
had students who liked everything and that is okay too).
This can also be a great opportunity to tell your "Why I Chose
Olin" story. Olin is gaining recognition for being new and innovative; why did
you want to be a part of that? Be sure to use the positive reasons--don't risk
taking a dig at conventional engineering schools to someone who went to one.
The dreaded Technical Question!
I can't speak for all interviewers, but for me the technical
question is not about trivia. I am trying, in a very limited amount of time, to
see how a candidate reacts under pressure and if she can take the information I
provide and set up a clear problem statement for analysis.
An example question I've asked is: You have a robot driving in a
circle, what forces are acting on the outer axle? I want the student to take
that brief prompt and set up a basic free body diagram. I don't need the equation
for deflection of a beam; anyone can look that up in a structures textbook. The
same basic idea applies to other areas of ME or engineering in general. Be
comfortable with the major concepts from your courses, don't worry about
memorizing formulas. Do your best to relax, take your time to understand the
information given to you and talk through your thought process as you work the
problem. The interviewer can (and will) often help unstick you if you are
struggling, but not if you don't make an effort to apply what you know.
Remember, every other candidate is getting the same grilling so partial credit
Odds and Ends
This isn't a
question, but just a few closing suggestions and one rant:
Don't be shy about
telling an interviewer something relevant that they didn't ask about.
Follow Up! Write a
thank you note (email is fine by me) to everyone who participated in your
interview, including any admins who helped with scheduling. It will be a
reminder of what an awesome and considerate person you are!
You are (probably) applying to join a professional organization and should
present yourself accordingly. Ladies and gentlemen: buy a suit and have it
tailored. Have it dry cleaned or iron it for interview day. Wear shoes and
accessories that match. I know most engineering offices tend to dress casually;
I haven't worn a suit for work since my interview! But I already have the job and it is better
to be over dressed. There may be exceptions, but unless you are 100% certain
your prospective employer will really dig your Super Mario t-shirt and crocs, I
recommend playing it safe.
This is also true for
any Olin event where industry professionals are on campus! We notice when
students are wandering through the AC without shoes on and generally think it
is some combination of: gross, unsafe, or disrespectful to other community
members. Stop it.
Don't stop being
unique, quirky, awesome people, but you can be all those things without making
prospective employers worry about how you (or your peers) might adapt to a work
environment. I cannot emphasize enough how serious I am about this. /rant off.
I hope my experiences
offer you some insight in to the other side of the interview process and help
you in your next interview. If you have follow-up questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org