Civil Engineer Interview Questions
Civil engineers design and oversee construction on projects such as bridges, dams, tunnels, airports, highways, water supply routes, sewage systems, and other large structures. A civil engineer’s work will typically begin with reviewing drawings and specifications for a proposed project. Afterwards, they provide a projected timeline as well as cost estimates for labor, equipment, and materials.
Once a project is approved, civil engineers are responsible for submitting local, state, and federal permit applications in order to verify that the project complies with regulations. Once work begins on a project, a civil engineer oversees construction and provides onsite supervision.
Civil engineer responsibilities may include:
- Putting together a budget and timeline for proposed projects
- Submitting permit applications as needed
- Designing structures essential to infrastructure
- Performing research on factors such as pollution, traffic, or weather that may impact infrastructure
- Supervising construction
Civil engineers are vital in designing safe and effective infrastructure that thousands will count on every single day. In order to provide the best designs possible, a skilled civil engineer will:
- Demonstrate leadership qualities to provide supervision on construction sites
- Utilize creative thinking in order to provide efficient city planning
- Adhere to strict safety standards
- Have expert knowledge in both the theory and practical application of mechanics
- Demonstrate proficiency in Computer Aided Design (CAD) software
In order to be eligible for entry-level jobs, a civil engineer must complete a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering. Additionally, a professional engineering license is required which requires you to pass two exams as well as complete four years of practical application as a junior engineer.
For those who wish to perform in a teaching capacity, most universities will require a doctorate in engineering.
If you’re getting ready to interview for a position as a civil engineer, you can prepare by researching the company as much as possible. Learn about the 9 things you should research before an interview.
Salaries for civil engineers range between $73K and $111K with the median being $91K.
Factors impacting the salary you receive as a civil engineer include:
- Degrees (bachelor's, master's)
- Years of Experience
- Reporting Structure (seniority of the manager you report to, number of direct reports)
- Level of Performance - exceeding expectations
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Civil Engineer Interview Questions
Question: Why do you specify separation membranes between concrete pavement slab and the sub-base?
Explanation: When interviewing for a civil engineering position, you can expect the majority of questions will be technical in nature. The interviewer uses these to confirm your expertise and experience in this area. They may also ask specific questions related to the type of projects on which the company works.
Example: “The primary purpose of a separation membrane between the concrete pavement slab and the sub-base is to reduce the frictional forces between these two components of a roadbed. The membrane helps the concrete slab move in reference to the sub-base due to moisture and temperature. It also helps cure freshly poured concrete.”
Question: How are bridges used by automobiles constructed?
Explanation: This is an operational question. Operational questions are best answered directly and with minimal embellishment. The interviewer will request more details in follow-up questions if necessary.
Example: “The first task is to calculate the amount of traffic that will use the bridge daily. Next, forms are built, and cement reinforced with rebar stanchions is spaced over the road. If necessary, on- and off-ramps to surface roads are constructed. Finally, slabs are built and lifted with cranes to form the bed or platform.”
Question: What is aggregate?
Explanation: While this question appears fairly basic, the interviewer may use it early in the interview as a conversation starter or to help you relax so they can get an accurate idea of your personality. Don’t minimize the importance of the question and treat it as you would any other technical question.
Example: “Aggregate is the component of a composite material used to resist compressive stress. It is most commonly used in cement and fill materials. Aggregate can consist of a variety of types of rocks as well as synthetic materials such as recycled rubber and even metal.”
Question: What is the meaning of soil reinforcement?
Explanation: This is yet another technical question which can be answered with a one-sentence definition. However, to demonstrate your expertise as a civil engineer, you should add some additional details such as how to create a soil-reinforcement system.
Example: “Soil reinforcement is the process of improving the strength of the soil so it can support heavier loads. Examples of this include mixing a soil amendment such as lime into weak clay-like soil to improve the soil and installing plastic or composite layers to produce a stronger sloped-soil structure.”
Question: What measures should be taken to prevent cave-ins when excavating soil?
Explanation: This is another operational question in which the interviewer is asking you to describe a process or technique used in construction. You can walk the interviewer through the process, describing each step or the key points involved.
Example: “When excavating soil, especially loose, sandy, or other types of unstable soil, it is prudent to take measures such as bracing to prevent cave-ins. Bracing can be done using steel barriers, fabricated forms, or other materials that can be easily inserted and relocated as the excavation area changes.”
Question: Which is stronger, a hollow steel pipe or a solid steel rod?
Explanation: To most people, this would seem like a trick question. Intuitively, you would think solid steel is stronger than hollow steel. However, as a qualified civil engineer, you know this is not true. Try not to smile when answering this question.
Example: “On a pound-for-pound basis, a hollow steel pipe is stronger than solid steel rods. The hollow structure prevents bending and is less likely to buckle in axial compression. This doesn’t mean that hollow steel should be used in every application. Each material has its use in specific construction applications.”
Question: What are the typical measurements used for concrete?
Explanation: This is another technical question which seems to be easy to answer on the surface. However, people who are not qualified civil engineers may say that it is measured in square feet or some other two-dimensional unit. Again, answer the question directly but embellish a little to demonstrate your expertise in using this material.
Example: “Even though set concrete appears to be easy to measure using units of area, in construction, we measure concrete in volume. Typical measurements are cubic feet, cubic yards, and cubic meters. The reason for this is that concrete is purchased and applied wet. Therefore, any calculations for this material should be volumetric.”
Question: What is the difference between absorption, adsorption, and sorption?
Explanation: This is a technical question that most non-civil engineers could not answer. When the interviewer starts asking more difficult technical questions, it indicates they are probing deeper because they’ve qualified your basic civil engineering skills and knowledge. This is a good sign that the interview is progressing well and may be coming to a conclusion.
Example: “Absorption refers to two unrelated phenomena. In one case, it is when atoms, molecules, enter into a gas, liquid, or solid material. For example, a sponge absorbs water when it is dry. Adsorption is a process that occurs when a gas or liquid accumulates on the surface of a solid or a liquid, forming a film. It is different from absorption in which a substance diffuses into a liquid or solid to form a solution.”
Question: Can you describe what modular elasticity is and how you apply this in a civil engineering context?
Explanation: Again, you are being asked about another very technical, civil engineering-related term. As the interviewer is requesting, you should begin with a definition followed by some examples of how you use this concept in the field of civil engineering.
Example: “Modulus of elasticity relates to the flexibility of a material. The value of modulus of elasticity is very important when determining how much certain materials used in the construction industry will deflect. For example, the general “E value” of mild carbon steel is about 200 GPA compared to about 70 GPA for aluminum. This means that aluminum is three times more flexible than steel.”
Question: What is the difference between engineering stress and true stress?
Explanation: Here you have another technical question requiring a definition and some examples. You should be used to answering this type of question by now. As a reminder, provide the definition and then an example to illustrate how the concept is applied.
Example: “Engineering stress refers to the property of a material when stressed or pulled in opposite directions. It is calculated by using the original diameter of the material divided by the load applied to it. True stress is similar but is calculated dynamically. The best way to describe this is to imagine a rubber band being pulled from the ends. Initially, the rubber band’s diameter is constant. However, as you apply force and stretch the rubber band, its diameter becomes thinner. Therefore, the stress being applied to each section of the rubber band is greater.”
Additional Civil Engineer Interview Questions
Do you have any prior experience with Computer Aided Design (CAD) software?
What would you do if there was a major problem and it was putting your project behind schedule?
What does rigging mean?
If a contractor failed to meet a plan specification, how would you handle the situation?
What is the definition of construction aggregate?
What is the difference between true stress and engineering stress?
A word of warning when using question lists.
Question lists offer a convenient way to start practicing for your interview. Unfortunately, they do little to recreate actual interview pressure. In a real interview you’ll never know what’s coming, and that’s what makes interviews so stressful.
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