Electrical Engineer Interview Questions
An electrical engineer is responsible for creating, designing, testing, and overseeing the electrical components of a project. Projects within this field can vary from manufacturing products to designing power grids. Due to the versatile nature of the field, responsibilities can vary greatly from position to position.
Electrical engineers are experts within their field and perform to the highest of standards. They are subject to strict safety codes and must also design products with energy efficiency in mind. A combination of practical application within engineering as well as creative problem-solving skills are a must within the industry.
Electrical engineer responsibilities may include:
- Fixing and troubleshooting electronic devices
- Conducting functionality tests
- Analyzing current trends and information
- Developing manufacturing processes for building and assembling electrical components
- Writing computer programs and performing data entry
When something goes wrong within an electrical system, it is often immediately noticeable. In order to prevent and troubleshoot such failures, a skilled electrical engineer will:
- Analyze data to spot trends
- Communicate clearly with supervisors and clients
- Keep up to date on emerging trends within the industry
- Adhere to strict safety codes
- Work in tandem with supervisors and management
In order to qualify for an entry-level position, candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Candidates may wish to participate in laboratory work and field studies to pad their resume. In addition, all electrical engineers must be licensed through the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam in order to work in the utility field. Afterwards, they must also obtain a Professional Engineering license which will consist of two exams as well as on-the-job training.
If you’re getting ready to interview for a position as an electrical 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 electrical engineers range between $70K and $100K with the median being $83K.
Factors impacting the salary you receive as an electrical engineer include:
- Degrees (bachelor's, master's)
- Years of Experience
- Reporting Structure (seniority of the manager you report to and number of direct reports)
- Level of Performance - Exceeding Expectations
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Electrical Engineer Interview Questions
Question: What is the difference between an analog circuit and a digital circuit, and which one is more flexible?
Explanation: This is a relatively fundamental question for an electrical engineer. However, the interviewer will ask this type of question to begin the interview, get you talking, learn a little bit more about your background, and hopefully collect some information they can use for future questions.
Example: “An analog circuit is analogous to a wave since it operates using continuous signals with the same value. Analog circuits are relatively simple, and there is no conversion required before transmitting the input signal to the receiving device. Because of its simplicity, there is little flexibility associated with an analog circuit. A digital circuit operates like an on-and-off switch. The signal exists at two levels which are designated by zeros and ones. Since the signal doesn’t need to be converted, the information it transmits is more reliable. Digital circuits also are more flexible and can be used for a variety of applications.”
Question: What do the different colors on wires indicate?
Explanation: This is another relatively simple technical question. Technical questions ask you to define a term or terms and then discuss how they are used in the role for which you are interviewing. Technical questions are best answered succinctly and directly with little embellishment. You can also anticipate follow-up questions.
Example: “There are four basic colors for electrical wires. Black is the hot wire which carries the power in circuits. White is the neutral wire. It carries the current to the ground. Red is a secondary live wire and is used in a 220-volt circuit or where there are two switches for the same circuit. The last color is yellow which is a specialty wire that is live and used in certain applications such as fans which have both a light and a fan motor. Another type of wire is green which is always used as the ground wire.”
Question: Can you explain how you select the size of the electrical wire you use on a job?
Explanation: The interviewer is continuing to ask technical questions, but they are becoming a little more complicated. As the interview progresses, you can expect the questions to become harder and more specific.
Example: “The size of wires are classified using the American Wire Gauge (AWG) system. The gauge of wire you use depends on the application, the amount of current and resistance, and the load the wire will carry. Smaller gauges are actually larger wires with more capacity. For example, a typical lamp cord is 18 gauge while the wires used for furnaces or heaters are 6 gauge.”
Question: Explain the difference between a generator and an alternator.
Explanation: This is yet another relatively easy technical question. As a reminder, technical questions should be responded to with a brief definition of the terms followed by an example of how they are used.
Example: “Both generators and alternators create electrical currents using a mechanical motion. A generator converts electro motive force into direct current using a stationary magnetic field and a revolving conductor. An alternator, on the other hand, creates current using a rotating magnet and a stationary armature. Alternators can also have a rotating armature for low-voltage applications.”
Question: Can you define the terms capacitance and inductance?
Explanation: You probably recognize this question as technical, due to the interviewer asking you to define the terms. You’ll also note the question is a little more technical than the previous ones. As an experienced electrical engineer, you should be able to answer questions like this easily.
Example: “Capacitance is defined as the amount of a charge that is stored inside a capacitor for any given voltage. The charge is available to be released when needed or when the limit of the capacitor is reached. Inductance, on the other hand, is defined as the property of a coil to resist changes in current. Both of these concepts are used to design electrical circuits.”
Question: What type of cables are used for power transmission, and what are their capacities?
Explanation: While this is another technical question, you will only encounter it if you are interviewing for a job that involves the transmission of large amounts of current across great distances. However, as an electrical engineer, you should still know the answer to this question.
Example: “Electrical transmission cables are classified according to their ability to conduct current and their thermal capacity. There are three types of cables which include low tension, high tension, and super tension. Low-tension cables can transmit voltage up to 1,000 volts. High-tension cables can handle up to 23,000 volts, and the final category of super-tension cables can transmit currents between 66,000 and 132,000 volts. It’s also worth noting that 1,000 volts equals one kilovolt or kv which is the unit typically used when discussing transmission lines."
Question: Can you explain what an RLC circuit is?
Explanation: You can see that the technical questions are getting even more complex and specific. During an interview, this is a good sign because the interviewer is gaining confidence in your abilities and is willing to explore more complicated issues. Continue to answer the harder technical questions in the same format you use for the easier ones.
Example: “An RLC circuit is simply a circuit that consists of a resistor, an inductor, and a capacitor. These can be connected either in parallel or in the series. This type of circuit is defined as a second-order circuit because of the way the characteristics are described or determined.”
Question: Can you define what reverse polarity is and how you would fix it?
Explanation: This is an example of a hybrid technical and operational question. The interviewer is asking you to define a term and then explain how you would go about correcting the issue it describes. Operational questions are very similar to technical questions in that you answer them directly and concisely. The interviewer will ask a follow-up question if they need additional information or wish to explore this topic in more depth.
Example: “Reverse polarity is when an outlet or receptacle is miswired, and the current is flowing incorrectly. You can detect this using a simple circuit tester. It is easy to correct by switching the positions of the white and black wires which have been reversed. If fixing the wiring at the receptacle doesn’t solve the issue, the problem is elsewhere, and you need to trace it down using more complex circuit-testing equipment."
Question: Please explain what a rectifier is and the different types of rectifiers.
Explanation: The interviewer is asking about a term that hasn’t come up yet. Again, as an experienced electrical engineer, you should be able to answer this easily. The one thing you need to be careful of is to not use any acronyms or jargon which the interviewer may not understand. If you feel you need to use an acronym, take the time to define it the first time you use it.
Example: “A rectifier is a device that transforms AC, or alternating current, into DC which stands for direct current. Alternating current flows in both directions over a circuit while direct current only flows in one direction. There are two types of rectifiers. The first is a half-wave rectifier which uses a single p-n junction. The second is a full-wave rectifier which uses two p-n junctions. A p-n junction is a component within a semiconductor.”
Question: How is current affected if the resistance doubles in a series circuit, and what happens to the resistance if the current is increased?
Explanation: This question tests your knowledge of how circuits are affected by changes. It’s more of a theoretical question which an electrical engineer should be able to discuss. While not used that often, knowing the concept is essential, and you need to demonstrate your knowledge of this during the interview.
Example: “This is relatively simple. If the resistance doubles in a series circuit, the voltage will be reduced by half. Conversely, if the current is doubled, the resistance will be halved. As you can see, there is an inverse relationship between current and resistance. Knowing this helps me design circuits and determine the components needed to build them.”
Additional Electrical Engineer Interview Questions
What does a logic analyzer do?
What are the three main steps in power distribution?
What are the three main CMOS amplifiers?
Name three factors that affect the amount of current flowing through a copper wire.
How does a bandgap circuit work?
What is the difference between AC and DC?
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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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