This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
As with many other professions, finding a good engineer for your small business can be difficult in today’s job market. But you can improve your chances of finding the perfect fit with a few simple steps. First, you must fully understand your needs and what type of engineer they warrant (full-time vs freelance), as well as your budget and timeline; you can use that information to help advertise your position and screen candidates as they apply and interview.
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Step 1: Identify Your Needs
One of the first things you need to do in your search for an engineer is to figure out what you need from them. Specifically, you need to know what projects, products, or problems they will be focused on. This will help you determine the type and level of engineer you need, as well as if you need someone on a full time, part time, or contract basis.
For example, if you need someone to develop and make a complex product, you may be in the market for a more advanced mechanical engineer. If you are looking for someone to work in computer-aided design, an entry-level electrical engineer might suffice.
To decide between an employee vs contractor, consider if you have a one-time or ongoing project and whether the project or product is in constant need of maintenance or upgrading. The salaries for engineering employees and contract engineers are similar, although full-time employees bring additional costs of benefits, payroll and tax remittance, and other overhead.
If your needs don’t require a full-time employee, contractors can be a great option. In addition to saving money, you may be able to find someone with a broader range of skills. Just be sure you don’t treat them like an employee, as misclassifying an employee as a contractor can have negative consequences.
Find where to find freelance engineers from our guide to the best websites to hire freelancers.
Setting a Timeline
Part of identifying your needs, particularly if you are hiring a contract engineer for a specific project or product launch, is determining the timeline for that project. This should work in conjunction with your hiring timeline, as one will impact the other.
That deadline should allow you enough time for the following:
- To have conversations with the engineer about your company, the goals of the project, regulatory requirements (if any), specific items that must be included in the project, and your vision.
- After hiring, you need to allow the engineer to have time to research your problem/idea to see if there are any issues that you and the company were unaware of.
- To have check-in meetings to make sure you and the engineer are on the same page and to discuss any updates with the project.
- For the engineer to work on the project.
- For last minute revisions, reviews, and changes before the final project is completed.
Keeping this timeline in mind during the hiring process should help you avoid any unexpected problems or issues that can derail the project.
Because an engineer is a technical position, plan for a multistage interview process that may take place over several weeks.
Step 2: Determine Your Budget
To understand how much to budget for the role, you should do your due diligence around engineering salaries. According to ZipRecruiter, engineers make an average annual salary of about $73,500 or $35/hour (the typical hourly range is $25–$50). The annual salary for full-time engineers will vary depending on the type of engineer; chemical and computer engineers, for example, are toward the top of the range, while civil and environmental engineers fall a bit lower.
As mentioned above, the salaries for contract engineers are within the same range, although could be a little higher as contract engineers have often cultivated broad experience and skills. ZipRecruiter estimates the average hourly salary of a freelance engineer at $40.
Keep in mind that experienced engineers, both freelance and staff, may charge more for their services but may take less time to complete the project.
Step 3: Create a Job Description & Ad
With your staffing needs and budget in mind, you are ready to write a job description for the role. A good job description will be succinct and specific about the skills and qualifications needed for the role, as well as the benefits of working for your company.
Engineering roles generally have educational requirements; a bachelor’s degree in engineering is a basic requirement, although many positions require additional licensure or education (such as a master’s degree).
Some skills and qualifications will be specific to your company and role, but in general, you should look for engineering candidates who are strong in the following areas:
- Computer science
- Attention to detail
- Strategic planning
- Leadership/project management
- Quality control
Because engineers are in high demand, you also need to make sure that you highlight the strengths of your company, so you can advertise your job with positive results. Give potential employees a sense of your company culture and benefits—basically letting them know why they would like working there.
For more hiring tips, check out our guide on how to hire new employees.
Step 4: Post Your Job Ad
Depending on what type and level of engineer you need, there are several ways you can advertise your open position.
You can publicize your job opening in your professional network, particularly if you have people in your network who are engineers or who have worked with engineers in the past. Even if you don’t find a candidate who fits your needs, you may get some great advice on where to find candidates or how to hire for the role. That can be especially important if you are hiring your first engineer and/or the hiring manager is not knowledgeable about the technical aspects of engineering.
Online Job Boards
Another option to search for an engineer is online through job boards or professional organizations. This option is preferable once you have hired an initial engineer and you have exhausted your internal networks. Some engineer-specific job boards include EngineeringJobs.net, National Society of Professional Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers—keep in mind that these boards tend to be more expensive than general job sites. Check out our list of the top engineering job sites plus detail on each to help you decide iif they’re right for your search.
If you need an affordable way to look for engineering candidates, check out our top recommended free job posting sites.
An option you may consider if you are looking for an engineer on the lower end of the salary range is your local university. The engineering department or career service center is a good place to start your search; ask educators and staff if there are soon-to-be or recently graduated individuals looking to start their careers. While they may be lacking in work experience, they will have the educational background necessary to complete many of the requests that your company may have as well as references from their professors to attest to their work ethic and other qualities.
Check out our guide to hiring an intern for a more affordable option to finding an engineer.
Step 5: Interview Candidates
Now that you have applicants, you can begin reviewing their resumes to identify a final list of candidates that you would like to interview. Some things to look for include:
- Experience with working with similar companies
- Evidence of the skills necessary to complete the project
- Commitment to seeing through the end of a project
Once you compile your final list, you can begin scheduling interviews. While interviewing, you should ask questions that give you insight into the engineer’s work style, communication skills, technical skills, and personality. We have listed some questions you should consider asking below.
Because of the educational requirement, most engineers who you interview will have the technical skills but they may not be able to communicate their results and updates to others in a concise and relatable way. This is especially important if they are communicating to those without an engineering background. When interviewing you should determine an applicant’s ability to deal with multiple priorities, communicate and work with others, and take and use constructive criticism to improve on their work.
Sample questions include:
- Tell me about a time where you worked with a difficult client, employer, or co-worker. How did you handle the situation?
- Describe the most difficult report you’ve written or presentation you’ve given.
- How do you describe complex issues to non-engineers?
One thing you can do to increase the probability of a successful hire is to examine your company’s culture. The ideal candidate will be able to thrive in that environment, whether it is highly structured, enterprising, people-centric, free-flowing, or inquisitive. When interviewing, you should ask questions to help you determine if the candidate is the right cultural fit.
Sample questions include:
- How do you handle surprises that arise when working on a project?
- Describe the type of environment in which you do your best work?
- What qualities make a successful engineering project team?
- What is your preferred work style?
As mentioned earlier, all engineers, having successfully completed their education, will have some technical background and skills. However, you need to make sure that the applicant has the necessary skills and/or experience to meet your company’s needs, so the questions you ask here will be specific to those.
Some companies decide an assessment or test during the interview process is the best way to gauge an applicant’s technical skills. Some assessments can include asking an employee to solve a hypothetical problem, explain or analyze an existing design, or take an aptitude test.
For a list of more questions to consider, check out the top interview questions our HR experts recommend employers ask.
Step 6: Select a Candidate & Make an Offer
Once you complete your interview process, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when making a final selection.
- Uniform criteria for the final evaluation. For any interview process, you should create a universal criterion (and process) to evaluate all applicants fairly. There are multiple rating systems you can use, ranging from “yes or no” and “poor to great” scales to a numerical range (e.g., 1 to 10). You should use this criterion for individual questions and the final assessment. You may want to adjust the value of certain questions for interviewers to provide more weight to certain aspects than others. For example, because a major component of an engineer’s job is technical, more weight may be assigned to technical assessments and/or interviewers who understand the technical aspects of the job.
- Final decision maker. There should be multiple people in the interview process to have a diverse set of viewpoints. However, there does need to be one person who ultimately determines which applicant is hired. In most businesses, that person is either a founder, an executive, a member of the HR leadership team, or the employee’s direct supervisor. In the case of hiring an engineer, you may consider giving that position to the most technical person on your team since they are most likely to understand the job responsibilities.
Once a hiring decision is made, you can present your chosen candidate with an offer letter that lists the benefits of accepting the position with your company. For help with creating an effective offer, please see our guide to offer letters with a free template for you to use. Typical offer letters generally include job title, start date, salary, and bonus or commission structure, if applicable.
You should also include the full job description in the offer letter. When the candidate signs off on their ability to perform the job duties, you can hold them accountable if they don’t meet your expectations. When your offer letter is ready, send it to the candidate and give them at least a few days to review and send it back. You can speed the process up by sending the offer letter via an electronic signature platform.
Once your applicants accept your employment offer, it is a good policy to inform the other candidates that you have decided to go in another direction.
Hiring an engineer is not always easy, as you will often need very specific skills. Furthermore, engineers are in demand and tend to have lower rates of unemployment than other professions (1.8% as of this writing). However, by following the steps we’ve outlined, including having a strong understanding of your needs, you can find the right person to help set your small business up for current and future success.