Most engineers have a very reasonable desire to avoid poverty. This leads them to seek good employment with the best company and best opportunity possible. But I believe that many engineers don’t understand the relationship between their job and their employer; and likewise, the relationship between their employer and the customers of that company.
If your company (or prospective company) has a business-to-business selling arrangement to its customers, it might even be important for you to understand the relationship between your company’s customers and their customers.
Let’s go back basics: why does any boss hire an employee? Employees get hired to solve some specific problem(s) for the employer. In many cases, the problems being solved might also be directly solving a problem for your employer’s customer. If you are really good, you are helping your company’s customers solve problems for their customers. And on it goes down the chain.
Your employer (your company) is in business to solve some problem for its customers. Whether you deliver a product or a service to make that happen is not really important. Your company should be reducing pain or increasing pleasure (solving some problems) for their customers. You need to be helping your company do that; meaning you are solving some problem (no matter how large or small or indirect) for your boss.
You need to understand this relationship when you are interviewing, because you need everything about you to be sending one message to your prospective boss: “I can help you solve some of those difficult problems you face every day.”
Your singular message needs to be, “I will make it easier for our team to solve problems.” (It’s good to be able to project yourself into the organization and envision success.)
Somehow, some way; you need to put together a sales pitch for yourself (in writing, in photographs, in diagrams, or in your verbal presentation) that confidently exclaims, “Together, we will solve problems.”
Be sure that your presentation does not infringe on any Intellectual Property rights of previous employers or schools. It is usually pretty easy to turn specific details to an abstracted notion that still conveys your contribution without revealing secrets.
One small part of this will be your ability to research and comprehend just what that company really does (in other words, what problems they solve). What is their position in the world of their customer? Do they matter? If this company were gone tomorrow, would anybody (other than their employees) notice or mourn their absence?
Don’t lie. Don’t embroider. Don’t deceive yourself. A long time ago, after an interview with a prospective employee, a boss turned to me and said, “He said he did this, and this, and that; but I think instead of doing them, he was just there when those things were done—by other people. He did not seem to even understand the most basic aspects of those topics.”
As difficult as it might be, you need to look at your skills and work history through the eyes of that potential new boss or coworker. They are trying to figure out, “How is this person going to make my life easier, better, or happier?”
Finally, I once had a manager suggest that we should evaluate each candidate with three questions:
Those are tough standards, but don’t get discouraged. Just try to become a better problem solver.