IELM 4110 Investigative Interview and Essay

Every IELM 4110 student must interview a practicing engineer or I.T. professional and report on it. This is a golden opportunity to go outside the ivory tower of academia and learn about engineering from an experienced professional! The information below should be helpful to prepare for the interview, conduct the interview and write the essay.

Interview Purpose

In order to pass the course, every student must interview a practicing engineer or IT professional about his/her first engineering/IT job in Hong Kong and then write and submit a report about the person and what was discussed in the interview. This exercise aims to:

  • offer students the opportunity to talk to industry professionals to get a feel for what they have encountered in their lives
  • help students think about how (and why) to plan a career path
  • show students just a few of the problems and challenges they might encounter along their career paths
  • persuade students to think about what they might want to do in the long term
  • provide real-life examples of how to overcome difficulties
  • make students aware of career opportunities

Interview Guidelines

  • Interview a practicing engineer or IT professional about his/her first engineering or IT job in Hong Kong.
  • Practicing engineers are professionals who work (or worked) in the field of engineering (including information technology) and have contributed to the society. They can be alumni from your department, friends, relatives, or anyone willing to talk to you.
  • Do not interview professors or course instructors at HKUST unless they have several years of actual working experience outside academia or unless you want to be one yourself one day. Otherwise, you will miss an opportunity to learn about the daily life pressures and challenges of engineers and I.T. professionals in the commercial world. Academics have their own pressures - like balancing their time in teaching, advising, research and maybe handling administrative affairs - but they may not have much to say about customer service, trouble-shooting, working closely with suppliers or sales and marketing personnel, upgrading skill sets, adjusting career paths, etc. Commercial and non-profit organizations are typically very different, since their goals and sources of funding can be very different.

Getting Started

  • Read the guidelines given by the course assistant
    Ask questions if you don't understand.
  • Select an interviewee
    Think about an IT professional who seems really interesting or who seems to have special knowledge, qualifications or experience. If possible, browse their companies' web pages to learn more about their work and their backgrounds. Then, select one you feel comfortable in approaching.
  • Ask for an interview
    Send your selected person an e-mail, asking him/her if he/she would be willing to let you interview him/her so you can learn from him/her about his/her career and work experiences. You can mention that the interview fulfills a requirement of IELM 4110, and you can ask him/her to suggest a convenient date and time to meet. Relax! Most people will be happy to spend the time with you if you ask. If the person you ask declines, then try another.
  • Schedule the interview
    If the person responds favorably, then make sure you can agree on a time that is not prior to any class or meeting you may have on that date. After the interview, you will be wise to spend one to three hours in a quiet place thinking about the interview, making additional notes, organizing your thoughts and writing the first draft of your report. If you have some other appointment after the interview, you may forget some important details. You need time to be alone and focus on what you learned.

Preparing for the Interview

  • Do your homework
    Find out as much as possible about the person you are interviewing. Nothing is more embarrassing than arriving for an interview and not knowing about your subject. A question like, "Well, Mr. Wong, have you been working here long?" almost guarantees a poor interview. Mr. Wong immediately begins to look at his watch to try to figure out a way to get out of this. A far better question, in the same area, may be, "You were at Stanford for a number of years before coming here. Why did you move? Are glad you did?" In other words, be specific.
  • Briefly outline the questions you want to ask
    Prepare enough questions to facilitate a good interview and organize them logically and/or topically. In case time does not permit you to ask all your questions, mark the ones that seem to you to be most important. A lot of students ask the following questions:
    • Why did you choose this profession?
    • Can you please tell me about your current job (title, responsibilities, department, nature of projects, etc.)?
    • Can you please tell me about your company and why you chose to work here?
    • How long have you worked for this company?
    • Can you please tell me about your first engineering/IT job (title, responsibilities, department, nature of projects, etc.)?
    • Can you please tell me about that company and why you chose to work there?
    • How long did you worked for that company?
    • In retrospect, what were the major challenges of your first engineering/IT job?
    • How did you adapt to the job?
    • What was the most rewarding experience in the first job?
    • What would you say are the important and unique aspects of working in HK as an engineer/IT professional?
  • Try to ask questions that are open-ended and challenge the interviewee to think
    You might ask questions like these:
    • Can we talk about the challenges that occurred during your four years at Cambridge?
    • What are the major differences between UCLA, where you taught before coming here, and our school?
    • What is the most satisfying aspect of your job at UST and why?
    • What factors have contributed to your success?
    • What challenges have you faced? What disappointments have you faced? If you were my age today, what would you do differently?

How to Interview

  • Introduce yourself and your goals
    Make sure that the interviewee knows who you are and what you intend to do during the interview. Be polite and appreciative and not too relaxed. Smile and look him/her in the eyes when he/she talks.
  • An easy approach
    One easy way to interview is to go through the person's biography with them - letting them know you've already seen the outline on the UST site or wherever - but ask them to expand on it. You'll almost certainly find it easier to get them to tell you more than they otherwise might have if you ask questions randomly.
  • Use your time well
    Your goal is to help the interviewee talk about things that are interesting to him/her and also useful to you. You want to spend most of your time listening. However, if you feel that he/she has said enough about something, then wait for a pause and politely ask another question. Take handwritten notes on a notepad, but try to keep looking at him/her in the eyes throughout the meeting.
  • Before you leave the interview
    Thank the interviewee and ask if you can follow up later by e-mail if you feel you have missed anything.
  • After you leave the interview
    Avoid contact with other people after the interview, so that you can spend at least an hour or two thinking about the person and what he/she said. Go to the library or a quite place and review your notes. Add any further notes while the interview is fresh in your memory. Be prepared to spend one to three hours just thinking about the interview and recording as much as you can recall. You can also highlight important comments and write your own interpretations at this point if you have any. Ideally, you will also begin to organize your thoughts and write the first draft of your report.

How to Write Your Essay

  • Essay cover page
    Be sure to obtain the interviewee's name, phone number or e-mail address and when and where you did the interview.
  • Organize your thoughts
    Write a brief outline of what you think were the most important things you learned about the interviewee and what lessons you can learn from him/her. Your outline will most likely be very different from your outline of questions. Think of what you would tell your friends or parents about the engineer if you had one minute to do so. Or think about how you would introduce him if you had 30 seconds to say something about him/her before a special talk. After you have the basic outline, you can select details from your notes and add your own interpretations. Try to include the following:
    • A short introduction of the person (name, company, job title, etc.)
    • How you came to know this person
    • Why you chose this person
    • Basic information about the interviewee's first engineering/IT job (company, job title, responsibilities, department, nature of projects, when worked there, etc.)
    • Why the interviewee chose to work there
    • The major challenges of the job
    • How he/she adapt to the job
    • The most rewarding experiences of the first job
    • Important and unique aspects of working in HK as an engineer/IT professional
    • A summary of the main lessons you learned from your interviewee
  • Ask your CT to proofread your report.

Essay Guidelines

  • Follow the IELM 4110 essay guidelines
    Regarding the interviewee, include positive traits that he/she thinks lead to a successful career and a contribution to the society; also mention the challenges of the job and lessons learned. Do not write the entire paper about your theories on life. Focus on the interviewee's ideas and statements.
  • Write in the first person singular
    Using "I" helps indicate what you think vs. what your subject thinks. But avoid "I think ..." and "In my opinion...". Unless you write "According to Dr. X..." the reader will assume that opinions expressed are your own.
  • Don't just copy what is on the IELM 4110 webpages
    The graders are very familiar with the web site and will notice.
  • Don't make the entire paper one long quote
    Use your quotes wisely, and always indicate that it is your subject speaking.
  • Use appropriate parts of speech
    See Guide to Grammar and Writing.
  • Proofread and run a spell check before submitting your essay
    If you are going to be a professional one day, you must learn to write professional-looking reports.
  • Help from your communication tutor
  • If you want a communication tutor to offer suggestions for improvement, you can e-mail him/her, but please allow sufficient time. If you submit a draft at the last minute, your tutor may not have much time to help you.
  • No acknowledgements are necessary.
  • For more information see the IELM Course Requirements (MS PowerPoint presentation).

After finishing

  • Submit your essay in soft copy to Turnitin.
  • Submit your essay in hard copy to IELM4110 Collection Box, outside IELM Department General Office, Room 5551, via Lift 27-28
  • Consider e-mailing the report to the interviewee and thanking him/her.
  • Consider showing the report to your parents and/or brothers or sisters and/or telling them about the interview and the essay.


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