Supplier Quality Engineering Questions

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As a supplier quality engineer, you possess a unique blend of knowledge in supply chain, materials and logistics that makes you an integral part of any manufacturing operation. As the liaison between your company and its suppliers, it’s up to you to ensure the products and parts you order are up to par and free of defects. 

Prepare for your next supplier quality engineering job interview by reviewing these common interview questions. For best results, use our sample answers as a starting point and customize your responses by filling in the details with your own personal experiences and expertise. 

Supplier quality engineer interview questions

  1. Describe how you would assess a supplier during a site visit. 

Supplier site visits are one of the biggest parts of your job. You need to demonstrate to your potential employer that you go into them with a plan of attack for catching defects–before they show up in your products. 

Example answer: “First, I review the supplier’s quality management systems and compare them against ISO 9001-2015, which is my benchmark for quality management. I investigate their procedures for training personnel, inspect their equipment, and review their record-keeping practices. I then check their average level of quality defects and see how it measures against our agreed-upon tolerance level. If it’s above tolerance or coming close, I know we need to take further action.”

  1. How do you strike a balance between price and quality when reviewing a vendor?

Price is obviously a foremost concern when working with a supplier. The lower the cost of raw materials and manufacturing, the greater your employer’s margins. But there’s a fine line between achieving the lowest viable cost and producing a sub-par product. Here, walk your interviewer through your thought process when weighing cost against quality. 

Example answer: “It doesn’t matter how good our design is if we’re using low quality materials or producing the product with substandard processes. Thus, I would be wary of any offers for an exceptionally low price. This can indicate the use of cheaper raw materials than we initially planned for or shortcuts that will lead to defects later on. Those things will cost us more in the end than any savings we’d gain up front.”

  1. What are the most important metrics you use when formulating a supplier scorecard?

The supplier scorecard is a useful tool in analyzing prospective and existing vendors. It can help you get a composite picture of a supplier’s performance and quality record. What’s more, it gives you a universal standard to use when comparing vendors against one another. Share the metrics you personally rely on most when evaluating a supplier. These will vary depending on your industry, so be sure to personalize your answer with the right context. 

Example answer: “In my work as a supplier quality engineer for a medical device manufacturer, I used three key metrics to formulate a supplier scorecard. The first was lot acceptance rate (LAR), which told me what proportion of their shipped lots were accepted by their clients in a given month. The second was supplier corrective action requests (SCARs), which gave me an idea of how often we would face delays due to the need for corrective action. The last was past-due SCARs, which told me how responsive this supplier was going to be to any issues that arose. These three numbers together gave me a pretty solid picture to assess the vendor on behalf of my last employer.”

  1. What steps do you take once you identify a product deficiency?

Identifying product deficiencies is an inevitable part of your job. Your prospective employer needs to trust that they can rely on you to deliver swift solutions when a defect is found. Use this answer to show them how you prevent deficiencies from stalling production and delivery.  

Example answer: “When I identify a product deficiency, I immediately document the problem and make a SCAR. I request that the supplier use an 8D approach to identify the root cause and fix the problem. The 8D approach ensures that we not only contain and correct the deficiency, but uncover what led up to it in the first place so that it can be prevented in the future and doesn’t cost us time and money down the road.”

  1. What goes into developing a supplier recovery plan?

From floods and fires to natural disasters and worker strikes, all of these variables have the potential to impact your supply chain. They also have another thing in common: they’re outside of your control. To make sure that any of these circumstances have as little of an impact as possible on your operations, you need a supplier recovery plan. Whether it’s developed internally or something you require your suppliers to develop, share how you minimize supply chain interruptions in the face of unforeseen circumstances. 

Example answer: “Before we sign a contract with any vendor, I find out what kind of recovery plan they have in place and who is responsible for executing it. I ask for examples of recovery scenarios they’ve dealt with in the past and find out what, if any, restitution is available to us for issues on their end that impact our delivery and timelines.”

  1. How would you help your organization decide whether to work with or continue to work with a supplier?

As your organization’s primary point of contact with vendors, it’s your responsibility to gather the data that will be relevant to all stakeholders who have a say in whether you work with said vendors. This might include team members from purchasing, engineering, production and upper management. Use your answer to describe how you’ll collect and report the information they care about most when making a decision. 

Example answer: “For every vendor I’m assessing, I conduct a site visit and produce a written report of my findings. My report covers the supplier’s level of experience, financial stability, ability to meet our capacity and timeline needs, sophistication of equipment and processes, track record on key performance metrics, and total assessed cost. I also obtain proof that they meet any regulatory requirements necessary for the industry.”

  1. Are you familiar with FMEA?

Every industry has its own best practices for assessing quality and risk, but there are some universal manufacturing concepts that can serve you no matter what type of product your company provides. Prepare to demonstrate your knowledge of some of the most common principles, like FMEA. 

Example answer: “FMEA stands for failure mode and effects analysis. It was originally used by the military to identify possible modes of failure and assess the risk for each of them. In manufacturing, we can use FMEA to assess the likelihood and severity of defects in products and processes. Some of the things we’d look at include the frequency of an activity associated with defects, our ability to detect the defect, the probability of defect and the scope of the defect’s impact.” 

  1. How would you apply quality assurance engineering principles to our manufacturing operations?

Quality assurance is a broad term that has a wide scope in our line of work. ISO 9000 defines it as the “part of quality management focused on providing confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled.” That’s where you come in. Show how you’d incorporate quality assurance principles into your relationships with suppliers to make sure production runs smoothly. 

Example answer: “There are many aspects of quality assurance I use in my supplier visits. For example, I use statistical control when analyzing a supplier’s performance record and variance levels. I use total quality management when compiling an overall picture of a supplier’s suitability. Total quality management means I analyze not just the individual pieces of their operation, but how all the pieces work together as a whole and the impact each piece has on all the others. This is crucial in preventing defects.”

  1. What would you do if you were not getting a proper deliverable from one of our suppliers?

There’s more to being an effective supplier quality engineer than just pointing out problems and writing up SCARs. The best SQEs work collaboratively with suppliers to find solutions and maintain ongoing working relationships. Ideally, in this answer you should cite a time when you actually encountered a deliverable issue with a vendor and share how you resolved it. 

Example answer: “I’ve learned that the best way for me to do my job is to collaborate closely with suppliers at every stage of the corrective action request. I give them as much information as possible about the non-conformance and our view of the appropriate corrective action. I approach it with a training mentality–I’m training them on how to better maintain compliance so we run into fewer issues in the future. This requires a greater investment of time up front, but it leads to much stronger supplier relationships and thereby lower costs in the long run.”

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