Automation & Controls are ultimately why we’re all here. We study all there is to know about the hardware and software in order to land a position that is challenging, satisfying and financially rewarding.
In this article, we’re going to cover all you need to know about PLC programming jobs, what you can expect, what you should prepare for and ultimately give you an edge over the other applicants.
An entry level PLC programming job is hard to come by. The reality is that it’s difficult to master the hardware and software platforms without having some experience in the manufacturing setting. You will most likely notice that almost every “entry-level” job in this field will list at least a few years of experience under the requirements section. If you’ve completed a class, have a PLC that you’ve practiced on, and feel comfortable answering basic PLC programming questions, you should apply.
In the current market, employers are in dire need of programmers that may not have all the know how, but are willing to learn and are capable of demonstrating this capability during the interview. Furthermore, they understand that the required knowledge of hardware and software to fill these jobs is extremely difficult to come by.
An employer that is looking to hire an entry-level PLC programmer will either ask for an electrical engineering or engineering technology degree. Both of these programs demonstrate a candidate’s ability to learn as well as a certain degree of proficiency in electrical systems. However, it is possible to demonstrate the same knowledge through vocational training, an online course or projects that you’ve built in control systems. In the last decade, employers have become much more open to non-traditional paths of learning; some may even prefer demonstrated projects over a college degree.
In addition to a degree, almost every listing you will encounter will have a platform listing. Depending on the region, this platform may include Allen Bradley, Siemens, Omron, Automation Direct or other PLC brands. On some occasions, more than one brand will be listed. Although every employer would love to hire one person that could “do it all”, you should prepare to master a single platform. When asked about others, you may indicate that it’s something you’ve heard about on a regular basis and would be open to learning if given the opportunity.
- Apply to jobs for which you don’t always meet the “education” and “experience” requirements. Be ready to back-up your lack in any of the above with projects, demonstrated learning materials and knowledge.
- Prepare to encounter questions about various platforms, but don’t expect or spend the time to master all of them. Most employers will close the gaps through on-the-job training once you’re hired.
A number of those who work in manufacturing are looking to switch direction in their career for PLC programming. Although it’s possible to find a job with a new employer, it’s generally easier to find positions within. However, we often receive questions about how this can be achieved.
If you work in manufacturing, and are looking to land a PLC programming job within your existing company, you need to speak up. Take the time to speak to your manager about the direction of your career and inquire about the opportunities you have. Most companies would rather promote from within than to find outside talent, provided you can demonstrate competency and interest in the domain. The last point is extremely important as you should do your homework before you ask for the job. Be prepared to answer questions about why you want to shift, what you’ve done to learn the desired profession and how this shift will benefit the company in the long run.
As you express an interest in PLC programming to your current or potential employer, keep in mind that they may need some tangible proof of your proficiency. PLC programming jobs do not require formal education, but your desire to enter the field can be backed by an accredited university degree, a certification or personal projects. Although we don’t believe that one is better than the other in every situation, you may want to research further each one of these paths and see what suits you.
A position is always listed internally before it is open to the public. Having access to this list is critical if you’re looking to move into PLC programming. Although it is possible to make a request while no position is open, it’s much easier if there is one. The listing should be no different than what you’d see outside of the company. The advantage you have is that you may speak to the hiring manager directly and inquire about what’s important for that department and clarify any confusion you may have.
- Prepare for the job before you make your intentions known. Be prepared to answer questions about the job, your desire to move departments and what steps you have taken to learn the skills required.
- Speak with your manager as well as the hiring manager who’s looking to fill the position. Ask questions that express your interest. Take notes and make sure that you position yourself within the frames of what they’re looking for. In other words, if you can find out that they’re looking for an individual who’s capable of managing small projects, prepare a few examples where you’ve demonstrated this ability.
What are some of the most commonly asked questions during a PLC programming interview? Although every company is different, we want to give you an idea of what to expect in an interview in a North American manufacturing company.
After you’ve submitted your resume and have been successfully vetted by the hiring manager, you will receive a call from Human Resources. This individual will have access to your application as well as the job position. Their questions will typically be of general nature. You should expect to be able to answer the following:
- Tell me about your experience with PLC programming.
- Tell me about your experience in manufacturing.
- Please describe your experience with Allen Bradley (or other platforms) PLCs and hardware.
- We’d like to test your basic PLC programming understanding:
- What is an XIC instruction?
- Describe what a timer does within a PLC.
- What are your salary expectations for this position?
At this stage, you should prepare to answer general PLC programming questions, the position you’re applying for, as well as your resume. You won’t encounter any difficult questions at this stage; prepare to talk about yourself and your experience.
An important process of an HR interview is to demonstrate that you’ll make a great addition to the company. Your goal is to engage in conversation with the HR interviewer by asking questions about the company, the role as well as the opportunity in general. Keep in mind that
A PLC Programming Job will screen every candidate for technical knowledge. If you’ve answered the HR questions correctly, you will be contacted by the hiring manager. The hiring manager will generally be your future boss and will need to know that you’re capable of performing the tasks required. He will ask questions that will test your technical capabilities. You should expect the following:
- Where have you studied PLC programming?
- What other systems have you programmed or designed?
- What other hardware are you familiar with?
At this stage of the interview process, you’ve passed the initial interview. The company has selected you as well as 2-3 others for the next round with the hiring manager. Unlike an HR representative, the hiring manager is likely to be experienced in PLC systems, know about the engineering operations of the company and be knowledgeable in the technical aspects of the job to be performed. He is likely to ask questions of technical nature in addition to what was already covered by the HR rep.
You should be ready to answer questions that will go in depth on what you know and have done when it comes to PLC programming. A typical approach is to ask a general question about a project listed on your resume and to dig deeper on each component of the project. Be prepared to answer detailed questions about each project you’ve done.
Once you check all the boxes above, you’ll receive an invitation for an on-site interview. At this stage, you are likely to meet your future team, your boss, and see the manufacturing process. You should take this opportunity to learn about the company as much as impress them with your knowledge. It’s hard to predict all the interview questions you may encounter. However, here are some questions you may encounter at this stage:
- Tell us about your experience and knowledge of control systems.
- Look at the wiring diagram and walk us through the circuit elements.
- Tell us about the different brands of PLCs you’re familiar with and what you like / dislike about them.
- Write a simple PLC / HMI program to accomplish a task (start a motor, display an integer, toggle a function).
An in-person interview is a formality. The team is convinced that you’re able to perform the job at hand. What they’re trying to see is if you’d fit within the ranks of the company. Are you approachable? Easy to work with? Do you admit that you don’t know certain things? The goal is to evaluate the person they will be spending a lot of time with. For managers this is key as they rely on your performance for their success. They want someone who’s trustworthy, competent, able to learn and can communicate clearly.
Take the time to review the materials you’ve covered with the interviewer. Be ready to answer questions about your resume and background. Prepare a few key projects you can discuss in detail. Be yourself, be respectful and curious. Prepare questions to ask the employer and your potential team.
If the team is satisfied with your performance, the hiring manager / HR will extend an offer. Typically, you’ll receive a phone call and a written offer by email. It’s important to review the offer and take a bit of time to get back to the employer promptly with questions (if any). A PLC programming job will typically command an excellent premium, a bonus structure and some time off. Be clear on what you’re getting.
PLC programming jobs aren’t always easy to come by. Just like the rest of the industry, those who manage these job postings aren’t always in touch with the latest trends and behaviours of recruits. Therefore, you could explore the following places for your job search:
Start by searching the manufacturing companies in your area and neighbouring cities. In general, almost every production plant will be listed under a Google search. Look at the career section of these plants as well as the parent company.
Look on large search sites:
Create a strong social profile on LinkedIn. The site that was built for employers and job seekers has seen tremendous growth in the last few years and has helped thousands of people find new positions. In addition to the job postings, LinkedIn provides an excellent networking opportunity.
A significant amount of all jobs are now sourced through LinkedIn. Along with plc programming jobs, you'll find a number of recruiters that are scouting for potential candidates. One of the best ways to secure a job is to reach out to a reliable recruiter that specializes in automation and control systems. In todays market, large companies are utilizing 3rd party companies to find talent; these recruiters have access to jobs you may not find any other way. It's highly integrated that every engineer, technician or manager create a professional profile on LinkedIn and network with professionals in their respective field.
Building a resume that outlines your experience and knowledge in an easy-to-understand manner is key to landing a job. If you have less than five (5) years of professional experience, list all of your experience and projects on a single page. Make sure to include industry specific keywords and relevant software you’re most familiar with.