The dreaded interview. Where you have to sit across a table trying to prove your worth to the hiring manager for 20 minutes while another 10 nervous candidates wait in the hall outside.
Actually, it’s rarely that bad in real life. I’ve actually enjoyed a few interviews and have often found that the interviewers were more nervous than I was. Most of the time the interview has been more of an informal chat and a quick tour of the building and a ‘when can you start?’
The question I regularly see appear in various forums is ‘what can I expect to be asked in my IT job interview.’ I see the advice been given often terrible, so I wanted to share my experience and insight with you. I’ve been interviewed for many IT jobs and contracts and also interviewed staff from junior to senior positions, so I’ve been on both sides of the table.
Before your interview day, please ensure you have researched the interview location (it may not be where the main building it if it’s a secure location). Please ensure you are well presented and have covered up piercings and tattoos. I don’t have the room to got into all the preparation here because this post is about the actual interview questions. For a job I really wanted I took a 2-hour train journey the week before so I knew exactly where I was going. I was a good think I did because on the first trip it took me an hour to find the right place!
Here are the stock questions you should expect and prepare for:
Tell us a little bit about yourself
This is the ice breaker. Prepare what you are going to say but make it casual. You don’t want to talk about personal relationships here or your bouts of depression. Briefly, discuss your hobbies and interests and never lie. I’ve had people tell me they enjoy doing parachute jumps, and when I ask them more about it (because I’ve done some) they can’t answer!
What do know about our company?
You did research the company didn’t you? Many don’t and look unprofessional. What do they do specifically? Which countries do they operate in? Have they won any industry awards? Who is in the ‘About Us’ page and what is their mission statement?
Also, read any news stories to see if there have been any recent press releases. Have they just been awarded a big contract? If you don’t know what they do or what they stand for then your chances of success are poor.
What do you know about the job?
Job descriptions are often vague, but you should have an understanding of the skills required, what you will be doing day-to-day and where. Is it shift work or weekend working? Is it customer facing or attending client site? Each of these things requires a certain set of skills so you should be prepared.
What are your career aspirations?
Are you an ambitious person or do you prefer to avoid change? Be honest with yourself when applying. If you don’t cope well with stress, then avoid jobs which involve dealing with emergency situations such as network outages or dealing with customers screaming at you on the phone. They are going to want somebody who can do the job but they may or may not want somebody who wants to progress into other roles.
What are your strongest character traits?
Be prepared to back this up with examples. If you say you are a great team player, then give a situation when you displayed this. Don’t brag and don’t exaggerate. You will be caught out.
What are your weaknesses?
Trick question. Don’t say “I’m a compulsive liar” for example. I don’t easily suffer fools, but I’d never say this in an interview. Prepare a non-threatening response such as “I’m a bit of a perfectionist.”
Why should we hire you?
Well, why should they? If you just shrug your shoulders, then you might as well get up and go home. What sets you apart from the other candidates? Are you fiercely loyal, do you go the extra mile, can you take on a lot of responsibility and consistently deliver?
It’s easy to hire people for jobs but hard to fire them so this is a big decision for the company.
Why did you apply for this job?
I was at Starbucks a few years back, and the manager asked this question to somebody who had turned up for an interview. The reply was “Because I live just around the corner!” Needless to say, they didn’t get the job. A better response might have been “I love to give people a great start to the day by making them their daily coffee.”
What was it about the job that most appealed to you? Write down a few things about this because it’s an important question.
Are you flexible?
This is a trick question. I was asked this by a manager years ago, and I said I was. What he meant by ‘flexible’ was cancelling my plans at the drop of a hat and staying behind at work for long hours as and when he required me to. When I told him this was unacceptable, he said: “Well, you said you were flexible.”
Flexible could mean any number of good or bad things (for you) so work out just how ‘flexible’ you really are.
How much salary do you expect?
Don’t fall for this one. If salary wasn’t mentioned in the job description, then they will be trying to get away with offering you as little as possible. Also, don’t fall for the “We’ll review it in 6 months” trick. You should have already researched what the job market is offering for this type of role but factor in shift working, on call, extra responsibilities and travel costs.
If you are desperate, then you might accept less but bear in mind that you still need to live and don’t undersell yourself. I ALWAYS wait for them to give a ballpark figure and AFTER the job offer is made I start to negotiate. Negotiating is a whole other blog post but doing it has gotten me $5,000 more than the guy sitting next to me doing the same job, so it’s important!
When can you start?
If they are desperate to fill the role, and you can start right away, then that puts you at the top of the pack (so long as you have demonstrated you can do it).
Note that I haven’t included technical questions here. That would be an almost impossible task given the huge range of careers available. For this, you need to be able to demonstrate the skills for the role you are applying for. For Cisco I had a 2-hour technical interview with 7 different engineers about troubleshooting, routing protocols, subnetting, switching and disaster recovery.
I hope this helps. If you want to prepare for a boss then check out my full course here: