Interviews for IT support positions

Ahhh the humble interview, not nerve wracking at all! I have seen some horrible posts on LinkedIn of people’s interview experience when interviewing for IT support positions, one candidate was asked to explain the OSPF/OSI model and how to set a firewall in an interview for a junior IT support position. Needless to say the candidate walked out the interview shaken up and feeling really bad.

I am also saddened and humbled by all the posts of people posting on Linkedin from people in some really desperate situations over this holiday period (this post was written Christmas 2021). I really want you to read this post, absorb it and own the interview when it is offered to you. Nobody deserves to be in these situations that I have read about.

Therefore I wanted to put together a post to show some of the questions I ask in my interviews when interviewing potential IT support candidates to join my teams and the reasons why I ask the question. Hopefully this will help anyone about to goto an interview and also for anyone taking interviews to give me feedback as I want to be better at interviews.

First I think I need to explain some of the thinking behind interviews:

  • People hire people they like. You could have more IT qualifications than an MVP at Microsoft but if you don’t click with the interviewer, it is going to be hard to progress in the interview process.
  • Most interviewers know or will have gut feel if the candidate is the right fit in the first 1 – 5 minutes of talking to the candidate so this is the most impactful part of the interview. In a moment of honesty, I have been in a lift / elevator going with the candidate to the interview room after picking them up from reception and knew it was a waste of time taking that ride based on my initial impressions of the candidate. So be on point and smile. There is also chance to make a quick joke to break the ice so try it. If you have looked up the interviewer on Linkedin and seen they have just won an award…mention that as an ice breaker. Covid / social distancing rules offers a good opener / ice breaker for hand shake or fist bump and why does a greeting now turn into a game of paper (going in for a hand shake), scissors, stone (going in for a fist bump). I’m wasted being an IT support manager, I should have been a comedian!
  • The interview are there to get candidates talking so the interviewer can build up a picture if they are going to like the person and will they work well within the existing team. So talk and be more then a few word answer or yes / no but be concise and straightforward with your answers. I want to get from A to B in the answer which is straight forward and not A going via E to G to Z to C to D to B which is a confusing answer.

Golden rule for all interviewers

The interviewer should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER laugh / make fun at the candidates answer in an interview. Interviews are stressful enough. If a candidate answers a question badly and the interviewer laughs or makes fun of the answer then the candidate will be destroyed and it is massively disrespectful to the candidate. I have listened to some terrible answers given to a question but you must sit there dead pan, agree, maybe ask questions and write notes. Like any test, people answer some questions badly sometimes but can answer others really well so if you laugh / make fun of answers and destroy the candidates on question 2 of 10 then answers 3-10 might not be the best.

Remember : An interview is a two way street. Both the candidate AND the interviewer are trying to impress each other in the interview. How you are treated in the interview really shows how the manager might treat their team and is this a team you want to be joining?

Assessing candidates overall on a CV

I hate to break it to you but if you are interviewing for an IT support position and are already working in in IT Support then you are one of many who work in an IT support team of 2-10 analysts who fixed windows / office and other bespoke software on a company’s desktops and laptops. You fix about 10-20 tickets a day served to you by some form of call logging system eg Servicenow, Freshworks, Jira via chat / emails or phone calls. You may have a bunch of qualifications but in the real world, setups of software and various configurations make some of this knowledge, perfect world scenario vs real world scenario. Eg you could put all your windows software knowledge to the test and take hours fixing someone laptop but in the real world, it might be quicker and easier to give someone a replacement laptop, copy over all the data and then just rebuild the software image on the laptop with a problem.

Bottom line. You are unlikely to be that special on paper. Sorry.

IT Recruiters

It does NOT matter :

  • What industry a candidate has worked in. I have worked in the hotel, newspaper, insurance, food and beverage, consultancy, recruitment and media industries. A computer/ software that needs fixing is a computer / software that needs fixing in every company. Yes, there are different demands and different software /configurations but these can be learnt easily through time.
    • Please stop discounting candidates if they haven’t worked in the specific industry your client’s company are working in.
  • What software a candidate may or may not have used.
    • Administering Office 365 to a 1st or 2nd line level takes about 1 hour to learn.
    • Learning how to log tickets in a ITSM tool eg Service now takes about 30 mins – 1 hour to learn the company’s way to log tickets, what categories to use and which team to escalate which tickets to which team.
    • Learning to use Landesk / SCCM to deploy software takes about 10 mins to learn how to search for the machine needing the software and then drag the computer to the distribution task and click deploy.
    • Please stop discounting candidates who may not have used the exact software your client’s company uses to support their users.

Thankyou from all the potential candidates hiring managers should get to see but don’t get considered as they aren’t a 100% cookie cutter fit. Everyone learns on the job they are hired for.

Therefore I will interview anyone with 1-2 years + IT support experience, I’m really not too fussy. What I am really looking for is someone with personality and can give a great customer experience. I can teach technical skills easier than I can teach customer service skills. I would even say, you either have customer service skills or you don’t.

Structure of an interview

The interviews are normally structured into 5 parts:

  1. Introductions of everyone who will be interviewing, their roles within the company and the structure of the interview possibility with a company overview
  2. The candidate is asked to gives an overview of their career / past few jobs
  3. Competency questions based on IT support
  4. Questions around what the candidate knows about the position and company then the interviewer will give an overview of the position being recruited for.
  5. The candidate gets to ask questions to the interviewer. This is an opportunity for the candidate to learn more about the company or manager or position.

My Interview questions

Tell me about your last jobs / job? (I go back maybe 3-5 years so this might be one job or several.)

Why I ask this:

It is an initial standard, boring questions to get someone talking. I want to understand the make up of their team eg how many analysts was in the team, were they in one area or geographically dispersed, what was their role in the team eg were they junior or a senior member in the team, how many tickets did they deal with? What types of tickets did they work on?

I might ask some questions off the back of their initial answers but ultimately I want to know if they have been working for a company of 10 people total and my organisation is 10,000 people…there might be a gap. If this is you, really think about how you might show you can take on the step up. A company of 10,000 is going to be more structured and possibly you might have less responsibilities / you won’t get able to have access to as much as you did in the smaller company to get involved in, so have you through about this?

If someone has had multiple jobs, then I might ask :

What was your best job and why?

Why I ask this:

I want to know why they liked it, maybe they had a great manager or team? Maybe every Friday they were out to a bar with their team and other people from the department which made for a fun environment etc and maybe my environment might align to what they liked in their best job.

What is your greatest achievement either at work or out of work?

Why I ask this:

This gives the candidate the opportunity to puff out their chest out and be proud of something. It is also a good gauge to see what people are proud of and look at some of the personal qualities shown by the candidate when sharing these stories.

Some example answers I have had:

“I took in a stray dog when I had just left school at 18. Nobody in my family believed I could take care of this dog. I am therefore very proud to say that dog is still living with me 5 years later.”

“I stayed late to sort out a laptop for one of the members of staff. I was the only one who could sort this out as I was the only one with the level of access and had sorted out this persons issues with the particular software in question. The next day the person bought me a box of chocolates for staying late and helping them.”

“I sourced and was the main person to deal with an audio and visual company to come in and replace all the audio and visual equipment in our large meeting room where townhall’s with the entire office took place. After the replacement I was the main person to train up my team on how to use the equipment. After replacing the equipment there was never any issues hosting and running a townhall.”

What would you do if you are dealing with an issue with one member of the business and then the Managing Director (MD) comes over to you and needs your help urgently in the meeting room. What would you do?

Why I ask this:

This is a customer experience questions. Ultimately the most senior person in an organisation is asking for urgent help but you are dealing with an issue already. How are you going to deal with this?

eg:

  1. Are you going to drop everything, walk away from the existing issue and go help the MD?
  2. Are you going to ask the business person if it is ok to go take a look and help the MD?
  3. Are you going to ask a colleague if they can help take over helping the business user issues while you go help the MD?
  4. Are you going to turn around to the MD and say ‘I’m busy already, go find someone else’
  5. Are you going to run out the door scream ‘I can’t take this pressure!!!!’?

My whole ethos about IT support is the customer experience so this is key question for me to assess if we are aligned or not?

What is a CAB or a Change Advisory Board?

Why I ask this:

  • Do you know about ITIL?
  • Do you know how changes work in an ITIL environment?

What is the difference between an incident and a request?

Why I ask this:

  • What do you know about ITIL?
  • What do you know about IT operations, logging tickets and maybe SLA which normally are different when talking about an incident vs a request

Someone in marketing is trying to print to a printer in the office they have always printed to and nothing is coming out, what would you do?

Why I ask this:

I want to see how you troubleshoot an issue eg

  • How are you managing the customer experience? Are they under any time pressures? Are they late for a meeting so you can’t troubleshoot for a long time so need a workaround for now and can go back and fix it when there is more time?
  • Ask the person to reboot their machine and try again?
  • Can you print to that printer?
  • Is there any error messages on the printer?
  • Has the printer got paper?
  • Can you ping that printer?
  • Is the printer plugged in?
  • Can you reboot the printer?
  • Have you reloaded the printer on the persons machine?
  • Can anyone else print to that printer?

Someone is working from home and their internal webcam eg integrated into the laptop isn’t working in Microsoft Teams, what do you do to try and solve this issue?

Why I ask this:

I want to see how you troubleshoot an issue remotely when you can’t get your hands on the machine. What things would you check or are initial things you would try to solve this?

  • How are you managing the customer experience? Are they under any time pressures? Are they late for a meeting so you can’t troubleshoot for a long time so need a workaround for now and can go back and fix it when there is more time?
  • Have you rebooted the machine?
  • Does the webcam pick up in other programs eg skype? Webex?
  • What is the error message? Have you googled it?
  • Have you reloaded the drivers?
  • Has the person got another webcam eg an external webcam that they could use.

Some one is working in the office and they can’t connect to anything on the network. You run a cmd – ipconfig command and see their IP address is 169.254.x.x. What would you do?

Why I ask this:

  • How are you managing the customer experience? Are they under any time pressures? Can they work from another desk? Are they late for a meeting so you can’t troubleshoot for a long time so need a workaround for now and can go back and fix it when there is more time?
  • What do you know about the special address range of 169.254.x.x?
  • Have you released and renewed the ip address?
  • Have you checked the patching?
  • Is the network cable plugged directly into the computer or via the IP Phone? Can you plug the network cable directly into the computer instead of via the phone?
  • Have you reseated the network cables?

Tell me a time where an issues hasn’t gone well or you made a mistake. How did you mitigate it or recover the situation?

Why I ask this:

EVERYONE makes mistakes. Anyone that tells you they haven’t is lying or is a weak individual that they can’t admit their faults. I have made small to massive mistakes during my career. eg many, many years ago I encrypted a directors ‘my documents’ on this laptop as this was an IT project to encrypt peoples documents if they were working on a laptop. Unfortunately he hadn’t backed up these files to the server and then accidentally I deleted the private key needed to decrypt all the documents on this laptop. As result all the documents in ‘my documents’ was encrypted and there was no ways to decrypt them. That was a fun day…no, it was SO NOT a fun day.

So I want to know are you able to admit a mistake? What happened? How did you recover the situation? Did you escalate this to your manager and get their help or did you go it alone to recover the situation? How did you manage the customer experience?

My teams know I would rather put out little fires then big forest fires. Therefore if you keep an issue from me and it blows up from a little issue to a massive issue with escalations and lots of people very upset then that is a less than ideal situation for me to deal with. Managers should be there to support and help in these situations.

Why do you work in IT support?

Why I ask this:

I want to see if we are aligned. Answers that involve words like I enjoy speaking to people, I enjoy solving peoples problem or I like to make sure of a good customer experience are much better than, it’s just a job to pay the bills and to be honest I hate dealing with people but I need to do this job to get into networks or systems which is my dream job. An answer like this makes me sad and probably the interview isn’t going last too much longer.

What would be the result if I was to block port 80 on a users computer?

Why I ask this:

Do you know the IP ports of common protocols? eg the result of this action would be the user would not be able to access the internet as this is the port the computer uses to go out to the internet.

Curve ball question. Tell me your best friends name and tell me their best and worst quality?

Why I ask this :

Surprise question that you didn’t see coming, did you! This is all about catching someone off their guard with a question they have not prepared for. Everyone prepares to answer questions on themselves but not their best friend. So this is a bit of reverse psychology. Imagine your best friend is Ben. If Ben’s best quality is he likes to help people and his worse quality is he is always late. Then depending how the rest of the interview has gone, I might be drawing up the contract and hiring that person on the spot, why?

The best quality of a person is usually an aspirational quality of the person talking about their best friend that they want to be more like. I am all about customer experience and helping people so this is a pretty good quality to highlight that is their best friend best quality is also helping people.

The worse quality of Ben is he is always late. It is reasonable to guess the person saying this is always on time and is always waiting for Ben. Therefore I would assume that the person I am interviewing will always be on time to work and for meetings.

I have had a few people be so surprised by this question that they answer that their computer is their best friend. Please don’t use this as the answer. There isn’t many places to go when the answer for the best friends best quality is the computers load time and the worst quality is it tiny hard drive.

Questions to ask at the end of an interview to the interviewer

Never leave an interview without asking any questions at the end of the interview. Any job will mean you spend more time at work then you see your loved ones. You might want to make sure you will be happy working at the company if you are successful and you know what you are going to be doing.

Some example questions:

  • Can you explain what a normal day/ week might look like for me eg duties and responsibilities if I am successful at this job?
  • Can you tell me what hours are worked eg are you going to be on duty 9am-5pm? Are there shifts?
  • How often do team meetings and 1:1’s take place with you and the team?
  • Can you give me an overview of the team members I will be working with?
  • What projects might be coming up that I might be involved in?
  • Why do you like working at this company?
  • What would you change to make your or the teams life better, if you had a magic wand and money / budgets were unlimited.
  • What is your biggest achievement while you have been working at this company?
  • What is the biggest issue for the team at the moment?
  • What would you expect of me/goals/targets during my first 3-6 months?
  • Name your best friend and their best and worst quality? Reasoning above.
  • Can I see where I might be working? Note : A clean environment rather than a messy environment is normally preferred.

What can you do to better prepare for interviews?

Dress to impress, I might be old school but while you might be comfortable in shorts and t shirts, if I am the interviewer and I am wearing a suit…how comfortable would you be feeling in interview when you are there to impress me but you are wearing an old t-shirt? It is better to overdress than under dress for an interview.

If the interview is a video conference. Make sure you have a neutral or plain wall background. You may love a sports team and have all their posters but don’t have them in the background to your video conference. That a) is distracting to the interviewer b) if the interviewer or their team hates your sports team, it might impact the interview or your chances of getting to the next stage. A neutral or plan background means there are no distractions, so the interviewer focuses on you.

Try answering the interview questions I listed earlier on to your mum, dad, loved one and see if they understand what you are saying or they get lost in your description of your work back ground or other answers. You must be able to explain things in plain terms. In an interview I might ask you what is a ping, so if your mum / dad /loved one also asked this and you could explain this in simple terms to them then you are ahead of the game. Some people in a business really do not know too much about computers and this is not a bad thing. They are much better then you at the jobs they are paid to do. Remember this the next time someone on the support desk scoffs/laughs that someone didn’t know how to reboot their computer or do something you on the support desk think is SO easy. If you come at the business person with really technical phases and make them feel stupid then this might be a recipe to inflame the situation. You have to be able to explain things in plain term and making sure the customer experience is on point.

Remember, Einstein once said :

“If you can’t explain things simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

I have unfortunately met and worked with lots of IT people who this quote is very true for.

Put away your phone and make sure it is on silent. The second you look at your phone in an interview then you are saying to the interviewer my phone is more important then you. Game over.

Look up the company and what they do and maybe look up the interviewers on LinkedIn to know their background. If the interviewer has just started at the company, then you could asked ‘I noticed on Linkedin you have just started at the company. How are you getting on starting at x company?’. Show some interest in what the company does, who runs it, some recent news etc if you are asked ‘what do you know about this company’ you need to say something.

Answer questions as ‘I’ and not ‘we’. I want to know what you (the candidate) did not what a collective did. If a candidate answers questions as ‘we did this’ we did that’ it gives the impression the candidate was in the backseat and didn’t really know what was going on, they were more going along for the ride.

DO NOT BE LATE. If needs be, go on a visit to the office ahead on weekend or after work on weekday before the interview to make sure you know where to go on the day or allow plenty of time to get to the interview on the day. You would rather be walking around outside the office killing time before the interview then flustered and late for the interview. I have cancelled interviews if the candidate was more then 10mins late, plenty more candidates who can be on time out there. Do not be the one who does not make it past reception as they have arrived late.

Learn about ITIL, it is a framework most companies use to organise and run their IT department so knowing something about this or getting the foundation exam is a massive bonus. I know ITIL can be a little dry but this is a book I recommend to everyone and is even funny in parts explaining what ITIL is. Click here

This is an article I wrote explaining ITIL click here as an interior design catalogue…go with it people.

Try out Servicenow. Servicenow is one of the biggest IT Service Management (ITSM) tools used by most organisations. So learn how to log tickets, reassign tickets to different teams, close tickets etc. You can get a free instance of Servicenow via their developer portal here

I have also put together some Servicenow videos that are available on my blog for more of a delve into the inner workings of Servicenow. click here

Do you know how to change someone password? What is AD? What is a ping? What is a tracert?

There are plenty of resources. Watch Kevin Apolinario (click here) and Zac Hill’s (click here) youtube channels which are great. Have a play and learn about different software eg:

Microsoft Learning Centre : https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/learn/browse/ – English, other languages are available.

AWS fundamental free training https://explore.skillbuilder.aws/learn/public/learning_plan/view/82/cloud-foundations-learning-plan

Networking basics by Cisco for free https://www.cisco.com/c/en_uk/solutions/small-business/resource-center/networking/networking-basics.html

Then there are sites such as :

https://www.udemy.com/

https://www.coursera.org/

If you want to start paying for courses which go into more depth.

Blog. Like I said earlier, on CV it is hard to differentiate most IT support candidates so one way to be different and stand out from the crowd is start a blog. This blog costs me about $20 per year for the domain and is set up on WordPress. However, if you click about, you learn about me that you wouldn’t learn from reading my CV. Therefore my blog help make me stand out from the crowd as any hiring manager can look at my blog and click through my articles in their own time, to work out if they want to interview me and can build up a picture of my thinking prior to the interview. As this is just a link on my CV. If you were to blog about technologies you are interested in, your opinions or views it lets people know about you and you might align to a hiring managers thinking before the interview.

I hope this helps and I would really love to hear what you think of this article? These articles are written to lay out everything I do and want to learn how to be better. So please leave any comments how I could run an interview better. Do you agree / disagree with some of the questions? Are there any questions I am missing? What has been your best and worst questions asked?

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