We wanted to help sysadmins in the interview process and also help hiring managers identify the best sysadmin talent. So we asked the best and brightest IT and hiring managers for some of their favorite system administrator interview questions and curveball tasks.
System Administrator Interview Questions
We received a lot of unique feedback from hiring managers and even C-level folks regarding system administrator interview questions.
Some folks, like Eric Lyublinksy, Co-Founder and National Director of IT Recruiting at Valintry, like to ask very targeted questions regarding prior experience in an interviewee’s exact role. Eric said:
To determine a candidate’s passion or experience, I ask them questions in terms of Engineering versus Administration. The Infrastructure Engineer has a perspective and experience in Enterprise performance and scalability where the administrator is zeroed in on the tasks of their direct systems to keep the business supported and working in production. I ask questions to identify what that person has done in their respective fields versus what the team has done at the enterprise level.
— Eric Lyublinsky
Some hiring managers take this a step further. Their interview questions for sysadmins are targeted to job-related tasks. For instance, E. William Horne, Owner at William Warren Consulting, said he liked to ask candidates the following questions:
1. If you are sent to a customer premise, and they tell you that they connected a new PC to their network with an Ethernet cord, but it doesn’t work, what’s the first thing you’d do?
2. One of the managers in a company we serve asks you to provide 500 GB of extra online storage for a class that he’s running next week. He says it’s just temporary and he doesn’t need to pay for another server license. What do you do?
3. It’s Friday at 7PM, and you’ve just finished AV updates on the last 100 of a customer’s machines. As you’re going out the door, someone tells you that the WiFi isn’t working. What do you do?
4. A customer comes to you with a laptop, and says he can’t get into the BIOS to change some options. How do you handle it?
5. What’s the smallest usable IP4 subnet?
— E. William Horne
While some people focused on targeted questions, other hiring managers stayed at a higher level. Mike Torto, CEO of Embotics said:
A good opener is ‘Why do you want this job?’ It can reveal whether or not they prefer to be a part of a team or it may show that they may really be seeking individual glory or identification with a big brand. Answers that illustrate a willingness to take on many tasks and are firmly grounded in reality, will showcase a gem that may just need a little polishing.
At Embotics, we deliberately seek out candidates with a team player outlook who crave a small enterprise setting. Effective managers require both, great soft skills (communications, team work) and technical prowess. This type of “utility” player thrives in an organization like Embotics that challenges many skillsets. We expect to pay market rate for such talents and budget accordingly.
— Mike Torto
Overall, system administrators interviewing should expect job scenario interview questions and passion or intention related questions. As with any interview, mix in past stories of success with your answers and highlight positive outcomes or what you learned from the situation.
System Administrator Interview Tasks
Another system administrator interview tool is curveball tasks. The goal of the hiring manager is to see if you can actually do what you claim. This is exactly what Lior Krolewicz, Founder and CEO at Yael Consulting does. Here’s what he had to say:
To assess their technical ability, I put them in front of a system’s backend and tell them to tell me what they will do better. Once a candidate shows me exactly how they can improve things for the company’s operations and clients, then that tells me if they will be valuable.
I have had candidates talk the talk about how much they know and what they can do then when put into a practical situation, not a test situation in room or something abstract, [and we ask them], “here is our system and how we work, how will you make it better?”
This has worked wonders for me to weed out those who are unqualified (which were many).
— Lior Krolewicz
This task/question-related interview process helps ensure that interview candidates aren’t padding their résumés. Even if the hiring manager doesn’t know everything about the job, they will ask follow-up questions to ensure that the system administrator can communicate what they’ve done and also how they could benefit your work environment.
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