Top Five IT Interview Tips

About a year ago, I was put in the position where I needed to interview and hire several members of IT for a growing company. Having only been working with IT rather than in it to any official capacity, the responsibility of making an informed decision was one I took very seriously. Before the first candidate arrived for their interview, I had crammed and studied virtually every aspect of the job for which they were being hired. That isn’t to say it’s a normal practice among hiring managers, but it is one any job candidate should expect.

Hiring managers are often clueless about what exactly it is you’ll be doing in IT. Unless they are an integral part of the department themselves, the role of a hiring manager generally starts and stops with the first impression you leave during an interview. Be aware, though, that you never know just how much experience the person on the other end of the table has. You may well be speaking to the head of IT or Neo himself, freshly plugged back into the Matrix.

Here are some tips that I’ve put together during my brief experience with interviewing and hiring candidates for IT positions within a small/medium sized company.

Speak Clearly

Don’t mumble. Perhaps the biggest indicator that a candidate is unsure of their answer is a mumbled response. Speak loud and clearly. Take time with your responses if you need to. A hiring manager will generally appreciate that added touch of clarity over speedy and rehearsed responses.

When you answer questions, be mindful of the emotions you convey through your tone and body language. It’s easy to overlook your own speaking nuances when you’re nervous, and you just might be coming across as harder to understand than you intend. Nervousness shows, but you shouldn’t stress yourself out about trying to act as if you aren’t nervous. Be real. No matter if the hiring manager makes the same rate as you or a million dollars more per year, they’re just people looking for someone they feel that they will get along with during stressful times ahead.

Be Confident, Not Cocky

Overconfidence to the point of cockiness is perhaps the biggest turnoff to a hiring manager. Never say something is easy, especially if the question is formed in a way that indicates a problem the department has been facing. You’re not there to prove that you’re better than anyone else, just that you’re better than anyone else for the job. There is a big difference there, and one that hiring managers will quickly spot before, during, and after the interview.

Sit up, pay attention, and treat each question as if you are actually considering your phrasing. Pushing something off as being simple and almost beneath you conveys that you will likely treat your daily assignments as just that.

Passion and confidence are closer than confidence and cockiness. When someone asks you whether or not you can do something, it’s better to say that you believe you can, but look forward to any surprises or challenges that you might come across in the process.

Ask Questions

Whether you’re interviewing for the head of IT or a janitorial position, asking questions is a crucial part of any interview. The questions you ask convey an active interest in the company, department, and challenges that await you once you’re hired on.

Don’t ask about pay during the interview. It’s okay to ask about potential start dates in some situations, but pay is something that should be discussed either before the interview appointment or after the offer is made. This detail will be discussed in time, and I have yet to hear of anyone offering a position without saying how much the pay is.

The best questions to ask revolve around the challenges the department faces, expectations of the employer, and systems that the candidate should expect to study up on prior to starting.

Take Ownership of Past Projects

When explaining projects that you’ve been a part of in the past, do so with some level of ownership. Don’t beat around the bush, but speak to the systems and resources you used and the challenges you faced. How you overcame those challenges is important, especially if this solution includes some demonstration of innovation or thinking outside the box.

Whether you’re proud of a site you had a hand in developing or absolutely ashamed of it, never underscore your role in it should it be brought up during the interview.

Our best candidate for one position had very ugly sites under their belt, but it wasn’t the design we were interested in. What intrigued us more than anything was how clean the scripting looked, and how a certain menu bar appeared as you hovered over it. Design is almost always determined by the client, and any hiring manager worth their salt knows that clients tend to be tasteless and wreck the work of even the most talented developers.

Bottom line: Having done something is better than nothing. You never know what exactly the person on the other side of the table thinks about your work, and you shouldn’t put a negative point of view in their mind out of the gate.

Establish Experience in Your Field

Speak with experience. It’s OK to throw out technical terms as long as you are mindful of the experience level of those at the table. You don’t want to confuse your interviewer, but you do want to convey that you have more than enough experience to hit the ground running in the new position.

One example came during an interview I did with a developer. We asked him to describe his experience in the field. It’s a simple (and common) question, but his answer was formed perfectly. He started by explaining the various languages he worked with, but then threw in an aside about how he had taken some time to learn assembly language to better understand the foundation of programming. This little aside sealed the deal for us, because that one statement conveyed passion, dedication, and experience.

Express passion over credentials. I’m far more prone to hire someone who comes across as genuinely passionate about their field before I consider someone who seems to be there simply to bring a paycheck home. Credentials can be important, but passion is what sticks in the mind of the interviewer after you’ve left the building.

These tips may seem like common sense to you, but you’ll be surprised just how many candidates were disorganized, cocky (to the point of being rude), and bored. Needless to say, no previous job experience could make up for these obvious red flags. The candidates we ended up selecting turned out to be exactly the right people for the job, far exceeding our expectations.

1 comments On Top Five IT Interview Tips

  • I most recently obtained a position for IT Support Specialist, and the hiring manager is also the person over the department.  I underwent one interview with him in the past, and I’m assuming due to the passion he heard coming from me then, he kept me in mind.  When the same position opened up half a year later, he emailed me and told me to apply.

    He knew that I loved technology.  He had also been hearing that I had taken over IT for the current project I was on–working my normal job duties, plus running and maintaining all IT assets and fixing problems.  I had quite a few endorsements from people in the same contract which was very helpful, but I believe if I hadn’t shown passion half a year earlier I’d be out in the cold.

    We all have to pay a price, even if it’s studying and doing a job we hate with a passion during the mean time.  We always have to keep our eye fixed on the big goal and take it one step at a time.  People remember passion and dedication–they don’t remember your salary.

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