Preparation is a key part of doing well in an interview. But it’s hard to prepare when you don’t have an idea of what questions to anticipate. Here’s a guide to help you prepare for some common questions you might encounter, and how to prepare for those questions you can’t anticipate.
You might encounter the following questions in interviews for entry-level IT positions, like help desk technician or IT associate, but they may be applicable to other jobs that require more specific knowledge.
What it means: Troubleshooting is an essential part of an IT support role, so a question like this is likely to come up in an interview in some form. This question might also be posed as a specific problem, such as: “Somebody has come to you with Wifi issues. How would you resolve this?”
How to answer: Work your way through troubleshooting steps. This can be something like: understanding and identifying the problem, determining a cause, testing a solution, ensuring the problem is resolved afterwards, and ending with documenting your findings.
What it means: With this type of question, an interviewer might be looking for a straightforward answer to see if you know basic IT terminology. But this can also be a way to see how well you explain technical concepts—a key part of your job, especially if you’re applying for a help desk position. You might be asked about other IT terms, like CPUs, VPNs, or DNS.
How to answer: Think about the main function of the item in question. What does it help people accomplish? Why is it important? You should be able to define the item, and speak to the broader context of why it matters.
What it means: This is a specific question, and it’s great if you know how to complete this task off the top of your head. But a technical question you might not know how to answer right away can be a way for an interviewer to see how you think on your feet.
How to answer: If you know how to do the task, that’s perfect. If you don’t, try walking the interviewer through a process you would take to figure out how to complete it.
If you’re not too familiar with the command line, or need a quick refresher, you can try an introductory guided project on the command line. It can be completed in two hours, and will walk you through the basics.
What it means: By asking this question, an interviewer can be trying to see how you respond to challenges and new situations. In IT, it’s natural to run into issues you might have never encountered before. Being able to own up to any mistakes and show how you moved on from them productively can show your capacity to learn.
How to answer: Start by describing the situation. What was supposed to be done, where did you run into a roadblock, and what did you do afterwards? Detail what you learned from the experience. This could be an opportunity to show your resourcefulness, or how you collaborated with other people.
What it means: Sometimes employers like to gauge if somebody has leadership potential, even if the position is an entry-level role. Similar questions could also assess how you work on a team.
How to answer: Don’t worry if you’ve never been in a leadership position before. Try to prepare a story about a time you were proactive in finding a problem and fixing it. Share details on how you fixed an issue, why it mattered, and who it helped. Don’t forget: you can also talk about school projects, volunteer opportunities, or other non-professional settings where you might have displayed leadership.
What it means: Because technology is an ever-evolving field, it’s important for IT professionals to stay on top of new innovations that can improve a workplace (or pose new security threats). An interviewer can ask this question to see how plugged-in you are to the IT community.
How to answer: Maybe you follow tech experts or companies on social media, or receive their newsletters. Maybe you’ve taken courses that incorporate newer technologies into their curriculum, or belong to a professional organization. Whatever your response, try to show your interest in new technology and willingness to stay on top of new innovations.
What it means: Different companies can use Windows, Mac, or Linux operating systems. Some jobs may want to hire somebody that is familiar with multiple operating systems, while others might require you to know only one.
How to answer: Check the job description to see if they indicate a preference for any particular operating system. In the interview, be honest about what you’ve worked with before and how familiar you are with others. Displaying a willingness to learn always helps. You can also take a course to learn the basics of ones you don’t know as well—Coursera offers some on Windows or Linux server management and security.
What it means: This is a question that helps to gauge your technical knowledge in addition to showing an interviewer how you would approach a problem. Basic security knowledge should be a part of your arsenal.
How to answer: Walk through the basic security features you would implement—firewalls, routers, VPNs. Think also about good security practices you can implement, like creating strong passwords and keeping software updated. If you have any past experiences at work or in your private life in which you dealt with security issues, this can be a good time to share them.
What it means: While technical skills can get you far, there's a lot in IT work that can be learned on the job. Because of this, employers might look for somebody who has other qualities that can be linked to success, like passion and curiosity. This question can also be a way for employers to get to know you and your story.
How to answer: Reflect on what aspect of IT you like. Is it solving problems for people, working with computers, learning new things, or something else? Showing your motivations for being in IT can give hiring managers a better idea of who you are, and your enthusiasm for the job and field.
What it means: An interviewer will likely ask general questions to assess your interest in the job and your capabilities. Hearing directly from you about what you consider your strongest assets can be a good way for employers to assess your motivations, your skill set, and your fit for the job.
How to answer: Reiterate your strengths and skills that are applicable to the job. Show how your qualities line up with what they’re looking for, both in terms of technical skill and personality.
It can also help to convey enthusiasm, and show that you’re willing and eager to learn. If you’re genuinely excited for the job and the company, that can show through. Be sure to find a few points in the job description or company website that makes you eager to work for them before the interview.
Before diving into specific questions, keeping a few things in mind can help you approach each question effectively.
It’s hard to anticipate every question that’ll come your way. Try to prepare several stories of successes and learning moments that you can pull on for a variety of questions. Preparation can include reading through the job description thoroughly, learning about a company to understand their goals and values, and looking up your interviewer on LinkedIn. Knowing as much as you can may give you a fuller picture of what to expect from an interview.
In an IT interview, technical knowledge is important, but it’s not the only thing employers are looking for. You might run into several technical questions that you might not have specifically prepared for. In these cases, use what you do know to talk through how you would solve the item. Employers can be interested in how you approach problems you don’t know how to solve, and how you perform under pressure.
Stories can be an effective way to illustrate an example, and can stay in people’s minds longer than vague descriptions. They can also give you a chance to dive deeper into the assets you bring to the job.
Try to point to a story even if the question doesn’t directly ask for one (though don’t force it). For example, if the interviewer asks you a question like, “How would you describe your work ethic?” you can quickly describe what qualities you bring to work, and share a story about a time you displayed a good work ethic.
There will usually be some time at the end for you to ask the interviewer some questions of your own. Remember that an interview is also an opportunity for you to learn more about the role and the company too. Think about what you’d genuinely like to find out about to come up with a few questions.
If you’re stuck, ask about the company’s work culture, or more specifics about the job that you’d like to clarify.
Maybe it’s been a while since you last configured a network or fixed somebody’s wifi issues. Or maybe you’re not too familiar with one aspect of the job description. Take some time to practice before an interview to make sure you can go in confidently. There are several guided projects on Coursera that can help brush up your IT skills:
Need a more holistic overview of IT concepts? The Google IT Support Professional Certificate walks you through various IT support tasks including computer assembly, wireless networking, and using various systems like Linux and Domain Name Systems.