10 Common IT Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

You can prepare for your IT interview by knowing what questions to anticipate—and knowing how to respond to the unanticipated.

[Featured image] An IT support specialist candidate is interviewed in a panel setting.

Preparation is a key part of doing well throughout a job interview process. 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 interview questions you might encounter, and how to prepare for those questions you can’t anticipate.

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IT interview questions: Technical and behavioral

Preparing for common questions can help you show up to your interview with confidence, allowing you to show off your communication skills and other soft skills.

The following job interview questions may come up throughout the hiring process for entry-level IT positions, like help desk technician or IT associate, or higher-level jobs that require more specific knowledge.

1. What is your troubleshooting process?

What they’re really asking: How do you solve a problem?

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. 

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.

Other forms this question might take:

  • Somebody has come to you with Wifi issues. How would you resolve this?

  • Tell me about a problem you've solved.

2. What is an IP address?

What they’re really asking: Can you talk about technical concepts in easy-to-understand language?

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.

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.

Other forms this question might take:

  • What is a CPU?

  • What is a VPN?

  • What is DNS?

3. How would you move a file using command prompt (or command line)?

What they’re really asking: Do you have technical skills, or can you troubleshoot an unknown issue on the spot?

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.

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.

Watch this video for how to answer questions in a technical interview:

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4. Tell us about a time you weren’t able to solve an issue. What did you do?

What they’re really asking: How do you react in a difficult situation?

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.

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.

Other forms this question might take:

  • Tell me how you navigated a stressful situation.

  • How do you address an issue you haven’t seen before?

5. Tell us about a time you took the lead on a project.

What they’re really asking: Do you have leadership skills?

Sometimes employers like to gauge if somebody has leadership potential, even if the position is an entry-level role.

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.

Other forms this question might take:

  • How do you work on a team?

  • Tell me about a time you took initiative.

6. How do you stay on top of new technology?

What they’re really asking: Are you seeking to learn and grow?

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.

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.

Other forms this question might take:

  • Which industry leaders do you enjoy following?

  • What podcasts or blogs do you follow?

7. How familiar are you with different operating systems?

What they’re really asking: Are you versatile?

Different companies might 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. 

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.

Other forms this question might take:

  • Which operating systems have you used?

  • What is your favorite operating system to work with?

8. How would you make sure a computer network is secure?

What they’re really asking: Do you have the skills to keep our data safe?

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.

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.

Other forms this question might take:

  • Have you ever experienced a security breach?

  • How do you use firewalls?

9. Why did you decide to go into IT?

What they’re really asking: Why are you here?

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.

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.

Other forms this question might take:

  • Tell me about yourself.

  • Why are you interested in this job?

10. Why should we hire you?

What they’re really asking: What makes you uniquely qualified for this position?

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.

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.

Other forms this question might take:

  • What makes you the right person for this role?

  • What will you bring to our team?

Brush up on powerful soft skills that you can demonstrate in your interviews and apply at work:

Doing well in your IT interview: General tips

Before diving into specific questions, keeping a few things in mind can help you approach each question effectively. 

1. Prepare for anticipated and unanticipated questions.

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.

2. Technical questions aren’t meant to trip you up.

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.

3. Take opportunities to respond with an example or story.

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. 

Asking your interviewer questions

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. 

Refreshing your skills

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:

Get interview ready and build IT skills on Coursera

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