Interviewing for IT jobs isn't what it used to be. Only a few years ago, organisations that sought IT professionals focused exclusively on technical skills. Interviewers paid little or no attention to the so-called softer skills: leadership, strategic planning, customer service, mentoring, quality and project management. IS professionals now are expected to know all this and must be able to add value to the enterprise in many dimensions. We asked several IT managers, executive recruiters and IT consultants for their toughest IT interview questions, and the sort of things they're looking for. So in your next IT job interview, get ready for questions which test for service orientation, business savvy, communications skills and attitude.
What metrics can be used to measure user satisfaction with IT?
"I'm looking for a candidate who proposes a service-oriented plan to work with end users, one that sets up baseline standards aligned with business requirements. A poor response suggests that managers should set the metrics independently or that the candidate should periodically survey the users to monitor their satisfaction. Bottom line: an understanding that unless end users participate in the formulation of the metrics, they are likely to be unhappy."
Describe a project in which you have been closely involved that didn't go particularly well. What went wrong, and what would have made the project more successful?
"In the applicant's response, I look for the degree with which he or she takes responsibility for the project. I am impressed with applicants who take ownership of the situation and recognise the situation as an opportunity for improvement. A red flag goes up if the applicant blames other people or uses terms such as 'poorly defined project scope'."
How would you reinvent our business from an IT perspective if you had a blank sheet of paper and no resource constraints?
"I want to determine if the applicant understands our business issues and what IT solutions they might put in place to address those issues, allowing the business side to compete better."
How can you tell a good program from a bad one?
"The response I am looking for is along the lines of, 'the program fills the user's needs'. I want to hear that the candidate is primarily concerned about the end user. Next, I like to hear that a good program is well planned and well documented. Unsatisfactory: any response that indicates the candidate will argue about what is best for the user. If the candidate uses technical terms such as GUI or OOPS, I know I may have a good technician but not a team leader."
What has been the biggest achievement and biggest mistake of your career?
"All applicants will crow about their achievements. But do they admit to mistakes? What kinds of mistakes? Big ones or trivial ones or virtues in disguise ('I work way too hard')? Can the applicant admit to both achievements and mistakes, handle both, present both and, most of all, learn from both? Their response gives me a balanced appraisal of them and a sense of their honesty. The question also gives me some idea of the scope of the work they have undertaken."
Describe the most difficult task you have ever had to perform using (whatever), and describe how you managed to accomplish it.
"The candidate's response tells me a lot about their technical skills, their reasoning/problem-solving abilities and their communications skills as they explain their approach to formulating and addressing the problem."
When you've had a day at work that lets you go home feeling satisfied, what was it that made you feel really good? What makes a bad day?
"It's critical to distinguish candidates who may be great technicians but who would be uncomfortable dealing with people to the extent the position requires. Technical people will offer as a reason for a really good day the solution of a really juicy technical problem. A bad day for them is often when they had to deal with other people."