10 Common IT Interview Questions and How to Answer Them was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
It’s easy to get excited about the job prospects for Information Technology (IT) professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 12% growth rate in IT jobs between 2018 and 2028, which translates to more than 545,000 new positions. But a hot job market doesn’t mean you won’t get nervous about preparing for job interviews—or that you don’t need to prepare.
Of course, you should make sure you’re ready to answer common interview questions for any role. But don’t stop there. Below we’ve also outlined ten questions you’ll likely face when interviewing for IT roles. You’ll learn the “whys” behind the questions and get advice from IT hiring managers about what they look for. There are also sample answers for each question to help make preparing for your interview a breeze.
But first let’s talk about what roles fall under the IT umbrella.
What Is Information Technology (IT)?
A good way to visualize the role IT plays in companies is to think about the function like a home’s key operating systems. Just like homes need electrical, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning systems to make them functional, companies need information technology systems to manage the flow of data and operate their business.
“At the highest level,” says Adam Brooks, Technologist and Senior Manager of Learning Delivery, Workflow Standards and Systems at Charter Communications, “the IT function provides systems and tools that allow employees to work efficiently and effectively and [allow] companies to report on key aspects of the business.”
IT collaborates with most every business function—from accounting and operations to human resources and supply chain management—to develop the tools and processes to collect, store, manage, secure, and report upon information necessary to run the business. Folks in IT often refer to colleagues in other departments as internal clients and stakeholders. Sales data, inventory management, order data, shipping addresses, payroll data, customer service records, and accounts receivable data are all examples of the types of systems IT works and consults on with business partners.
Typical jobs in IT include analysts, specialists, software developers, and technical support reps. An analyst, for example, might consult on creating an automated report to capture and sort sales data for an online retailer, working with sales personnel and software engineers. Specialists can work on a variety of systems and may be dedicated to certain areas such as payroll or accounts receivable. Meanwhile, an IT software developer may create programs that interface with vendors or suppliers to order new inventory when needed. Support reps work directly with clients (both within and outside of the company they work for) to troubleshoot system problems and answer questions about system tools.
What Are Interviewers Looking for When Hiring for IT Roles?
While you’ll be asked questions surrounding technical requirements and experience unique to specific roles in an interview, the collaborative nature of IT means recruiters and hiring managers place a heavy emphasis on the ability to work across business functions and collaborate with a team. Here are several sought-after skills to be aware of as you prepare to answer IT interview questions, so that you can emphasize them in your responses:
“I’m always looking for candidates to demonstrate they’re good listeners, as understanding others and translating that into action is a key component of success in IT,” says Rene Daughtry, a solution services manager for Cisco’s PMO Americas division. Understanding how coworkers use information and manage data is an important part of any IT role.
Show that you’re attentive and will understand your colleague’s needs by being a good listener in your interview. And when you think of stories to tell in your interview, try to remember ones where you asked questions, sought examples, and had clients to show you how they planned to use your work product.
“I want to see how candidates approach problems and situations, particularly when they may not have all the information,” Brooks says. “Good problem solvers know to look to others who may have faced similar challenges and seek them out.” You can share these skills in your interview by talking about examples of when you looked to others for help in approaching a problem you weren’t familiar with.
If you’re an early career candidate and don’t have examples from past IT roles, maybe it was the first time you drove a car with a stick shift or when you had to use unfamiliar software to complete a class project. When the interview question calls for it, you want to emphasize the approach you take in getting more information and how you act upon it.
Hunger for Learning
With technologies and business needs evolving so rapidly, eagerness to learn is a quality highly prized by IT hiring managers. “The interest and desire in learning—about the business, the market we are in, the challenges we face, and what technologies best support success—is critical for me,” Daughtry says.
Here are some of the questions you’ll be asked to try to uncover these qualities:
1. Tell Me About a Work Problem That Required a Complicated Solution and How You Worked With Your Team to Resolve It.
Hiring managers are exploring several skill sets with this question, which is a favorite among IT interviewers. Problem-solving is the obvious one, but they’re also hoping to learn about how you approach teamwork, collaboration, listening, and communication with this question.
How to Answer:
“I’m less concerned with the ‘what’ behind their answer than the ‘how,’” says Jeremy Child, Human Resources Director at LemonBrew Technologies. “I want to hear how the candidate worked with other team members, how they made certain they understood the problem, and how they personally contributed to the solution.”
For behavioral questions where the process or story is as important as the outcome (usually questions that start with things like “Tell me about a time when…”, “Describe for me…”, “Give me an example when…”) try answering using the STAR Method. STAR is an acronym that stands for:
- Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details.
- Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
- Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
- Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.
By using this approach in your response, you’ll demonstrate focus and have more opportunity to share specific skills.
Don’t be afraid to share a solution that didn’t initially work out. Persistence and follow-up are valued in IT roles and showing determination in getting past roadblocks is a plus.
Your response might be similar to this:
Situation: “I had a problem with a recent project when a software package didn’t work as promised. The program was designed to support our sales team and allow them to collect customer data, track contacts, and place and transfer orders to our warehouse for shipment and billing. After we installed the software, orders weren’t getting billed correctly.”
Task: “I was responsible for working directly with our sales team, the outside software vendor, and our accounts receivable personnel to understand how the data was collected and where the problem was. It turned out that the off-the-shelf program didn’t capture certain data needed for billing and needed to be customized.”
Action: “I met with each department to learn exactly what they needed. I brought in the outside vendor to add custom data fields to their program to allow for customer billing. My team updated the interface with accounts receivable, sales began to collect additional tax and vendor ID information, and we fixed the problem.”
Result: “We’re still using this software package today and the additional data fields have helped to streamline billing. The time between an order being placed and the company receiving payment has decreased by 50% on average.”
2. What’s a New Software or Technology You Recently Worked With and How Did You Come to Learn It?
Interviewers are looking for your level of technology exposure and understanding here. But what’s most important is the “learning” component of this question.
How to Answer:
You’ll want to stress to your interviewer how you acquired your skills, whether through school, vocational training, certification, previous jobs, or a combination of these. If you had the opportunity to pick up new software knowledge or skills as a result of a project you worked on, this question offers a great opportunity to share that and explain how you’ve used the skills in practice.
“I’m interested in knowing how candidates apply what they’ve learned, not that they simply have the knowledge,” says Brooks. With that in mind, you’ll want to be sure to share how you’ve used the technology tools you’re familiar with.
One way to answer this might be:
“Last year my employer offered Microsoft 365 certification and I took advantage of the opportunity to take the introductory classes. This certification is on cloud computing and MS 365 is a widely used package, so I was anxious to add this to my skill set. I was able to immediately apply what I learned and shared with my boss a couple of recent upgrades where we could use the SharePoint component of MS 365 to better connect with our remote locations. My boss agreed and I was able to transition us over to SharePoint, which saved everyone time and frustration and allowed us to complete every project more quickly than before.”
3. What Do You Do When It Looks Like a Project You Are Working on Might Miss a Deadline?
“Finishing projects, especially ones with tight deadlines, is a challenge every IT person faces,” Child says. “I ask this question to learn how the candidate communicates with stakeholders and internal clients about delays or obstacles. It also gives me a good feel for how they negotiate for more time or resources.”
How to Answer:
This is a good opportunity to show you understand how your work impacts others. A good option to discuss is a time when you had to juggle your priorities and work schedule to keep others from missing their deadlines. If you’re early in your career and don’t have an IT-specific example, a story from another job or a school project works too—as long as it showcases your communication and time management skills.
This is another question where you might want to use the STAR Method to share your example.
A good response might be:
“In school, I was assigned a project with three other classmates to create a basic program for automating email reminders that professional services firms could use with their clients. My role was to contact a dentist’s office, an accounting office, and a law firm, interview their administrative staff, learn about their appointment systems, and share findings with my team. They would then design the software interface. I knew their work depended on me getting the needs analysis done first. I rearranged my study schedule in order to do this quickly. However, the law firm that initially agreed to meet with me had to cancel at the last minute. Given the time it had taken to set up the first appointments and the time I predicted my analysis would take, I realized that this would make it impossible for the rest of my team to make the deadline.
“I quickly communicated this to my team and they said that a partial analysis would help them get started and prevent us from missing the deadline. I completed this while looking for another law firm. I asked my team if they had any connections that might help with this and one team member was able to connect me with their mother’s law firm so I could get the last interview done as soon as possible.
“After completing the full analysis, I met with my team, shared my analysis, and made myself available as they developed the interface. I was able to then take prototypes to the firms I’d spoken to and see how they might use the tool we created for them. By bringing the problem to my team immediately, I was able to find out what would help them keep things on track, and by asking for their help, I was able to find a solution to the original problem more quickly than if I’d tried to solve it alone.”
4. Tell Me About the Stakeholders and Internal Clients You Work With Outside of IT and How Your Work Supports Overall Business Goals.
With this question, hiring managers want to know you understand the support role IT plays in assisting business operations. Whether it’s helping design a customer service tracking system, creating a digital interface that will help your company’s purchasing department pay vendors, or assisting your colleagues with technical issues, you’re expected to have a broad understanding of how your stakeholders use the tools you help create.
How to Answer:
Tell your interviewer how you work with teammates to learn what they do. Share how you keep up with broader company goals and the current environment at your organization both in terms of challenges and opportunities.
“It’s important to me that candidates know how their role fits into the larger goals of the business,” Brooks says. “I listen for candidates to tell me about their internal client relationships and how they work with them to design process fixes.”
Your response might be like this:
“In my current role as a specialist, my internal client group is human resources. I specifically work with the employee benefits department and am responsible for collaborating with that team and the various insurance companies that provide benefits. Each has different ways of collecting and reporting employee data. My job is to make certain I understand how our systems capture that data, keep it secure, and make it available to the insurers. This ensures that HR can smoothly and easily support the staff and keep organized, accessible records without worrying about security issues and that employees in other departments get the benefits they need and can easily find information on them.”
5. Tell Me About a Time When You Explained a Technical Process or Concept to Someone Who Didn’t Have a Technical Background.
“Often, nontechnical coworkers aren’t aware of [all the ways] technology can transform manual work into something that can be automated,” Brooks says. So this question explores your communication skills and ability to help others understand processes and approaches that may be new yet ultimately helpful to them.
How to Answer:
Here’s a great opportunity to use a story or example of how you took a new concept, explained it to someone else, and saw that they “got it.” Maybe you were able to put it in simple terms they could understand right away or maybe you listened carefully to their questions to help you frame the explanation in a way they could best understand. Interviewers want to know you can explain technical concepts without using jargon, check for understanding, and gain buy-in from others.
If you don’t have a specific work-related example, borrow a real-life example of a time when you did something similar with a friend or family member.
You might use this type of response:
“When explaining technical concepts to my nontechnical colleagues, I think about how I’d explain this to my dad. He really wanted to set up a website for his small business, but didn’t have a lot of experience or familiarity with web design. I helped him get started using a platform that does a lot of the coding work for you, but he still wanted to understand how things worked behind the scenes.
“For each question, I broke it down using analogies—for example I compared APIs to a restaurant menu. When there was still a disconnect, I’d sometimes pull up introductory videos explaining a topic and watch them myself to see how others would explain this same topic. Then I would sit down with him and show him how things worked on the back end with these explanations in mind. This helped him gain a fuller understanding of what a small business site could do and got him excited about the possibilities.”
6. Can You Tell Me About a Project Where You Volunteered to Help or Offered Support?
Hiring managers like to see initiative in candidates. With this question, they’re seeking to learn about your motivation and interest in going beyond what’s required.
How to Answer:
Share not only when you volunteered, or for what, but also why. By explaining your reasons and motivation for taking on new projects, you’re showing the interviewer your enthusiasm for learning new things and helping others.
“I want self-starters on my team,” Daughtry says. In other words, he likes when employees seek out opportunities to grow in their careers. “I like to hear about instances where candidates volunteered to work on technology projects not just to help out, but to gain new skills and make new relationships.”
A good response may be like this one:
“We have weekly ‘all-hands’ staff meetings with the entire IT department to brief everyone on existing and upcoming projects. When I recently learned of a software upgrade project coming up, I approached the project manager after the meeting to see if I could join on. At my last company, we’d gone through a similar upgrade, and I had learned a lot and saw this as an opportunity to both share my experience and learn even more about how to implement this kind of process in a much larger company. I was especially interested because the work was with the sales department, which I hadn’t worked with much up to that point, and I saw it as an opportunity to get a broader exposure to the business.”
7. Can You Provide an Example of a Challenging Coworker Relationship? How Did You Handle It?
Conflicts are inevitable at work, and this question explores your communication and problem resolution skills. Brooks likes this question especially because it reveals how staffers differentiate work issues from personal conflicts.
How to Answer:
While we all have a story about working with difficult people, it’s important here to share how you de-escalated a situation rather than focusing on who was right or wrong. It’s never a good look to throw coworkers, bosses, or companies under the bus during an interview. So speak more to the concern expressed by your coworker as opposed to their personality or behavior. It’s OK if you brought in help, just be sure to to share why that was appropriate. Using the STAR method here will make your response clear and specific.
You might say:
“One of my colleagues was going through a rough time outside of work and their performance suffered as a result. We were working together on a project and I was responsible for taking our work product directly to the internal client for testing. My colleague often was late to meetings and missed deadlines for his contribution, which left our client frustrated.
“I met with my colleague and asked him if there was anything I could to to help him succeed while he was dealing with this issue in his personal life. He acknowledged the issues and explained that he was having things come up at the last minute that took him away from the office. So I offered to help him by shifting some of the task work around to give him more scheduling flexibility. These changes helped him to improve his performance, kept the project on track, and made the internal client happy.”
8. Tell Me About a Work Product You Delivered That You’re Particularly Proud Of.
Hiring managers want to hear about your successes and understand what you see as big wins at work. It’s also a subtle way to learn about your style and see how you collaborate with others to accomplish things.
How to Answer:
Here’s an opportunity for you to toot your horn a bit and show how your work made a difference. “When I ask this question,” Child says, “I’m curious to see how their work made a mark on the business. Did they add efficiencies by reducing costs or time associated with the process? It’s a bonus if they see beyond their project and show how their work was a win for the organization.”
A visual aid could come in handy here. If you have one that showcases your work, you might want to bring it with you to the interview in case the situation calls for it. For example, you may have a “before” and “after” of a report you redesigned or screenshots that show how you streamlined an internal scheduling process. (Just make sure you’re not sharing any confidential information.)
A good response might sound like this:
“I support a field office that developed a special commission schedule for their salespeople. Unlike other offices, these employees represent multiple product lines with different commission structures. I worked with the office to create a custom incentive program that pulled data from their sales and assigned different commissions based on which product line was sold. It was a custom program that made it easier for the sales team to predict their monthly compensation.
“The program was a big hit with the manager and her team. The increased visibility ended up motivating the sales team to make more sales and earn higher commissions. It was great to see how my behind-the-scenes work not only helped my colleagues perform better and earn more, but also brought in more revenue for the company.”
9. What Tools and Strategies Do You Use to Organize and Prioritize Your Work to Best Meet Team Goals, Expectations, and Deliverables?
IT by nature involves a lot of project planning, testing, and evaluation. This question is asked to learn about your exposure to project management software, your experience with meeting deadlines, and your process for staying updated on project status.
How to Answer:
Share specific project management tools you’ve worked with and how you use them. You can also share with your interviewer what other strategies you use to work smoothly and productively with your colleagues and supervisors.
You might say something like:
“We use the Productboard product management software in my current job. I wasn’t initially familiar with it but was eager to learn a new tool when I started. Our team has a brief ‘huddle’ each morning to go over the plan for the day. This gives me an opportunity to share where I’m at and if I need anything from others or they need anything from me. I’ve become comfortable enough with Productboard that I can quickly check the status of everything in progress before I go into the huddle so I go in prepared.”
10. Why Do You Want to Work Here?
Interviewers use this question to see if you’ve done your homework on their business and the industry. It’s also a check on your interest in the work and the company’s culture. Basically this question asks: Are you looking for any job or do you really want this job at this company?
How to Answer:
Be genuine and authentic in your response. This question gives you the opportunity to show what matters to you and how excited you are about the job. So share what you’ve learned in your research and show your interviewer why you want to work at their company specifically.
How do you do your research? You’ll often find a “media” or “press” tab on company websites that share recent news. Another underused source is company job listings: What other kinds of jobs are they hiring for beyond the one you’re interviewing for? This can tell you about their growth areas. The company’s social media posts are a great source for breaking news and can also give you a sense of the kind of culture they have. You can also, of course, check to see if the company has a Muse profile.
Your response will be highly specific to the company and what matters to you, but one response may look like this:
“I saw on The Muse that you were also hiring for new positions on the West Coast to support your new operations there. I did some more reading about the new data center you’re building there and that excites me as I know this means there’ll be opportunities to train new teammates. I also learned through a Wall Street Journal article that you’re expanding in Mexico as well. I speak Spanish fluently and would be eager to step up and help liaise whenever necessary.”
As demand for remote access to the workplace increases, more companies are looking to automate processes and make work easier, and career opportunities in IT will continue to grow. With the right knowledge and skillset and the appropriate preparation, you’ll be set to ace your next interview and be on your way to a great new gig.