Interview Q&A - Part 5: Information Technology Interview

This is the fifth in a series of articles in which I will provide questions that are typical of job interviews, along with answers of the kind that veterans should provide. Between each question and answer, I will make a comment or two.

BACKGROUND

Christopher, the veteran hiring specialist for a manufacturing company, is interviewing Nancy for an information technology job. She would work as second in command to the chief information officer (CIO). She is currently in charge of tech support in the IT department of a distributor of material handling equipment. Christopher and the CIO have read Nancy’s resume and agree that she has the necessary qualifications.

The interview began with basic questions like those in parts 1 and 2 of this series. Part 1 appeared in our March-April 2015 issue. The following URL will take you to that page in the digital replica of Search & Employ®. Part 2 appeared in our May-June 2015 issue.


THE INTERVIEW

Christopher: Would you please describe your current department according to the functions of the various people?

Nancy should not give everyone in the department “equal time.” She should say more about herself

Nancy: We have four people. Our CIO leads IT strategy and handles the inventory management system and the sales contact management system. Another person designs and delivers our promotional emails, including a biweekly newsletter. This person also does basic graphic design for the website.

The third person is our website administrator and the man in charge of our ecommerce system. He also helps me work the helpdesk. I handle all hardware and software for individual employees, including support, ordering, and installation. And over the past year, we have added several features to our website. I am heavily involved in that work. I also help troubleshoot email problems – for example, when we find out all of a sudden that a lot of our messages aren’t getting to their destinations.

Christopher: How does your department report its progress to its internal customers?

Christopher is interested in Nancy’s participation in report preparation.

Nancy: Our CIO is a member of our Management Committee, and he delivers the reports to the other six members – the CEO, the CFO, the sales manager, the marketing manager, the chief logistics officer, and the service manager. He delivers his report at a committee meeting every two months.

Most of the report content deals with special projects – our website enhancement, for example. I help the CIO and the website administrator prepare the reports on that activity. We describe how far along we are on various enhancements, problems that come up, changes in priority, and so on.

Christopher: What about reporting within your department? How do you evaluate yourselves?

If Nancy’s current employer has problems in that regard, she should describe the situation diplomatically – without throwing her boss under the bus.

Nancy: First, let me say that when I was in the Army, I always observed what the people above me were doing, and I tried to figure out better procedures. I have worked with a variety of key performance indicators at the three companies where I have been. In no case was a complete analysis done to see what was truly useful.

If I were asked to help establish or refine a set of KPI’s, I would get input from everyone. And I have some ideas of my own – to name a few, the percentage of the time the system is up and running, department cost relative to costs of comparable businesses, support cases closed, time to close support cases, time fixing errors, internal customer satisfaction with application changes, email quantities and deliverability, and use of storage capacity.

Christopher: How would you decide whether to build or buy a new system?

Christopher wants to make sure that Nancy understands the risk of building new systems.

Nancy: My default position is buy, rather than build. There is so much good stuff out there now for industrial distributors, it’s worth the money to buy a proven system. But systems integration can become a problem if the purchases are not made carefully with regard to compatibility, or if a company keeps changing systems. I would go with the best system available, and it would be important to consider their development path to understand future enhancements we can expect. I would be very reluctant to change systems, so I’d want to ensure that any system selected would be able to handle any of our projected growth. I would concentrate on keeping everything running smoothly and making incremental changes as requested by our internal customers.

Christopher: How do you keep up-to-date on developments in IT?

Nancy needs to indicate that she relies on several types of sources.

Nancy: Our department gets four print magazines. I take them home in the evenings and at least look at every page. I also subscribe to a handful of relevant blogs from industry leaders and subscribe to receive their updates. On the actual participation side, I am a member of a computer club, I go to seminars, and I get to as many Computer Society workshops and conferences as I can. This is a continuation of a habit I formed in the Army – getting as much knowledge and training as I could.

Christopher: Tell me about a time you used your background in IT to come up with a new solution to a problem.

Christopher is looking for imagination and determination.

Nancy: I upgraded the hardware for my previous employer – the third-party order-fulfillment company – and I did it in an unexpected way. Our system was 12 years old. Our own people, myself included, were handling repair and replacement. Replacement was no problem because plenty of old machines were available on the Internet. But we finally decided to update everything.

The company just assumed that we would buy new equipment. But I made use of the networking skills I had developed in the Army. I found out through a Computer Society connection that a major insurance company was going to upgrade some equipment that was only three years old. They were going to make the change in six months, and their machines had been top-of-the-line and would be a great upgrade for us. I convinced my management to let me try to negotiate a deal for as much as we would need. I made the deal, saving the company a very substantial amount of money.

Christopher: What about interactions with your company’s customers? What has been your involvement?

Christopher wants to know how well Nancy builds rapport.

Nancy: For my previous employer, I visited our top customers and helped their people out with our ecommerce site. I also helped customers who were new at videoconferencing and webinars. The customers were always very grateful. And when they offered good suggestions, I sent them to the appropriate people in our company – along with my comments.

Christopher: How involved have you been in budget planning?

Christopher is interested in Nancy’s initiative, not just a description of her participation.

Nancy: At my current company, I provide input on the costs of proposed changes that would require new hardware and/or software, use of outside trainers and outside technical help, and so forth. I also always provide a less expensive alternative and a more expensive alternative, with all the associated pro’s and con’s. That’s another habit I learned in the Army – giving my superiors a range of options.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.

For practice:

  1. Read the first question below and my comment.

  2. If you have a recording device, record an answer immediately – playing the role of Nancy. Do not think long before answering, because you would not want to do that during an actual interview.

  3. Go through all of the questions in this manner.

  4. Listen to yourself.

  5. Type out an improved answer to each question. Take plenty of time with this step. Do some research on the Internet if necessary.

  6. Repeat Step 5 until you are satisfied with your answers.

  7. If you do not have access to a recording device, type out your first answers as rapidly as you can, then go to Step 5.


How would you help keep our IT people up to speed?

  • This is a signal that the CIO wants Nancy to take a major role in continuing education, training, certification, etc.

How would you go about deciding whether ERP or CRM would be better for a particular company?

  • ERP is enterprise resource planning software, and CRM is customer relationship management software. Nancy’s research on Christopher’s company should have told her that the company may be large and complex enough to make an investment in ERP worthwhile.

How would you help us ensure that our site and our data are protected?

  • If Nancy did not have experience in data protection, she should have studied the subject before applying for this job.

In all your experience, what was the worst crash – and how did you help out?

  • Christopher and the CIO are looking for a strong team player.

What is Django?

  • Christopher may ask one or more technical questions to make sure there are no significant gaps in Nancy’s knowledge.

By MIKE ROLLINS on Tuesday November 3, 2015

This article appeared in the November-December 2015 issue of Search & Employ Magazine