When interviewing for a job as a Cisco Network Engineer, come armed with compelling stories of how your networking saved the day – or didn’t. It's OK to talk about efforts that didn't turn out so well, as long as you describe what you learned along the way. To many hiring managers, the learning is the key.
The Cisco certification is designed to demonstrate that you can plan, implement, verify and troubleshoot local and wide area enterprise networks. Interviewers want to gauge your experience level and technical knowledge, which in most cases calls for brief, detailed stories. If you can talk security, voice, wireless and video, you're bound to have some compelling tales.
Have you managed heterogeneous networks and environments, supporting both Linux and Windows-based networking?
- What most people say: This is not a yes or no question. Elaborate on your experience. (Note to interviewers: Open ended questions yield better answers than yes-or-no queries.)
- What you should say: Describe the challenges hybrid environments pose, but don’t gloss over the problems or your struggles. Explain how you managed a tough situation or found an innovative solution.
- Why you should say it: The Linux Foundation’s Enterprise End User
study has found that companies are deploying more Linux while keeping their Windows servers. That means you need to show proficiency in both.
What are some examples of troubleshooting methods you've successfully used in the past?
- What most people say: Someone who's never been in charge of a troubleshooting project and simply did what they were told might give a generic answer or outline some more traditional troubleshooting methods. That doesn't make them stand out.
- What you should say: Every network issue is different, and say so. Then be specific about how you identified a particular problem and went about fixing it. For example, just mentioning that you’ve used the Top Down or Bottom Up approach is helpful, but offer specific details.
- Why you should say it: The details show the interviewer that you have specific and successful troubleshooting experience.
What tools do you typically use to isolate and troubleshoot network issues?
- What many people say: They list the names of the tools.
- What you should say: Explain your selection process and throw in something illustrating your diligence and attention to detail.
- Why you should say it: The interviewer wants to know more than the names, but also why you prefer them. This allows the manager to get a deeper understanding of your real knowledge of networking in all environments.
What are some ways you've improved network performance in the past?
- What most people say: They talk about problems they've fixed in the past, but not necessarily how they've improved performance.
- What you should say: Qualified candidates usually have crowning moments to talk about, instances where they've taken on a project and seriously improved the network's performance. You should jump on this question and answer it with strength and excitement.
- Why you should say it: Most companies are looking not only for network engineers who are not only problem-solvers, but people who can strengthen they networks and organization.
How much experience do you have working with the development team as well as the sysadmin/networking team?
- What most people say: The DevOps concept of integrating the development and operations teams is fairly new, so don’t fudge it if you’ve been on only one side or the other. These teams focus on shrinking development time, saving money and eliminating conflicts between developed projects and operational integration, and rely heavily on open communication.
- What you should say: Even if you haven’t been on such a team, here’s an opportunity to tell a story about a related skill, such as your ability to work closely with other units or to communicate effectively.
- Why you should say it: As these teams become more common, you'll need to be able to articulate this experience or your willingness to dive in.
What things should be considered when designing an enterprise network?
- What most people say: They mention some of the more generic things to be considered (which can easily be found through a basic Internet search. Managers know that.).
- What you should say: Begin with, "That depends, because a cookie-cutter approach just won't work when it comes to enterprise network design." Then outline a specific enterprise network you've designed and its particular concerns.
- Why you should say it: This type of answer lets the interviewer know more about your specific level of experience rather than just your level of technical knowledge. In just about every case, experience trumps knowledge.
Describe your experience with software-defined networks (SDNs).
- What most people say: They provide very granular and specific answers.
- What you should say: Respond with a detailed, but high-level approach.
- Why you should say it: The company may not yet have decided which way to go, since there are some pretty specific technological disagreements about SDNs.
Describe how you’ve met the challenges associated with IPv6.
- What most people say: Usually that IPv6 is a problem that can be worked around with approaches like network address translation.
- What you should say: IPv6 is a real and definite channel that needs to be met head on.
- Why you should say it: It's true and the answer sounds proactive.
We compiled these questions and answers with the Linux Foundation's training staff, Andrew Schrage, co-owner of the startup Money Crashers, and Carl Weinschenk, longtime data and telecom blogger for websites like IT Business Edge.
Now that you're prepared to ace your interview, get yourself prepared for the next step by knowing how to maximize your network engineer salary.