Patience, problem-solving and interpersonal skills—these are among the most important qualities for a network administrator, especially one hunting for a new job. But in order to have a successful job interview, candidates must show they know the technical nuts and bolts of the role down to a fundamental level… and that level of detail can throw some candidates off-track.
Mark Kindy, lead technical recruiter for Mondo, said network administrator candidates can easily get tripped up by seemingly basic questions, including “beginner” network administrator terminology.
“It seems obvious, but in interviews, if you can’t answer questions like that, you’re not showing you care about learning about these things, and that there’s a lack of academic understanding,” he said. “Always prep on your ports—that’s a question that’s going to pop up pretty frequently.”
Here are some examples of truly basic questions you must prepare for:
- What is a network, and what are the different types of networks?
- What’s the difference between a router and a switch?
- What’s a subnet? What are different cable types?
Be Prepared to Talk Knowledge… and Certifications
Certifications are also key in this context—many network administrators possess certs such as Cisco’s CCNAand CCNP. But you can’t just name-drop a few and expect the interviewer to move on. Network administrator candidates must be prepared to talk about the concrete knowledge they’ve gained during their education and certification process.
“They want to know that you can live that certification and what you can apply from it, otherwise what value are you adding that you’re worth $10,000 more than the next person?” Kindy said. “They want to make sure they’re not just checking the box that you have a certification.”
Be careful and selective when you put certifications on a résumé. If it’s been a few years since you earned that certification, it might be worth spending a few hours reviewing your class notes and any other materials to make sure you can discuss whatever might be brought up. “Demonstrating that you’re keeping up on different tech can also be a big plus, and it shows you know your technical acumen,” Kindy added.
In other words, spend time prepping for questions about your certifications and skillset, particularly any skills mentioned in the original job description. For instance:
- How are you using [skill] day-to-day to help you do your job?
- Are there any technologies you’re looking to work with more?
Throughout the interview process, Kindy said, it’s “really important” to tie skills back to recent work experience: “They want to know what brands you’re working with—be it Cisco or Juniper, they will want to know model numbers—if you don’t know what you’re working with, it shows you’re not really engaged.”
Surviving Network Administrator Challenges
If you want to really impress a potential employer, describe some challenges you’ve overcome. If you solved why a network was failing at a critical moment, for example, or helped expand a network with no loss in uptime or performance, you should definitely tell those stories at the appropriate moment.
The hiring manager will inevitably ask you questions designed to determine your experience level. Here are some common ones that pop up:
- What types of technology did you work with, and what brands did you work with?
- What was the general size of the environment with regard to the number of users and load?
- Did you handle any network expansions?
- What was the most challenging task you had, and how did you overcome it?
“Soft skills” are definitely important, as is the ability to show a professional demeanor. That means exhibiting patience with people who may not understand highly technical systems, but demand that the network always remain operational nonetheless.
“If you don’t have good communication skills, you’re not going to get the job,” Kindy said. “You’re going to be interacting with people who are going to need you to express yourself very clearly.”
A proactive, creative mindset is also important to demonstrate to an interviewer. As any experienced network administrator knows, the resources aren’t always there to get the job done, demanding alternative plans. This goes back to having a few stories of overcoming challenges ready to tell; you need to show that you can do as much as possible with a bad situation.
“Sometimes you don’t have everything you need, but someone who will go above and beyond to make it work, that’s a skillset that’s underrated, as well,” he said.
Network Administrator: People Person?
An ability to work with complex teams of very smart (and very opinionated) team members is another critical capability of a network administrator, explained Nick Bartlett, chief people officer at London-based IT software and services company 1E.
“What we’re generally looking for are people who can articulate on a granular level what part they played in a project,” he said. “Face-to-face, they can sometimes struggle to explain that. It’s important that they can detail of how they contributed, because we’re looking to see if they can replicate that again.”
As a result, many questions during the interview may focus not only on your team-building abilities, but how you reacted to “curveballs” and change. It’s important that your answers highlight your analytical abilities, as well as your capacity to actually work with teammates to find an appropriate solution. Some potential questions:
- How do you build relationships within the company?
- When have you had to deal with a technology or service that didn’t work or had to be scrapped?
- How do you react to change processes?
Bartlett said another great way to stand out is to use an example of a project gone wrong—a failure—to demonstrate how you grew or learned an essential new capability. It might seem like a risky move, but hiring managers know that not every challenge is necessarily overcome; it’s what you learned from it—and how you adapted your systems to ensure the failure didn’t happen again—that’s key.
“We’re looking for candidates who can show they’re passionate about the role they’re applying for, and that it will challenge them and that they’re willing to learn from it,” he said. “There’s nothing more terrifying than someone saying they’ve never been a part of a project that failed.”
When considering all your options for certifications and training, take a look to see what certain skills could net you for your network administrator salary.