Throughout my career I have been on many interviews and interviewed a few as well. I realized quickly that its about your mind more than it is about your brain. One interview stuck in my head. I was the one being interviewed. Best interview ever. I replicated that interrogation method when hiring my teams and the folks that were hired as a result of that process, flourished. They all went from generic break/fix Sys Admins to well respected architects and directors/VPs in our industry.
As a systems engineer, we are required to have to have technical prowess. We should know how to navigate our way through some pretty challenging scenarios. Quite often, its under a tremendous amount of pressure (“get the site back up, we are losing 1000s of dollars every minute!”). Any engineer that has been in the trenches knows what that feels like. They also know how many things are learned…and eventually forgotten. Nobody knows it all. We have all discovered a lot, resolved complex issues as a direct result of our better than average reading comprehension skills, potentially picked up some “good habits” along the way, and again, probably forgot a lot of the minutia involved in resolving the issues. The more of them we fix, the more we realize the minutia is unimportant. Do you remember the KB/TR number of an issue you fixed 3 years ago? Probably not. However, we all remember how DNS works all the time though, right? Well yes…because that’s fundamental to computing. See my point?
I recently interviewed at a company and was mostly embarrassed at the questions I was being asked. This is a very well known company with a market cap in the billions and growing every day. The position was a middle manager of systems engineering. Nothing I couldnt handle. Unfortunately, two minutes in, I felt like I was 25 again trying to get a job as a desktop support guy when the questions began. No matter how well I did, I didnt want this job.
My point here is that the questions that are asked during an interview process are crucial to the level of talent that is acquired. Be smart with them. A lot of times, the question will be, “what are the 7 layers of the OSI model”. Bad question. Why? You end up with a guy that knows how to memorize things. It has no reflection on the candidates critical thinking skills. Going back to my “best interview ever”…what was the question that was asked that gave me the ability to showcase my talent?
“Tell me everything that happens between the time you type in ‘Google.com’ in your web browser to the time you see the logo and search box”.
Bingo. He not only was able to determine that I understood the OSI model, but that my understanding of applications, proxy servers, DNS, html, tcp/ip and web servers (“the internet”) was up to snuff. I understood the order of operations and clearly, my troubleshooting skills would allow me to isolate and pinpoint the problem. Memorizing the layers of the OSI model doesnt really help you figure out why users cant get to the application.
As an interviewer, dont play Jeopardy with your candidates. As an interviewee, if you see someone playing Jeopardy during an interview, keep faith that you are a professional with industry standard skills and talent. Not knowing the specifics of a google search which enlightened someone a few days prior, doesnt make you a bad candidate. It just means they have an amateur hiring manager without any vision or leadership skills. Keep searching for someone that values your mind.
Good luck out there.