I know, I know, I do a lot of these posts, but Steven Murawski posted a tweet asking for our best questions to ask during an interview of Windows sysadmins and desktop administrators. Here’s my favorites:
10. Pretend I’m a manager, and explain DNS to me.
Windows is increasingly tied to domain name resolution, and the bigger your company gets, the thornier DNS problems become. If they can verbalize how end users’ computers make DNS requests and how forwarders work, and then if they can toss in Active Directory, they’ve solved some enterprise problems.
Starting with a generic open-ended question like that tests a candidate’s communication skills, too. Bonus points for making a tough concept seem easy.
9. What’s a Windows profile? When would you delete one, and what gets deleted?
If you’re looking for someone to do desktop support, they should have at least a vague idea of where the user’s data can be stored. Bonus points if they can explain where common application settings are stored, what the Registry is, and how roaming profiles work.
8. When an end user says a file went missing, what do you do?
End users delete files all the time, but before you recover it from backup, first do a search on the drive to make sure they didn’t drag & drop it to another folder. (Normally I don’t give interview answers here, but that one’s an exception.) Then, after they explain that, I’d ask them to cover things like VSS snapshots, end user recovery in Explorer and how to restore from their favorite backup program.
7. How do you recover one SQL Server database or one Exchange mailbox?
Different backup systems have different ways of dealing with this, so I may not be able to vet their exact answer if I haven’t used the same backup system they’re using. However, I can do a pretty good job of sniffing out when someone doesn’t understand the complexities involved. If they shrug and just say “I click restore and it’s done,” then they’re bluffing.
For example, when restoring an Exchange mailbox, do you really want to pave over every email the user has received since the last backup? Or does the user just need one or two important emails pulled out of the archive?
6. If you get hired and you can pick any laptop, what do you get?
I wanna see ‘em get all excited. I wanna see ‘em giddy with glee at the thought of picking out their own shiny new hardware. The more excited they get, the more I know systems administration is a way of life for them, not just a hobby.
5. What’s the first software you’d install?
Hardcore sysadmins have their own favorite tools they like to use. Listen with an open mind, too – the more sysadmins you interview, the more cool tools you’ll discover. If they mention a tool you haven’t used before, drill into it. Find out why they use it and how it saves them time. If it’s a tool they’re passionate enough to mention, then they can probably describe some underlying concepts and technologies involved, and it’ll give you more confidence that they know what they’re doing.
4. What do the letters PST mean to you?
I want to know if they’ve experienced the pains (both technical and legal) involved with these files. How do they back up PST files if the end user leaves their laptop online all the time? Are there any size concerns with PST files? Is there a good way to use PSTs?
3. What’s PowerShell, and how do you feel about it?
I don’t necessarily need PowerShell experience (although it’s a big plus for Windows sysadmins) but I want to know that they’re at least vaguely aware of the concept and what it means. Bonus points if they can relate scripting to the *nix world, and if they bring up Windows Core.
2. Are you involved with any local user groups?
Be it Windows or just a hardware hacker group, I love candidates who love communities. I like seeing someone get so involved in what they do that they seek out other people who share similar interests.
1. What do you want to do next?
Windows systems administration is a cool gateway into a lot of different careers. Do they want to manage Exchange? Become a SQL Server DBA? Go into management to be the next CIO? Having a drive and a passion means they’ll try to do a better job so they can keep moving up the ladder.