Top 10 Interview Questions for Windows Administrators

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.

Learn More in Our Interviewing and Resume Tips

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38 Comments. Leave new

  • I really liked your post. Thanks

  • Yes, and Awesome, great list of questions….

  • the questions are okay but the answers are pretty screwed up.

  • Nice, we are interviewing a host of folks today and this was the number one search result on Google… That should make you giddy!!

  • You may endup hiring an electrician with these questions, come on Brent “PST,DNS, Windows profile” really, really

  • Just to follow up..
    I used # 6 today on each candidate. One fella said I’ll just work off any old desktop, he was lacking in so many areas.

    Most of the candidates chose a Nice new Dell, or Lenovo with all the frills. The one guy that wanted something a bit special with the SSD’s, the 16G ram (I said me first) and the 10key backlit keyboard dual booting to Server 2008R2/Win7 is coming back for a second round next week. And, not just because he has taste in a laptop.

    Was just a test, but funny how it worked out.

  • I really liked your post especially the way you look at system administration. People think its a way too messy job. But when u get into it. it is absolutely Cool!!!!! and as u work u keep learning new things and thats so exciting!!!!!

  • i like your question it’s very useful to go interview
    to windows admin

  • this questions are all bascially and it’s useful
    whoever intrest to improve basic knowledge in windows server then i have been expect some question for difficult

  • That is basic questions for 1st line support, anyone who is in IT should answer that question.

  • Very basic question. Almost got stumbled on PST files. I back them up all the time too. 🙂

  • the questions are okay but the answers are pretty screwed up

    • Sorry you feel that way. Feel free to add your own better answers if you like. Thanks!

    • Can you write better answers than Brent provided? It is possible that Brent is getting old now and he could not provide good answers so I request you to provide some solid answers. Please Please Please!

  • > Top 10 Interview Questions and Answers for Windows Sysadmins

    Why title an article like that… and *NEVER* give any answers to *ANY* questions at all.


    • Because the post is for people doing the interviewing. They already know the answers. Candidates looking for shortcuts aren’t our target audience with this post. 😉

  • Hello Pukuappa (Brent Ozar) Can you Post correct Answers to your Quations for who is facing the interview

    it should Great enough from YOu

    Thank you very much in advance for your up coming reply…..

    • Pukuappa – Nope. That’s the point of the post: you need to be able to answer those questions yourself to get the job. 😀 This isn’t about cheating.

  • Excellent questions, and like you stated don’t post the answers they are questions every experienced admin should now., I am interviewing today for a Net/sys Admin and he/she must be at a skill level that is expected of their time in the industry and what their resume reflects they have done in their career. Ill be using # 6 and # 9 today.. cant wait for the answer to # 6

    thanks for the great questions.

  • I want all question & answer for window7 & window8

  • Sandy Martin
    May 24, 2014 9:53 am

    I just graduated in computer science and iam dying to be a window administrator. I realy need some one to guide me.

    • Sandy – congrats on graduating! I’d start by joining the local computer user groups and bring your resume. Also contact local recruiters and the job placement department at your college.

  • sir my qualification is computer science with backlogs 🙁 but i have done GLOBAL EXAM OF MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate) 2014… in IIHT Rajajinagar bangalore… n now m searching job for SYSTEM ADMIN or NETWORK ADMIN,
    plz let me know any buddy here…..

    thanking u

    my mail id is

  • Dear Brent,

    Your questions & answer are good for interview and so on i am Working in software company but i am interested in Windows Server administration so i want to become System Administrator someday ,Now i am working as ERP Server Engineer .Suggest me the best path for me to become System Administrator .

    Thanks and Regards
    Mr Limbo

  • Good Post Mr. Brent Ozar. liked it.

    You shared ‘how to do’ rather than ‘what to do’

    Thank you… 🙂

  • i totally agree with sanjay.

  • How old are you? 10?

  • Very useful information! Also, Systems administrators are accountable for creating and managing network servers. Also, they are in charge of any software and hardware issues.


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