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Systems Administrator Interview Questions

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  1. According to an HTTP monitor, a website is down. You’re able to telnet to the port, so how do you resolve the issue? See answer
  2. What are you especially proud of in your experience with support for users and endpoint systems? See answer
  3. Suppose you try to fix a problem, such as passwords not working for a group of users, but your attempt fails. What would you do?
  4. What are some attributes that make you a great systems administrator?
  5. Why is it a bad idea to restore a DC that was last backed up seven months ago?
  6. What is your technical background? Can you provide specific examples from your previous job titles?
  7. We’re looking for a systems administrator who works well independently since the position involves fieldwork and telecommuting. Can you give an example of how you’re a self-starter?
  8. You encounter a system defect but still can’t figure out the cause. What do you do?
  9. What types of computer hardware and software devices do you have the most experience installing?
  10. What do you during your personal time to enhance your knowledge of IT practices and technologies?
  11. Can you tell me what an active directory is? How does it differ from LDAPs?
  12. How often did you look over system logs at your previous job? Why is it important to check system logs?
  13. What is the difference between a local area network (LAN) and a wide area network (WAN)? Can you provide a few examples of when to use them?
  14. How would you describe your interpersonal communication skills as a systems administrator? What examples can you offer from previous roles?
  15. Do you have experience writing instructional documents that show employees how to use hardware or software and diagnose trivial problems?
  16. How would you feel about helping to train employees in the use of computer systems?
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8 Systems Administrator Interview Questions and Answers

Q:

According to an HTTP monitor, a website is down. You’re able to telnet to the port, so how do you resolve the issue?

A:

Technical skills matter a lot in systems administrator jobs. Thus, many of your interview questions should deal with assessing candidates’ hard skills, and this question covers several areas of required knowledge.

Look for:

  • Identifying the problem instead of just telling hardware techs something is wrong
  • Ability to troubleshoot
  • Curiosity to figure out the “why”

Example:

“Assuming the web page is up, I would investigate what could be wrong with the monitor. It could be a system overload or flapping, among other issues. Identifying the problem helps me prevent it in the future.”

Q:

Suppose you try to fix a problem such as passwords not working for a group of users, but your attempt fails. What would you do?

A:

It is important for systems administrators to be unafraid of failure and experimentation. In fact, it can be rare for a first attempt at fixing a problem to succeed, and your candidates should have logical strategies for coming up with solutions.

Look for:

  • A real strategy instead of trying things randomly
  • Recognition that multiple attempts are often necessary
  • A walk through the process

Example:

“I’ve learned from experience that a first attempt doesn’t always work. I always make sure to have at least two other backup plans. Here’s something that happened at my previous job …”

Q:

What are three attributes that make you a great systems administrator?

A:

This question lends insight into candidates’ self-awareness skills as well as whether their values match those of your business.

Look for:

  • Answers that match areas of emphasis in your job description
  • At least one soft skill
  • Attributes that fit your company culture

Example:

“I’m analytical and curious. I always dig to find out why a problem occurred. Otherwise, it is liable to happen again and hurt the business. I am also a great communicator, able to share my insight with anyone in jargon-free language.”

Q:

Why is it a bad idea to restore a DC last backed up seven months ago?

A:

This question gets to candidates’ technical knowledge. DC means domain controller, and your candidates should know what it is.

Look for:

  • Use of lingo or jargon
  • A mention of lingering objects
  • Knowledge of 180 days

Example:

“If you back up a DC seven months old, you could encounter lingering objects that lead to inconsistent data. Backup files, as a general rule, shouldn’t be over 180 days old.”

Q:

What is your technical background?

A:

Systems administrators can have a tremendous range of experiences and certifications, so it’s important to hire one who can do the specific job your business needs. Even if candidates’ resumes and/or cover letters gave an overview of their technical background, this question lets them explain some aspects in more depth.

Look for:

  • Qualifications that match what you’re looking for
  • An explanation of how the candidate compensates for any gaps (work experience in lieu of schooling, for example)
  • Specific certifications

Example:

“I earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science four years ago. Since then, I’ve obtained my CompTIA certification and worked primarily in installing PCs and servers. I’ve developed a reputation for identifying problematic machines early on, and I enjoy customer service and software programs such as Adobe Acrobat.”

Q:

What are you especially proud of in your experience with support for users and endpoint systems?

A:

Many systems administrator jobs require interaction with users and knowledge of remote techniques and ticketing systems. This question ensures that the candidate will be able to do the customer service you require.

Look for:

  • Ability to help and please clients
  • Specific examples) of accomplishments
  • Recognition of the value of a good client experience

Example:

“I’m particularly proud of the fact that I can effectively identify a problem and the best tools to resolve it. My clients often refer me to others and talk about how I quickly restore their functionality. In fact, here’s something that happened while I was at HTWW company …”

Q:

We’re looking for someone who works well independently since the position involves field work and telecommuting. Give an example of how you’re a self-starter.

A:

This question is position-specific and gets to the heart of whether the candidate’s personality fits the requirements. Someone who needs a lot of team support might not fare well here.
Look for:

  • An actual example from previous work
  • A tie-in to telecommuting or field work for even more insight
  • How the example benefited the worker, client or another party

Example:

“I was fortunate enough to have a mentor at my first systems administrator job. He taught me the importance of initiative and preventing problems. So, I make it a point to touch base with clients regularly. In one of these instances last year, a check-in led to a conversation where I was able to identify the early stages of a badly written application. If not for that check-in, the problem could’ve gotten worse and proven extremely costly for the client.”

Q:

You encounter a system defect but still can't figure out the cause. What do you do?

A:

Systems administrators are responsible for maintaining computer systems for businesses and often receive calls from company employees to diagnose and fix system issues. This question allows interviewers to determine a candidate's ability to ask for help and acknowledge when they've reached their professional limitations.

A candidate's answer should emphasize:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to consult others
  • Verbal communication

Here is an example of a quality candidate answer:

Example:

"The first thing I do is remind myself not to be discouraged. I have specific qualifications and a limited scope of knowledge about in-depth system components, so in these situations, I'm happy to consult with the systems engineer. I can even learn more about how to diagnose and solve more complex defects in the process."

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