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10 basic network management interview questions and answers

Job interviews should be a two-way conversation. Here are some common network management interview questions for both hiring managers and job applicants.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored just how crucial IT is to business and governmental operations. Almost overnight, private and public sector organizations transitioned brick-and-mortar operations to remote work models. The rapid move to a remote workforce highlighted the importance of having the right IT team in place to support optimal networking operations.

Currently, the pandemic has complicated the hiring process for networking professionals. As a result, organizations with staffing needs need to be more inventive going forward. Moving even temporarily to a remote hiring model makes the interview process more challenging.

As networking technology priorities have shifted during the pandemic, both businesses and job applicants need to ask the right network management interview questions. For the interviewer, the right questions can reveal a candidate's expertise, thought process and personality. For a candidate, asking the right questions is vital to learn about work conditions, expectations, benefits and opportunities for advancement.

Beyond the basic icebreaker questions and generalized behavioral queries, what network management interview questions should interviewers and candidates ask?

Questions the interviewer should ask

Networking is on a fast track with developments in virtualization, mobility and software. Not all sources are equal, so the interviewer should understand both the candidate's process and resources. Hiring managers should ask job candidates the following network management interview questions.

1. How do you keep pace with new trends and emerging technologies that are relevant to your career?

Network managers should be aware of new approaches to manage enterprise technology to improve operations and cut costs. Effective network managers should be constantly learning about best practices and new technologies that can yield better results.

The candidate should be prepared to provide examples of technical and trend-oriented sources of information, such as vendor forums, news outlets, informal meetings with peers and, perhaps most importantly, membership in an industry association.

Candidates should be able to cite examples of information that directly affected their practices and processes. For example, the candidate might mention a new tool discovered through several product reviews that helped expedite troubleshooting processes. Or perhaps a colleague at a different organization gave the candidate suggestions about how to better educate end users on phishing attacks.

2. What skills do you think are most significant to be an effective network manager, and why?

First and foremost, the network manager needs to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of networking in general and perhaps some insights into the architecture the company is using, if possible.

Before the interview, candidates should research the company. If the company is prominent enough, the candidate might get some insight into the network architecture through case studies, interviews with executives and news reports. The job description itself should provide some important information. The interviewer will also further inform the candidate's understanding of the network.

The candidate should also ask questions of the interviewer, looking for more detail on both the network and the tools the company is using to manage it. The candidate should demonstrate cogent knowledge of adjacent technologies in critical areas such as cybersecurity, cloud computing and unified communications. Candidates should provide examples where -- either through a specific project or ongoing learning -- they expanded their knowledge of something like hybrid cloud.

Working with a team to meet objectives effectively is also a crucial skill. Project management experience is also beneficial. In many cases, network managers may have a procurement role. Candidates should be able to illustrate past examples of helping their organizations receive more value from a deal either through a price reduction or some other more favorable terms.

3. Describe your experience setting up and carrying out a business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plan. What lessons did you learn? What would you do differently?

Candidates need to pinpoint specific examples in which they helped to design and execute a plan to integrate resilience and redundancies to support continuous business operations. The candidate could describe overarching strategies, such as using a cloud-based DR service for failover in the event of a natural disaster. But the candidate can also talk about strategies for supporting discrete applications or operations such as server clustering.

Network manager candidates also need to describe how they approached a problem and whether it was a technical issue or something else. It's helpful if the example occurred before the BCDR program was fully deployed. For example, if a failover issue is detected during testing, candidates can explain how they applied that knowledge to a later project. Candidates can also note that they learned how critical it is to test early and often for all potential points of failure in a BCDR rollout.

4. When you were part of or managed a tech project, what did you learn from both a technical and collaborative perspective?

Whether the prospective employer is looking for a project manager or key contributor, IT candidates need to demonstrate strong technical skills and the ability to work well with others. Interviewers should ask the following questions:

  • Did the candidates pick up a new technical skill from a project?
  • Did they run into delays that translated into cost overruns? What were the underlying causes?
  • Is the candidate a team player or someone who prefers to work alone?

Job candidates should be able to cite what they learned from a WAN upgrade or network security integration project. These examples give interviewers insight into candidates' technical expertise and how they navigate difficulties.

Candidates should articulate how they collaborate with co-workers, both on special projects and ongoing tasks. Job candidates should also discuss their interactions with IT, end users and executives, giving examples of how they support varied needs throughout a project. It's also helpful to know how the prospective employee managed problems that arose in interactions with their co-workers with respect to communications or technical issues.

The interviewer should look for clues as to how the candidate works independently on certain aspects of a project. Candidates should provide examples of how they proactively addressed technical challenges when other resources weren't available to keep a project on schedule.

5. Give an example of a misconfiguration or other technical issue you encountered and how you solved it.

Even in high-performing IT organizations, technical issues occur, whether they are human error or technology faults. Interviewers need insight into the candidates' technical proficiency and experience level. The hiring manager also needs to understand how candidates, and their most recent organizations, uncovered and addressed technology problems.

Ask the candidate to recall a technology issue that arose -- for example, a proxy server misconfiguration or network traffic component failure. This helps the interviewer get a sense of the candidate's operational acumen. Other questions to ask include the following:

  • Did the candidate discover the issue?
  • What role, if any, did the candidate play in helping to resolve the issue?
  • Could the candidate apply this knowledge to the hiring organization?

Questions the job applicant should ask

Interview subjects should use the interview process to understand as much as possible about both the position and the company. This includes gaining a clear picture of the hiring manager's goals and expectations.

1. How does the IT team work with lines of business?

The interviewer needs to explain how communications work among tech teams and various end-user units. If the IT team is considered essential to the success of the company, emphasize that point with examples. The interviewer should talk about how ongoing end-user training and consistent communications with end users help solidify best practices and reduce organizational risk.

If the IT group identifies tech-savvy end users who can help answer other users' questions about the network system or an application, note how that strategy has been successful in reducing calls to the help desk and improving end-user satisfaction.

2. What metrics do you use to measure IT team performance?

Communication and consistency are crucial to having an effective way to track IT personnel performance. Outline for the candidate the criteria the company uses to evaluate network managers' work. Talk about how these benchmarks tie into overarching corporate objectives. If bonuses and other incentives are awarded for performance on specific projects, give examples of those.

3. What role might third-party outsourcers play in your IT operations?

With so many businesses shifting operating models, many are reconsidering IT resources. Organizations that relied only on insourced IT operations may now be looking for third-party support for cost reasons or other factors. Meanwhile, other businesses may choose to insource IT functions that were previously outsourced.

It's important for the candidate to understand the organization's approach to operations. Does it use a mix of internal staff and contractors? If yes, what functions do the third-party providers support? Is this a change from the past? Does the organization anticipate future changes around outsourcing? If so, what will that look like from an operational perspective?

4. Is technology training an important element of the IT department, and do you see that as the employee's responsibility or something the company sponsors?

In a continuously changing IT industry, keeping up with technology advances is more important than ever. It's critical for IT candidates to keep their skills sharp, while staying up to date on new technology. It's also important to deepen their skill set in relevant vendor technologies.

The candidate should ask what role training plays in the hiring organization. Does the company have money for training, or does it expect job candidates to undertake that responsibility with their own resources?

Depending on the candidate's potential role, the level of support from the organization for certifications and training could be a major factor in the candidate's decision to accept an offer.

5. What IT projects and other technology investments are the top priorities for the company in the next 12 to 24 months?

Knowing which IT projects are most important to the organization in the near term helps the candidate get a sense of how challenging and rewarding the job will be.

Network managers are drawn to a company that has earmarked money for a network redesign. A security engineer wants to see cybersecurity as a top priority. An IT manager -- with a strong cloud background -- is attracted to an organization that's looking to move more workloads to the cloud but wants to keep the management of that stack in-house.

Day-to-day functions are also important. Understanding the initiatives the organization has in place is critical to see the current and future direction of the company. The hiring manager can shed light on future operational priorities by identifying things like cloud-first mandates, interim security audits and network traffic analysis.

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