[nSLUG] Interview questions

Ian Campbell ian at slu.ms
Mon Oct 22 14:49:50 ADT 2007

On Mon, Oct 22, 2007 at 01:39:53PM -0300, Bill Davidson wrote:
> Hi:
> I have always hated job interviews, but now I find myself in the
> unfamiliar position of having to conduct one.  I have been asked to
> handle the technical parts of a couple of interviews for Unix/Linux
> sysadmin positions.
> What are you favourite interview questions?  What best distinguish a
> competent or experienced dullard from someone with a strong and deep
> understanding of unix?  Is there some technical question you were once
> asked in a interview (or elsewhere) that made you stop and think?  What
> question could you be asked (or would you ask of another), the answer to
> which would summarize all the best qulities of a really good sysadmin?
> Or at the very least, what can I ask so that I don't look like an idiot?

Obviously it depends a little bit on what the job actually entails
(database admin? web stuff? backups? performance tuning? jack of all
trades?), but I find in general that the best questions focus on
candidate experience and problem solving abilities rather than
textbook knowledge.

Bad questions:
- How would you rate your Linux skill on a scale from 1-10?
- Name some Linux commands.

Basically, anything you can answer with a textbook or Google, or
anything subjective where the applicant is making the judgement call
aren't very useful.

Good questions:
- Can you tell me about a project you're particularly proud of, did
  particularly well, etc. Ask questions to whatever level of detail
  you want.
- I have a mixed network of Linux and Windows machines. How would you
  back them up? I have a website setup, what would you do to improve

All of those are pretty open-ended questions, but they let the
candidate demonstrate how deep their knowledge of a subject area is,
their competence, and their communication abilities. If they don't
know the answer to a question, ask them where they'd go from there.
Get them talking and it will both put them at ease and likely make it
pretty easy to judge how good they are.

Side note: Any of those positions still open? ;)

Disclaimer: This is all just my opinion. I am not, and have never been
in the position to hire anyone.
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