Hiring into Network Engineering
Have you ever left an interview and thought you were a sure bet to receive an offer letter, only to not hear back from the company? Perhaps you’re trying to figure out what to include in the document that could make or break your initial contact to a potential employer. The IT industry is different from many others, but has similar hiring characteristics. Below I cover the in’s and out’s from my own personal experiences. Have your own advice? Drop a comment at the bottom of the page!
First and foremost, figure out what kind of resume fits your experience best. If you are starting fresh in the field, perhaps a resume more focused on skills and accomplishments would work best. In that style, you would not necessarily attribute your experience to particular positions, but rather break them down by a category or group, for example Networking, Management, etc. If you’ve got some time in the industry, you likely can fill an employment list of technical jobs and are able to post your position role and accomplishments under each. There is plenty of documentation online on selecting the right resume, and with a quick Google search you’ll find a fire-hose of suggestions. If you find a certain layout or content setup isn’t working to gain interviews, attempt to rework it. Your resume should continuously be a work in progress.
Getting Past HR to Land a Technical Interview
HR is like that girl you like’s best friend. If you don’t win her over as a friend and focus all of your efforts on the girl you like (technical interview), then you stand no chance of getting the final approval. With that awkward analogy out of the way, just keep in mind that HR is typically the first step in screening candidates. If the position lists that you HAVE to have a certification or degree, you may want to list those as a work in progress in case they use keyword filtering. In all honesty, technically everything can be a “work in progress”. HR approval essentially comes down to tailoring your resume and cover letter (optional) to meet the needs of the position. Keep in mind the next section covers not listing false items on your resume, as that can also cause a bit of a headache during the next round of interviews. Don’t make HR angry either, they typically are who you’ll speak with at the end if you receive an offer.
List Only Your Strengths
I’ve had the opportunity to be in a position where I provided technical interviews one-on-one to potential candidates who could join our team. Before I began the interview, I would have a copy of the resume and scan for areas of interest that pertain to the current role I was looking to hire into. I’ll cover tips as an interviewer below, but where this comes into play when you are in the role of a potential hire is also important. If you list something on your resume, expect that it WILL be discussed. You need to be able to talk in detail on what you list, because during any interviews I hosted, I would immediately be less enthusiastic about a candidate who was padding the stats on their resume. For example, I’ve interviewed someone who mentioned upgrading IOS devices and when I asked about their hands on experience, they doubled back and mentioned that they really only made sure they could access them after the upgrade… which I can understand for someone coming from a NOC role. I appreciate them taking responsibility but I’d rather them not list items in the first place if they are not comfortable speaking about them. Another coworker interviewed a candidate who listed switch models under their experience. When asked how many supervisors those devices had, or what they had done with the switches, the candidate stated they didn’t know, and the switches were already setup so they just maintained them. List your strengths, not every single buzz word that comes to mind.
What to Leave Out
If you have information that does not pertain to the technical industry, you have two primary options.
- Load the language – Find a spin to place on your role or accomplishments that makes them valuable to a company looking to hire a network engineer, such as mentioning your ability to complete large projects without oversight.
- Make them disappear – If you have recent tech experience from a few roles, this option is for you. If you are dealing with older positions that paid the bills before you got into the IT industry, just drop them off your resume. As long as the gaps in work history aren’t large enough for HR to drop you as a risk, you can explain later in an interview why your resume lists the content that it does. The same process is even easier for irrelevant education listings, however there is usually no harm in leaving those.
Keep it Current
Your resume is a constantly evolving autobiography of your knowledge and work history. If you fail to maintain it with details while you’re happily employed, some of the information and metrics you could use from that position may no longer be fresh knowledge for you if you end up in a position needing to look for jobs. This follows similarly to overall IT, whereas you need to continue educating yourself and staying relevant to succeed in the industry. If you don’t update your resume when it doesn’t matter, it will hurt you when it matters.
The Cover Letter
I personally am indifferent when it comes to cover letters. I’ve used a few in the past, and I’ve submitted plenty of resume’s without them, all depending on the position and company. From an interviewer position, as long as they are less than one page, I will read them. You can use cover letters for unique circumstances, such as explaining why you are applying for a position across the country (perhaps you’re relocating there very soon?), or to list items that don’t fit elsewhere on a resume. When you hear about “researching the company you want to work for”, the cover letter and interview questions are a good spot to use this knowledge. Again, each employer will treat these differently depending on how many applicants they have, and how much time they have to fill a position.
The Interview Process
My Personal Take
Be comfortable and confident, as this is not a multi-hundred dollar certification exam… it’s merely a discussion with a potential future coworker or supervisor. Speak openly about areas of discussion that you are most confident with, and twist any areas that you aren’t into a positive spin. For example, if you are asked about a particular piece of hardware or software you haven’t used, ask what it generally does and relate it to something else you do have experience with. “Are you familiar with Solarwinds NPM?” “I don’t believe so, that is for monitoring networks?” “Yes.” “No, however in [my last position|my home lab] I frequently used Nagios for monitoring and reporting, where we/I even configured it to [some function].” This ability to flow the conversation in positive light throughout is going to leave a better impression than simply stating “No.” and waiting to move on. Engage the interviewer as well with your own general technical questions about how they manage or implement certain features. The interviewer likely will take note if you show interest in their operations. Most importantly take some comfort in knowing that a lot of technical interviewers do not do it frequently, and typically only when a role needs to be filled. This means they likely are a bit nervous as well in trying to keep the interview flowing. Bring a notebook and something to write with even if you don’t find anything of interest that you think you would forget. The interviewer may have you write down some information to research when you get a chance.
What to do and What Not to do
- Introduce yourself with a firm handshake and look the interviewer in the eyes if you are in person.
- Research a bit about the company and dress appropriately for the position in which you applied. Now this may be dressed down from other industries as IT is a bit unique. There is plenty of documentation on Google for what to wear to interviews.
- Ensure you ask the interviewer a few questions throughout. Things that will benefit you to know about the company such as health insurance information, work environment, hours, equipment and protocols/technology used, etc.
- Have a copy of your resume and any relevant documents. This is essential to ensure you can answer any questions they may have, and for your own reference in case your brain decides to take a nap.
- Express any nervous habits if you can help it, such as tapping, chewing gum, drinking whiskey, fidgeting, or crying in the fetal position. These habits can raise concern in the interviewer.
- Answer with simple yes’s and no’s. Typically interviewers are looking for you to feed them a bit of information to keep the discussion flowing, and this is your opportunity to display your knowledge.
- Show up late. Typically 10-15 minutes early is acceptable, anything more is likely overkill. They may not notice you being early, but they will definitely take note if you are late.
- Talk negatively about prior supervisors, coworkers, or companies. If you are asked to speak on anything negative, ensure you are able to turn the question into a way to improve a process or technology that caused any issues.
The Offer Letter and Negotiations
Remember HR? They’re back, and they have money. When you are notified that you have been selected, you’re at the final step. Typically for most professional environments an offer letter will be issued to you explaining your potential salary or hourly rate as well as benefits you can expect. If you need employment badly or are new to the industry, you may wish to accept and get to work, as those terms are obviously what the employer has set. If you have a bit of play (currently employed, in demand skillset, etc) you have the ability to counter the offer. You likely will only get one shot to come back at HR, so ensure anything you want (more money, more vacation, paid training for a course) is taken care of on your first counter offer. If you are too ambitious, just understand you may cause the company to walk away at that point. You can offer to take less of something they offer in exchange for more of something else, as a way to show your priorities. Do not worry about making someone mad. Negotiating is part of hiring, and the other network engineers you will work with are likely not going to know your benefits and vice versa. Ensure you know what you are worth.
As a Technical Interviewer
Tips for Technical Interviewers
With my experience of interviewing potential network admins and engineers, I’ve learned one main thing. You control the interview as the technical interviewer, and with that you can complete it however you feel fit. If you want to have an open discussion with the candidate on their background and then dive into specific technical questions as areas come up, you can. If you wish to fire question after question matching the exact needs of your position, you can. I typically only had one or two interviews coming at me at one point, but I would say that if you are looking to eliminate resumes from a large submission group, ensure you do not eliminate your future potential best employee. There are gems in the rough who just need the right opportunity to excel. Depending on your needs and ability to provide a little training, you can sculpt a good candidate who will remain loyal to the company for years to come.
Questions for Network Engineer Interviewers
Here is a compiled list of some questions I’ve used in the past. As mentioned above, typically I allow the candidate to drive the interview with things they mention and adjust my questions dynamically. The following interview layout and questions are geared towards an mid analyst to intermediate engineer position, so you will need to adjust your own template according to your environment.
Introductions – Explain the resume process with a blurb like “I will be asking a few technical questions and also asking you about skills you listed on your resume or bring up during our interview. Don’t worry about telling me if you do not know the answer to a question, this is just to get a feel for your knowledge and experience”.
Give me a summary of your work experiences. Put what you did in your various IT experiences into non resume jargon and explain to me what you did and what technologies you used.
Your resume lists you as being located in [LOCATION]? What is bringing you to this area? [look for things that would cause candidate to leave after short term. Compare prior work history lengths]
Do you have any experience with VOIP technology, specifically Cisco software/phones?
What are some methods of securing layer 2 from rogue devices being plugged into the network? (PortSec, Dot1X.)
If you are given an IP address and no additional information, how could you find the location of that subnet within your network devices? (show ip route)
For troubleshooting a Cisco network device, how could you identify when a device last restarted and the reason why? (show ver?, logging?)
Reasons you can think of why would an IPSec tunnel not build at a new remote office install?
What could you do to troubleshoot a problematic service on the network, such as FTP or PXE, at a low level to ensure the proper packets are traveling between the client and server?
Can you explain VLAN’s in your words…
What VLAN should you not use for security reasons?
and how you would build a new vlan if an office was standing up a voice or video infrastructure that they did not have prior?
If you had a whole remote campus showing down on your network monitoring software, what steps would you take to troubleshoot it? (Vague question, looking for how candidate walks through troubleshooting flow.)
What routing protocols have you dealt with primarily through your career?
*Questioned tailored towards that routing protocol*
What would you do to solve a problem that you can’t seem to find a solution for yourself?
[abstract question] If you were being sent to a remote office to troubleshoot a network problem, what 3 items would you take with you if you could only take 3? (assume you have access to anything)
What is a project you found challenging or would consider an accomplishment (things like migrating/upgrading equipment, solving a large problem, new installs, etc)
What would you say your top strengths are and why would we benefit from having you on the team?
Are you comfortable traveling on occasion to install or troubleshoot equipment?
*Confirm certifications match resume*
Do you have continued education plans for any certifications or specific IT niche’s?
The standard hire questions….
What would be your ideal work schedule?
When could you start work? Are there any upcoming events that would take you away from work for periods of time? (not negative, just to make your team lead aware of your status)
Do you have any questions for me?