Whether it's your first or your forty-first networking job interview, the process can be daunting. Every company's network has unique needs and challenges, and every company has unique requirements for the network architects, engineers, and admins it hires. That doesn't mean you have to start from scratch for every interview, though. These three tips will help you shine every time.
1. Most networking interview questions will be technical, so brush up on your basics.
Most of the questions you'll face will probe your knowledge of networking technology. Are you ready to answer killer networking interview questions about the benefits of subnetting or your experience with configuration management? Can you speak confidently about every protocol that might come up?
If the answer is "no," don't fear. No matter how many years you've spent in the field, it's normal to have some gaps in your knowledge or some less-than-clear memories of concepts you haven't used since you first learned about them. What matters is how you address those gaps.
Action: Refresh your memory of basic networking concepts. Many online resources can help, including Enterprise Networking Planet's own Networking 101 series. And have an answer ready for topics you don't have time to cover. "I don't know" won't cut it. Neither will BS. Instead, say something like "I haven't had much opportunity to put that into practice, but I'm aware of resources available at [X] and feel confident that I can get up to speed quickly" to show that you know where to turn for guidance if an unfamiliar issue arises.
2. Networking interview questions weed out the unqualified, so get ready to prove yourself.
Have you ever heard the phrase "Show, don't tell"? It applies as much to interviewing as it does to storytelling. Anyone who's read the right material may be able to talk about networking, but only someone with real expertise can show what they know about networking. You won't be pushing any configuration changes to production during your interview (we hope), but expect networking interview questions that require you to diagram and explain network topologies or solve problems on the fly. Concretely demonstrating your knowledge will set you apart from your competition.
Action: Practice makes perfect. Draw up some network diagrams and explain them aloud. If you can, recruit a friend or two to listen. Do the same when solving hypothetical network problems, and focus on walking your listener(s) through your thought process. Non-networking folk are as valuable an audience at this stage as your peers in the industry. While the latter can catch and correct your errors, the former can point out where you're failing to express yourself clearly or accessibly. Strong communication skills suggest leadership potential, and employers like leadership potential.
3. Networking interview questions audition you for a spot on a team, so figure out how you can contribute to the greater good.
Enterprise networks serve a very specific purpose. They provide the connectivity that enables the organization to operate, innovate, and, in most cases, generate revenue. In a networking role, that will be your job, too. Networking interview questions often give you opportunities to talk about how you plan to do that. If you want to stand out, use those opportunities to convince your interviewers that you will add value to the organization beyond the day-to-day responsibilities of the job.
Action: To show that you're a big-picture thinker eager to contribute to the organization's goals, you'll need to know several things: the mission of the company you're interviewing with and/or the challenges it faces, the broader IT initiatives that can help, and how those IT initiatives affect and are affected by the network. Disaster recovery, business continuity, the cloud, business intelligence and analytics, data security, and regulatory compliance are all particularly important topics. Get familiar with the benefits and drawbacks of these technologies and how the network supports them. That way, you can showcase some strategic thinking when interview questions call for it.
As you can see, acing your networking interview questions isn't as difficult as it might seem. You've already got the qualifications. All you need are a little preparation and the polish that basic interview etiquette provides. Put everything together, and you'll be ready to shine.
How was your last networking job interview? Tell us about it in the comments.
Jude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.