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How to interview a sysadmin candidate?

Hello all, a friend of mine is going to a sys admin interview tomorrow and needs some questions and answers for sys admin interview.

can anyone point me to the right direction ?

i need some resources such as word files, links and others.


6 Answers 6


Don't ask "trivia" questions - questions with a single, highly specific, answer. People can forget that kind of thing when under stress. If their job requires them to know which pin on a V.35 interface is used to transmit data, they can look it up when they have the job. General questions help you understand more about candidates than trivia ... We also dislike brain teasers.

The Practice of System and Network Administration

Ask different types of questions that will help you learn about the candidate. And how they will fit in with your workgroup. In the ancient days. Most SA were physicists, astronomers, mathematicians, and engineers. Why? Probably because the had excellent trouble shooting skills and took very good notes.

A few questions to ask:


  • Describe to me, as if I knew nothing, how a TCP/IP network works.
  • Describe to me, as if I knew nothing how a computer works (a basic Von-Neumann device)
  • Draw me a simple network diagram: You have 20 systems, 1 router, 5 switches, 2 servers, and a small IP block. Go.
  • Based on the job posting, what do you expect to be doing here?
  • Describe to me what you hope to accomplish here.
  • What is the best method to keep documentation up-to-date?
  • What's the worst disaster recovery incident you have ever been involved in? Tell me what you did.
  • Why do you like being a SA?
  • How would you rate yourself as a SA?


  • Do you believe that IT drives business or that business drives IT?
  • What do you think about our current business model?
  • What could you do to make us more profitable?
  • How does IT interface with our company?


  • What's your favorite joke?
  • What book should I read tomorrow? Why? (then go to the library and skim it)
  • Who is Thomas Limoncelli? (heh heh, GOTCHA!)

Most anyone can look good on paper. Some people can BS their way through technical discussions. And many people are poor public speakers. You must ask open ended questions. No "Yes or No", observe their thought processes, and their troubleshooting abilities. Most telling, are the metaphors they use to describe complex processes.

Hiring a SA is a very difficult task. It is unlikely that a technical interview will describe who you will be hiring. It's not so much what they know now. It's what they are willing to learn, and how quickly they will learn and apply it.

  • Cross posted at the previously mentioned link. Jun 16, 2009 at 14:44

I found this post very interesting : http://www.brentozar.com/sql-interview-questions/ From my experience showing determination and an organised mind gets the needed interview pluses.


One of the questions I love to ask is "what is the maximum number of systems you have worked with at one time?". That is, because looking after a single computer is different from tens of servers, which in turn is different from hundreds, or thousands, and so on.

I also like to present some current task or challenge I have and get a fresh view on it (hey, at least I get something out of the interview!).

Other than that, the best interview sessions I had were open-ended, drifting from one subject to another, getting a feel of how the candidate approaches knowledge and learning (because one can never know everything, but at least can learn to ask the right questions or search in the right places).

  • 2
    +1, but I'd add "and how many users where there?" Managing systems that have real live people sitting in front of them and using them every day is a whole other ballgame again. Jun 16, 2009 at 20:22

Also look at The Joel Test for sysadmin jobs

What are the 12 Questions system administrators should ask at an interview in order to help them decide if it's a good place to work at?


Looks like a good list of skills:



Just to calm down nerves, this answer here on Serverfault.com points to a Über-Cheat Sheet for Sysadmins. :-)

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