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Systems Administrator Interview Questions

POSITION SUMMARY

Systems Administrators are responsible for handling the operation, installation, configuration, and maintenance of system hardware and software. They typically maintain the necessities of systems, such as operating systems, web servers, and data recovery.

Systems Administrators must participate in technical research and development in order to keep up with new developments within the industry.  In addition, they should be familiar with operating systems such as Linux and Windows and possess the ability to create scripts in Perl, Python, and other languages.

RESPONSIBILITIES 

Systems Administrator responsibilities may include:

  • Assign network and database clearance.
  • Purchase new hardware and software.
  • Setup database backups.
  • Work on installation and installment with third party vendors.
  • Communicate with other department heads.

 

SKILLS

Systems Administrators are responsible for handling the day to day activities of the system. In order to provide a smooth user experience, a skilled Systems Administrator will:

  • Possess an eye for detail to observe disturbances within a system.
  • Stay on top of new trends within the industry to provide optimal service.
  • Convert technical data into easily understandable reports.
  • Communicate clearly with the heads of other departments and third party vendors.
  • Demonstrate critical thinking to solve complex problems.


QUALIFICATIONS

In order to gain an entry-level position, candidates will need to possess at least a Bachelor’s Degree in computer science or a related mathematics field. Additionally, most jobs will want candidates to have at least 3-5 years of experience in system administration.

Many employers require specialized training relevant to the job. Certifications, such as the Cisco Certified Network Professional, can help to distinguish candidates.

If you’re getting ready to interview for a position as a Systems Administrator, you can prepare by researching the company as much as possible. Learn about the 9 things you should research before an interview.

 

SALARY

Salaries for System Administrators range between $62K to $101K, with the median being $82K. 

Factors impacting the salary you receive as a System Administrator include:

  • Degrees (Associates or Appropriate Certifications, Bachelors, Masters)
  • Years of Experience
  • Location
  • Reporting Structure (Seniority of the Manager you Report to and Number of Direct Reports)
  • Level of Performance - Exceeding Expectations

 

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SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATOR INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Question: What are some of your characteristics and traits that qualify you as a competent systems administrator?

Explanation: This is a general or opening question, which the interviewer will ask to begin the conversation, learn more about your background, and collect information they can use for subsequent questions.

Example: “I have several personal qualities that have helped me in my career as a system administrator.  I am curious by nature, attentive to details, am interested in technical topics, and I like to fix things.  Additionally, I enjoy helping other people and feel rewarded when I solve an issue and make someone happy.”


Question: How do you resolve an issue when a website is down, but you're able to telnet to the port?

Explanation: This is an operational question.  Operational questions seek to understand how you go about doing your job.  These types of questions are best responded to directly and briefly. The interviewer will ask a follow-up question if they need additional information.

Example: “Once I telnet into the port, I would seek to understand the cause of the outage.  Once I understand the root cause, I can address the issue, not the symptom.  I look for things such as systems overload, low memory, or uncontrolled processes.  Once I fix the cause, I verify that the symptoms are no longer occurring and that the system is back up.  I also make notes in the log file to help myself or the next system admin if the problem recurs.”


Question: Can you tell me about a time when you tried to fix a problem, but your attempt failed.

Explanation: This is a behavioral question.  Behavioral questions ask you about a situation that occurred on the job and how you reacted to it.  These types of questions are best responded to using the STAR framework.  You state the Situation, describe the Task you had to accomplish, discuss the Actions you took, and then talk about the Results you achieved.

Example: “Not long ago, I was administering a system that went down.  The system managed a user logins on the network, so it was critical that I got it back up as quickly as possible.  I made several attempts to discover what the issue was but couldn’t identify it.  Recognizing that I couldn’t solve the problem, I called another admin over.  They were able to determine that the system was low on memory immediately.  We added additional RAM, and the system resolved itself immediately.  What I learned from this was to go through my checklist rather than rely on my memory when diagnosing hardware issues.”


Question: Can you tell me why it is a bad idea to restore a domain controller that was last backed up more than six months ago?

Explanation: This is a technical question. Technical questions ask you to define a term or a procedure used in this job and discuss how it applies to what you do.  Like operational questions, the best way to respond to technical questions is directly and so succinctly.  You should also anticipate follow-up questions.

Example: “Restoring a domain controller that was last backed up some time ago could lead to problems.  These include lingering objects as well as old versions of files that have subsequently been updated.  Common practice dictates that you should not restore a system using a file that is more than 180 days old.  Depending on the file sizes, backups should be done at least once a week, if not daily.  Restoration should only be made from the most recent backup file.”


Question: What is an IT support experience that you are especially proud of?

Explanation: This is another general question.  Interviewers will rotate through various types of questions during an interview.  They may also ask questions that are similar to ones they’ve already asked to calibrate your answers and make sure that the information you are providing is consistent.

Example: “I am proud of many of my accomplishments as an IT systems administrator.  The ones I’m most proud of include times when my peers were not able to solve a problem, but I was.  It’s not that I was superior to them. I just took a different approach and utilized my previous experience.  When this occurs in reverse, and someone solves a problem that I am unable to, I treat it as a learning experience, adding to my skills set and qualifications for this job.”


Question: What's the most challenging IT support issue you've had to resolve?

Explanation: Yet another behavioral question.  Behavioral questions require you to be a good storyteller.  Using the STAR framework allows you to organize your answer quickly and thoroughly.  When preparing for an interview, you should review questions like these and prepare your stories in advance.  You may not be asked the exact same questions, but you can use elements of your stories to answer virtually any question you are asked.

Example: “One of the most challenging IT support issues I’ve had to resolve was when a system appeared to be working fine but was generating several different error codes.  My associates and I stepped through each error code and tried to resolve the situation, but nothing we did eliminated the messages.  It then occurred to us that the system may be fine, but the controller, which was generating the messages, may be faulty.  We replaced the controller, and sure enough, it resolved the issue.  This taught me to think unconventionally and look outside of the box for answers to issues.”


Question: Can you discuss what the difference is between Active Directory and LDAP?

Explanation: You probably already recognized this is a technical question.  It is asking you to discuss two terms that are similar but different.  You should first define each term, and then give an example of how each one of them is used.

Example: “Both Active Directory and LDAP are directory services.  LDAP, which stands for lightweight directory access protocol, queries and modifies user entries into a directory service.  Active Directory, on the other hand, is a directory service developed by Microsoft.  It supports the LDAP protocol as well as several other directory services.” 


Question: Can you describe the characteristics of the different levels of RAID?

Explanation: This question is asking you to discuss several versions of a technical term.  As an experienced IT systems administrator, you should be able to talk about this easily.  Remember to keep your answer brief and to the point.  You should also anticipate follow-up questions, indicating that the interviewer is very interested in this topic.

Example: “raid, which stands for redundant array of inexpensive disk, is a technology used to manage storage on the network.  There are several levels with different characteristics.  These include:

RAID 0: Known as disk striping, increases performance by placing different parts of a file on different storage devices.

RAID 1: This level increases the reliability of the data by placing the same information on two different storage devices. This is known as mirroring.

RAID 5: Combines the advantages of the previous two levels.  It places only the parity data on several storage devices, which increases performance while providing increased reliability.

RAID 6: This is an extension of RAID 5.  It requires a minimum of four disks and adds another parity block to each of these.  The tradeoff is that it is a little slower during write operations.

RAID 10: Also known as RAID 1+0. It combines disk mirroring and disk striping to protect data and requires four or more disks.


Question: After you log in to a unix server, what commands should you initially run?

Explanation: As the interview progresses, the technical questions will become more specific and more difficult.  This is an indication that the interviewer is gaining confidence in your abilities and is willing to explore more complex topics.  Continue to respond to these questions the same way you did with the easier ones.

Example: After logging into a unix server, it is recommended that you run several different commands to determine the state of the server, the information it is managing, users, and other characteristics.  These commands include:

netstat - Indicates which network connections are active

top -  Describes the processes running on the server

lsblk - Determines what information is on the block devices

df -khT - Reports the amount of disk space available on the server

who -  Lists the users logged into the server


Question: What are the advantages of running a process run in the background, and how do you do this?

Explanation: As an experienced IT systems administrator, you should be able to answer this question easily.  This will indicate to the interviewer your qualifications to manage processes, networks, systems, and other components of an IT environment.

Example: “Running applications in the background has the advantage of enabling processes to run without user knowledge or intervention.  It prioritizes resources for processes which uses are interacting with on the front end.  You can move a process to the background by appending the special character ‘&’ at the end of a command.”


Question: Do you think allowing someone to run commands as Root is a good idea?

Explanation: While this appears to be a general question, it is actually an operational question.  As an IT systems administrator, you know the Root provides an administrator with complete access to the entire system. Root can change the essential characteristics of the system, causing significant problems that may be difficult to identify or fix. Only the most senior IT system administrators should be allowed root access to a system.

Example: “Allowing anybody other than the most senior IT system administrators to have root access to a system is not a good idea.  Root access has the authority to change virtually anything within the system.  This could lead to problems that cause system outages or could damage the system beyond repair.  Even experienced administrators should use caution when accessing the system as root and only perform specific operations which they are knowledgeable of and intend to execute.”

ADDITIONAL SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATOR SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

  • How have you used your knowledge of operating systems to improve a network?

  • What is UDP?

  • What is the difference between a workgroup and a domain?

  • How can you reset a password for a customer who lost theirs?

  • Can you explain how to control processes on a Linux server?

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