Having a career in IT is an exciting and ever-evolving challenge that can lead to managerial opportunities for some. Becoming an IT manager is a great milestone to reach in your career, and if you are like most people, you will probably be a little nervous just before your interview.
We have put together a list of questions to help you navigate the treacherous waters of the interview and hopefully give you a few points to ponder as you prepare for the big interview day. Because an IT manager is generally a mixture of multiple roles all rolled into one, there will be different areas of questioning. We have collected these into thirty questions and sorted them into the following categories: Technical Abilities for Staff and Management, Managerial Skills and Communication Skills.
Each of these categories will help you to better understand what the role of an IT manager is and how these functions are all broken down into different skill sets. Some of these questions are generic managerial questions that apply to almost every role where a manager is needed, while others will be more specific to the field of IT. Both types of question are essential for this role, so getting the answers right is essential if you are looking to be successful in your next interview.
The order of these questions is not important because each interviewer may prioritize the question types differently, so don’t get too hung up on the order. You may find that there is no apparent order to the questions that you get asked in your interview.
Technical Abilities for Staff and Management Questions
Finding out about your qualifications is easy for the interviewer; they just need to look at your resumé. What they really want to know is how you deal with technical challenges in the role, how you get the right people to tackle the jobs and if you do any of this work yourself.
Having a technical background is not always necessary for the role of IT manager. Some companies put more of an emphasis on the financial and regulatory requirements of the IT department, but not all. Some IT managers need to have had the practical experience in the field so that they can properly manage expectations in times of system failures and give the appropriate responses to questions from the executives within the company.
Try to think about how your role as IT manager makes sense within the context of the company that you are applying to. If you are looking to land the role of IT manager in a small-to-medium-sized company, then you can probably expect to be helping out with the actual work when things get busy, while a larger multi-site company will probably have very specific job functions that they want you to perform. The technical aspect of these questions also encompasses the technical skills of your IT staff. You can expect questions about their technical upskilling and studying, as well as how involved you think a manager should be in an individual’s decision to upskill.
1. What is your technical background, if any?
This is quite a common question when applying for IT manager roles, so make sure you have a list of your previous technical roles handy if this applies to you. Most IT managers get to the role of management through years of technical work, progressing from technicians to system administrators and so on. You can speak about your experience with supporting specific environments and products. Don’t be afraid to ask what systems they are currently running, how many sites they maintain and other similar questions.
The question itself shows that this particular role may want you to have a specific practical knowledge of certain systems or products, in which case they have probably highlighted this in the original job posting. Let them know what you can and cannot do and see what their reaction is. You never want to exaggerate your technical abilities in an interview as it will always come back to haunt you when you start the job, especially if you have no idea how to do what is required of you.
2. Are you hands-on with technical problems?
IT managers who made their way up the ladder from the technical departments will sometimes still prefer to look at serious issues themselves before delegating the task to the rest of the team. This is a double-edged sword in some ways, because managers don’t necessarily need to get involved with daily operational issues. On the other hand, if you are the most experienced member of your team then the value that you bring to the IT department is that much more impressive.
You will be able to gauge the requirements of the interview as you progress through it, so your answer will be determined largely by the expectations that are laid out for you. Ask questions about how many technical tasks the current IT manager performs, if any. If you think it is going to benefit your candidacy, then you can mention your various technical skills and how you can save the department money and add extra skills to the organization.
3. Do you prefer outsourcing tasks to external companies or developing internal talent?
Most companies are in favor of upskilling and developing their IT staff, as it creates a mutually beneficial relationship between the employee and the organization. However, there are problems with training up employees; it may result in upskilling them to a point where they feel as though they need to find work elsewhere because they now possess skills and certifications that make them marketable elsewhere. On the other hand, outsourcing server and networking tasks to external companies is convenient in some cases, but again, if your staff feel that they are not being given opportunities to learn and grow professionally, then they may also look at leaving the company to find a more fulfilling career.
The important part of this question is that you show that you understand the thought process behind each approach, and that you have thought about the pros and cons of each approach. Which approach you prefer will be determined by your own experiences, so be sure to outline your own dealings as well for a more personalized response.
4. Describe your current role for us
This is a common question across job domains and for good reason. Interviewers are looking to find out what your current position expects of you and if any of those skills are transferable to your prospective role as IT manager. Try to gauge what skills the interviewers have been alluding to from the previous questions, or from the job spec that you used as a basis for your job application. Highlight the positive areas where you think that you would add value to the company and mention how the management tasks that you are currently performing have prepared you for a role like this one.
The interviewers are trying to find out if your current skill set is a good match for this role. You might even have skills that you have developed from performing seemingly unrelated tasks in your current positions that are now in demand for the IT manager role that you are applying for here. Take your time and outline the functions that you are currently performing, and make sure that you can elaborate sufficiently if the interviewers have any follow-up questions for you.
5. What value would you bring to the IT department?
Think about your past achievements in your current role, especially where you were able to save costs, improve efficiencies and improve staff morale. These are all the hallmarks of an effective IT manager, and if you have examples of these kinds of results in your current role or previous ones, then go ahead and share some details with the interviewers. An efficient IT department with proactive and happy staff is a real asset to any company, so try to highlight these areas of achievement wherever possible.
6. What is your view on employee upskilling and studying?
A big part of your job as IT manager will be fostering the personal growth of your employees as they work in your department. The general trend internationally is to provide support for on-the-job training with time off and study aid assistance, but this is not the standard everywhere. Find out about the company policy and see how that fits in with your own work philosophy. The general rule of thumb with a question like this is that if the company isn’t interested in training, then they probably wouldn’t bring it up in an interview.
The question is aimed at finding out how you think about your IT staff career progression. Many smaller companies fear that the time and investment that they put into IT personnel is wasted, because in most cases they either leave for greener pastures or are headhunted by talent agencies. Bigger organizations generally prefer to upskill employees and promote them within the organization, as it is usually cheaper to retain staff and upskill than it is to find replacements and spend months on training.
7. Is upskilling IT staff your responsibility or the employees?
This is an interesting follow-up question from the previous one. Some IT departments have an upskilling requirement, and the manager needs to meet certain targets in order to retain the training budget that the IT department gets. Other companies don’t provide any assistance at all, which means that the manager doesn’t really have much control over what the employees are studying towards.
If you know that the company that you are interviewing for has a training policy for staff, then you can be sure that the responsibility of upskilling your team will be divided between yourself and your team. All you can do as a manager is make the facilities available for your team and provide motivation and support when they need it. If you are certified in the field that they are studying towards, then you can offer studying tips and what to expect from the process. The responsibility ultimately lies with the employee if they wish to better their training stance within the organization.
8. How do you track technical performance in your department?
There are many excellent tools for measuring performance in an IT department, and many of them are built into the help desk or CRM software that your company uses to log and track incidents. For those of you with technical reporting skills, you can mention that you write your own SQL reports or that you create custom pivot tables to track key performance indicators of your team. Items that usually get monitored in these environments include number of incidents handled by each team member, the average resolution time of an incident, the number of follow-up queries for each incident that is closed and so on.
Measuring your IT department’s performance is incredibly useful if you are trying to show how much value you are providing to the rest of the organization. If you can calculate the cost of system downtime, then you can effectively show the rest of the management teams how much money you have saved the company with uptime alone. Think about some of your favorite reporting metrics and don’t be shy about listing some of your achievements such as uptime targets that you have met or exceeded or high levels of customer satisfaction from your users in the company.
9. What have you learned from your IT management experiences at your current employer?
The key elements that you should focus on are things like efficiencies, cost savings and improved stability. If you have brought any specific skills to your department, or if it is now running in a demonstrably better way than it was when you originally took on the role as IT manager, then let them know.
If you are applying for the position as somebody that has never been an IT manager before, then you will need to focus on your experiences in your current role where you were performing managerial tasks as a part of your role. Perhaps you are in charge of delegating help desk tickets to certain departments, or maybe you are directly dealing with service providers and suppliers — anything that you would associate with a position of responsibility and accountability will show that you have the makings of an IT manager. Focus on these points and show that your technical skills will also be valuable as a manager.
10. Do you have any project management experience?
There will be times when you need to take the reins on projects so that your staff can carry out the technical tasks and perform the actual work while you manage things from the side and give direction and purpose to the teams. If you haven’t had too much experience with project management, then try thinking of projects that you have been a part of and what role you played during the process.
This is a “nice to have” skill for most IT departments, but you should really brush up on your project management capabilities if you want to differentiate yourself from the other candidates during the interview process. IT managers normally have to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to running the department, and project management skills can make a huge difference.
A big part of being an IT manager is managing people and resources. This section of the interview questions will focus on both of these areas and look at how you deal with people and problems. Management styles vary from person to person, so don’t feel as though you are not doing something properly if your personal experience differs from the examples given here.
11. What would you say is the most important function of being an IT manager?
Being an IT manager means that you have to be many different things at the same time. Managing the company’s resources is probably the most important function that an IT manager has to contend with, because it encompasses so much of what the business needs to get things done. Resources are things like hardware, services and even people, which means that the IT department is responsible for some very important and valuable assets. IT systems that fail, employees that walk out and services that no longer function effectively all have the potential to bring service delivery to its knees within the IT department.
The question is looking at how you see your role as an IT manager and what the most important aspect is from your point of view. How you see yourself in the role of IT manager and your priorities will have an impact on how the interviewers assess your interview, so be sure to think about what matters most to you when you think about your job functions.
12. How do you handle mistakes in the workplace?
This question is looking to see how you handle both your own mistakes and those of your employees. There are always consequences when things go wrong, but that doesn’t mean that someone needs to be thrown to the wolves at every opportunity. Being fair when your team make mistakes is important if you are going to maintain morale in your department. You will also make some mistakes as you work within the organization, so be sure to talk about how you deal with these errors when they come up.
It is important that you take ownership and work towards mitigating any damage that may have resulted. Taking responsibility for your shortcomings is the sign of a good leader, so talk about your own experiences and how this approach has benefited you if it is in line with your managerial style.
13. What would you say is the most valuable contribution that you would provide to the company if you were to be our IT manager?
Being an IT manager means that you have to keep the business’s needs in mind at all times, providing the organization with a solid team of professionals and services so that all systems are working all the time. Contributing to this success means that you need to have good relationships with you everybody, from your suppliers to your support staff.
That doesn’t mean that you have to get along with everyone all the time, though; there is always a time and a place for disagreements and conflict in the workplace. The most important aspect of this is the way that you deal with these situations as they arise. There is nothing worse in an IT department than a manager that nobody wants to work with, which makes for resentful employees and inattentive suppliers. You should always work to get the most out of your teams and suppliers by keeping the peace when you need to.
You might have a different idea about what constitutes a more positive engagement and contribution within an IT department if you are at the helm, and that is great. Think about what value you bring to the organization when you are in charge of things and really drive it home to the interviewers.
14. How long have you been an IT manager for and how many people have you managed?
This is a classic manager question and it comes up often. Your experience as a manager will come in handy regardless of the industry when it comes to managing people, but an IT manager has to understand many other subsystems that keep the business operations going around the clock.
The more people you have managed in your team, the more responsibility you have had to deal with and the more people skills you have probably developed over the years. This is great in most managerial positions, but in IT the people are only a small percentage of what you need to focus on. Be sure to talk about the systems that you have managed and how the people that you were responsible for managing were able to do so with your help and guidance.
This question is generally looking to find out how many years you have been in charge of managing people in the workplace and how comfortable you are with the responsibility. Most managerial positions will have an element of Human Resource functions because of the way that sick days, leave days and personal days need to be requested, approved or denied. If the role is more technical and has a smaller team, then questions like these might not come up as much. But most IT departments will have a human component that needs to be managed, so be ready to go into detail if the interviewer asks how you handle employees in general.
15. What are some of the technical projects that you have overseen?
This is a fun question to answer, especially if you have some accomplishments that you are proud of. Frame your answer in relation to the problem that you had to solve and then outline the solution, how you found it and how you implemented it. Speak about the results and how it added value to the business.
At this point in the interview you should probably have an idea of what technical abilities the interview panel is looking for in their potential CTO. Try to answer the questions in such a way that you show that you are aware of what they are looking for and that you can relate some of your skills to their current needs.
16. How would you describe your management style?
A question like this can trip you up in the interview if you’ve never actually sat down and thought about what your management style actually is. Are you an autocratic dictator that takes no input from subordinates and imposes your will on them at all times? Or are you more consultative and open with your team, preferring dialogue and two-way communication? You could have more of a democratic disposition that favors the majority rule, or you could be completely hands-off with your managerial approach.
The reality is that most managers are a mixture of more than one of these traits, so think about how you fit into these generic styles and how to explain your own unique approach to common problems.
The company might have a specific management style that they are looking for, but that is seldom the case. Most modern organizations value the output of a given department more than sticking to a set managerial standard, so be honest with your methods and see if you are a good fit. If you feel like you could learn to adopt a new managerial style to fit in with the organization’s standards, then that is also something to think about mentioning if the opportunity presents itself.
17. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
These questions can be a real shock to the system if you haven’t prepared for them, and they are even more shocking if you realize that you don’t have a ten-year plan. Think about your current trajectory and how that might fit in with the company that you are joining. Mention that you feel like you could continue on a technical path if the right position came along, if that is something that you want, or even set your sights on higher goals such as CSO or CTO within a company.
You will need to gauge how the interviewers are expecting you to respond to a question like this, because each panel of interviewers is different. You don’t want to come across as having no goals, so think carefully about what you are trying to achieve with your career. Remember to make upskilling a big part of your progression because in IT you can fall behind very quickly if you stop keeping current with your certifications and practical experience.
18. What is the best way to handle an employee that is not performing at their best, despite being told that they are not quite up to standard?
Different people respond differently to concerns raised by management about work performance. Many, many books have been written on the topic of employee management, and yet it is still a very difficult thing to do.
Perhaps you have a special way of speaking with such individuals, or maybe you prefer to have them sit down for an informal meeting so that you can catch up with them and find out what would make things easier for them to reach their goals.
You could be on the other end of the spectrum, preferring to discipline your employees and remind them that their jobs rely entirely on their performance. Either way, you can outline your own methods and strategies that you have used in the past to stop poor performance by staff members and turn things around for them. If you are managing your team properly then everyone will want to reach the targets that are set for them, which means that your projects will be completed on time and that your bosses will be happy with the way that their IT systems are running and performing.
19. How do you keep your team motivated, especially when things are going wrong?
Positive reinforcement is important in managerial positions, mainly because a member of your team that is feeling uncertain or threatened in the face of adversity is far more likely to give up on a task, perform it badly or not show up to work that day.
Your job as a manager is not to babysit and make sure that everybody gets what they want. Instead, your job is primarily to give your team the tools that they need to accomplish the tasks that have been set for you all and to get the work done properly.
20. Have you ever had to provide negative feedback to your team members? Have you ever had to dismiss an employee?
Providing negative feedback is an important part of managing people, so getting it right is essential. Privately speaking with someone when they aren’t quite meeting the expectations that the department has laid out for them is difficult, but necessary. You need to be firm and explain what the issues are and how they can be fixed. Provide solutions for your staff and you will see them turn things around, but as with most interventions, this needs to be addressed and implemented sooner rather than later.
Hiring and firing is a part of the cycle in any organization, so it should come as no surprise to you that at this level of employment, you hold a lot of responsibility for the company and for your staff. How you treat people when they are not performing at their best or when they are not hitting their targets is difficult for some people to balance correctly. Some managers have the right temperament for hiring and firing, while others simply cannot deal with the stress of having power over another person’s job. If you are new to managing people, then this is something that you should really think about and possibly work on if it is something that you have not had much experience with.
Communication and Operational Questions
How you communicate with your team members, the users that make up the majority of the company and the executives will be different for each group. Sometimes an interviewer may want to gauge your understanding of these different levels of communication and how much information you are able to relay to affected parties whenever there are issues that need to be looked at urgently.
Another key aspect to running a successful IT department is your understanding of how the business operates, and which systems affect the different parts of your business if they stop working correctly or go offline. In these situations it is important to get the right level of communications out to the right people as soon as possible so that backup and redundancy planning can be put into place. These questions will cover a wide range of topics as they relate to internal processes, Disaster Recovery, communication and more.
21. How do you relay important information to upper management in times of crisis?
This is an important question because modern organizations communicate with customers and suppliers in real time, so if an ordering system goes offline or a website can’t be reached then business cannot continue until the problems have been resolve. The higher-ups in your company are likely to get direct communication from their suppliers and partners when things stop working, so you never want to be the last to know when systems go offline. You want to explain the importance of communicating with management while directing your team to attend to the problem as soon as it becomes apparent that there is an issue.
Explain the importance of live system monitoring and fault escalations that you may have implemented in your previous company. Many systems provide direct to mobile messaging when a vital system stops responding, so you and your team are never caught off-guard when things fail. Talk about the standard communications escalation policies that you are familiar with and how each of the different management structures are notified not only with the fault, but also with a report on what is being done, and by whom, to fix the problem.
Email and phone calls are still the workhorses of communication in many companies, but there are also other ways of getting the message out, especially to your customers and partners. Social media has become a standard platform for communication, with most organizations having a dedicated social media presence to alert the public of any outages when they occur.
22. How do you manage disaster recovery?
Some IT managers will oversee the DR procedures when a critical event occurs, while others will take a less active role and await communication from the teams that are busy working on the problem. Your technical know-how and confidence in your DR procedure will determine which type of manager you are, so think about your preferred method of approaching disasters in the server room or at the hosting site. Explain that you revise and test your DR plans regularly with your team and that a DR event can usually dealt with effectively if the right plans have been made and practiced.
The main thing to relay to the interviewer is that you are a firm believer in the DR process and that it needs to be implemented as a matter of urgency if it hasn’t been formalized. You can explain the different traditional systems that are included in your standard DR plans and let them know how you prefer to structure your documentation so that anybody who is attending the incident can follow a step-by-step guide. This ensures that the likelihood of recovering from the event is as high as possible.
This is also a good time to mention communication if you haven’t already had the chance, and mention who you would prioritize in such a scenario to receive communications first.
23. What are your strongest skills while managing projects?
There is no one skill that makes you a successful project manager in IT, mainly because there are so many different factors that need to be considered during the process of project management. A question like this is looking to understand what skills you think you possess that make you good at keeping you team on track.
Pick your strengths and elaborate on how they help you to get things finished on time and within budget. Communication would be an obvious choice, because it is necessary for coordinating and relaying information between your teams, stakeholders and clients. Feel free to add your own if you feel like you can add more value to the answer.
24. What is the biggest IT-related challenge that you faced as an IT manager?
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. This is an excellent opportunity for you to speak about your accomplishments over the years and how you were able to effectively communicate with others as you worked. Think about challenges that needed your full attention: Coordinating your team, speaking with management, informing staff, designing a project map — anything that showcases your ability to work with company resources to achieve your goals.
You can go into as much detail as you think you need to, based on how the interview has gone up until this point. Be sure to ask the interviewers if they would like more clarity on any of the points that you raise and be sure to answer any questions that they do bring up as concisely and as thoroughly as possible.
25. How do you cope with multiple deadlines at the same time?
If questions like this get raised in an interview, then you should know that the role that you are going into is going to be a challenging one. Meeting multiple deadlines is a fine balancing act between projects, routine tasks, managing your staff, maintaining SLAs and uptime and many other factors.
You need to let the interviewer know that you are able to prioritize and delegate your workload to help you achieve the best level of work output possible. How you determine those priorities is set by what is expected of you in the organization. Mention that your decisions are influenced largely by the organization’s requirements so that the operational integrity of the company is not affected.
26. How important is documentation to you?
Keeping documentation is really important in IT, especially if you are working within an industry that is regulated by strict rules and codes of conduct. Failure to consider how your records need to be kept in a set standard will definitely cause issues further down the road when audits and system checks take place. If your record-keeping is not up to scratch, then you run the risk of exposing the company to unnecessary regulatory fallout.
If you are familiar with international standards such as ITIL and COBIT, then be sure to mention your experience with these IT governance frameworks. Some companies work with governmental agencies, so understanding those additional requirements can be a definite plus as well.
27. Based on what we have told you so far, what changes do you think you could make to improve the IT department?
This is a tricky question to answer, but don’t worry too much about what you think needs to be changed at this point. The interviewer is trying to gauge how well you have understood the background and history of the department based on what they have told you over the course of the interview, or interviews (depending on how far along you are in the process).
Keep your answers straightforward and keep them framed as suggestions. You don’t want to come across as being overly confident at this stage of the game, because you have a pretty low-resolution idea of how the IT department is structured. You also don’t really know how well the team operates, so much of what you suggest is not going to be taken too seriously anyway.
Just be sure to think about some of the challenges that you have been told about during the interview and base your answers around those facts. If you have interesting suggestions that would benefit most IT departments, then feel free to add those on as well. It shows that you are always thinking of improving the way that your department runs, which could also count in your favor.
28. How do you negotiate when acquiring new hardware or software?
Whenever an IT manager needs to make a case to the business for a large capital outlay, there needs to be a clear reasons for the request. If you are looking to replace all of the workstations in your organization, for example, you would need to get quite a few things in order before you can even put the request through. You need multiple quotes from various suppliers, and you need a project plan with a scope of work, time frames, business impact and a projected ROI and cost schedule. Once you have all of this information you can go to the upper management structures and begin negotiating.
It is important that you make sure that you get the message across that it is not always possible to get everything that you want when negotiating for new equipment and applications. Some IT managers will over-ask for the request so that if they need to make a compromise, they can sacrifice the items that they need the least from the request. Everyone has their own personal method of negotiating, so take some time to think about your preferred strategies and share them if the question comes up.
An IT manager that knows how to negotiate on behalf of the IT department can actually improve the way that the business operates, so even though you might meet resistance from the financial wing of the organization, you are bettering the organization as a whole when you make smart choices about your acquisitions and spending.
29. How do you ensure that company data is secure and that operations are not affected by security breaches or incidents?
Depending on the full scope of your position as IT manager, you might not be entirely responsible for the security of company data. Yes, you do need to be aware of best practices and company policies; however, your stance on the organization’s security procedures will largely be defined by the CSO or IT security manager. Smaller companies might have you performing all three roles together, so you need to be clear about your preferences and how they are the best choice for a specific setup if you are the one tasked with creating security policies for the organization.
You don’t want to go into too much detail here unless the interviewer asks you for more information, so be sure to brush up on your own security standards and best practices before the interview so that you can give them an overview of your preferred security implementations.
30. How important is communication to your management strategy?
Being able to effectively communicate is one of the key skills that a manager needs to have mastered if they are to be successful in their role in charge of an IT department. Communication is more than just emails, though. You need to be able to speak in front of people in meetings and give talks on various topics that relate to your mission as IT manager.
It is important that the interviewer see that you are serious about keeping the lines of communication open with management, your team and the users within the company whenever there are IT-related issues or queries. Communication is one of the most important aspects of your role as IT manager, so you need show that you understand its importance in the role.
Interviewing for a managerial position is always a bit stressful, even if you have been in the role for a long time. This is because you understand how many systems and subsystems need to be maintained and kept up to date if you are to succeed as an IT manager, and that’s before you even start to consider the human element of the job.
Being able to effectively manage your staff is critical to the success of the company. Every minute that your team is idle is costing the company money, so you need to have work available for your team at all times.
Remember to practice answering some of these questions and prepare yourself by thinking about the answers that you want to give. It is tempting to sometimes go into these interviews unprepared, especially if you feel that spontaneity is one of your strong points, but you should reconsider. Having a basic framework for each answer will help you stay on target and answer the interview questions carefully and to the best of your ability. With a bit of practice, you will find your answers becoming more natural.
Remember that the more questions you practice with, the more chance you have of carrying yourself confidently in the interview. There are many more questions that you can practice with than these thirty examples! We recommend that you take a look at Skillset.com, which has more than 100,000 practice questions related to various certifications. The list of cert-related questions included is vast, with PMP, CISSP, CEH, CHFI, Network+ and Security+ being just a few examples of what you can use to practice with before your next interview.
Stay focused, relax and good luck!
- New PM Articles for the Week of February 25 – March 3, The Practicing IT Project Manager
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