If you’re interviewing for a new IT position in 2021, you can expect to be asked questions about 2020.
Sure, IT talent will get technical questions as usual. You can usually get a sense of what’s coming in that regard from a job title and description, as well as shop talk with your peers. Depending on the role, you can probably also anticipate questions related to process and culture – think topics like agile or DevOps.
In 2021, you should also anticipate a new category of questions. Recruiters and hiring managers say that remote work and other aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a hot topic in IT job interviews. And that will remain true even when the pandemic ends since its effects will be long-lasting.
[ Where is your IT career headed? Read also: IT careers: 10 critical skills to master in 2021. ]
8 IT job interview questions for 2021
Here are eight of the top IT job interview questions that employers are likely to ask in 2021, as well as context and advice when thinking about responses. It’s IT job interview prep, work-from-home edition.
1. Are you willing to work on-site again at some point in the year ahead?
What once would have likely seemed like a thoroughly strange interview question – are you willing to come into the office to work? – could become commonplace for the foreseeable future. And it’s number one on our list for a reason.
“The most important question we are hearing during interviews has become: ‘How much work from home will you need post-COVID-19?’ and ‘how many times [per week or month] are you willing to come into the office?’” says Patrick Gareau, an IT staffing expert at Robert Half Technology. “It’s something we’ve never heard or dealt with [on this scale] before. Basically, every firm is now competing with the 100 percent remote roles, so it is typically being addressed in the first interview for a new job.”
This could be a delicate topic for both the interviewer and candidate for various reasons; the employer’s future plans in terms of at least a partial reopening of their on-site locations may still be TBD, for starters.
For job seekers, the potential awkwardness stems from a different source: “There is no correct answer to that question – it all depends on the situation,” Gareau says.
His advice is pretty straightforward: Just be honest about what you are willing or able to do in terms of on-site versus remote work. There’s no upside in signaling that you would be willing to return to the traditional office if you have no interest in doing so, for example.
[ Get more tips. Read also: Working from home after COVID-19: 6 ways to make your case. ]
This is also an opportunity to ask your own questions: What are the employer’s future plans in terms of on-site work? Gareau anticipates some companies are going to want people to come in at least part of the time. If you’re willing to do that, it could be an advantage.
On the other hand, this aspect of the employment relationship is negotiable, at least until the point that the hiring manager says it isn’t. If you’re in the running for a particularly in-demand technical role, you likely have plenty of leverage to negotiate for a fully (or mostly) remote role. That’s especially true given what Gareau already noted: Companies hiring with the intent to eventually return to the office are directly competing for talent with companies that will continue to offer remote work indefinitely.
Gareau currently sees software developers and cloud or DevOps engineers asking for remote positions most frequently.
“Combine the fact that those jobs can be done from home, and those candidates are in huge demand, [that means] there is the ability to negotiate it easier than other skill sets,” Gareau says
[ What three kinds of stories should you prepare to tell during an interview? Read also: The secret to interview preparation. ]
2. How did your company adapt to COVID and a remote workforce? How did you help your company adapt?
Expect some form of these questions to also be regulars at the interview table – or interview Zoom room – in 2021. That’s because the pandemic’s impacts will likely last for a long time after it is declared “over.” But it’s also a more specific way for hiring managers to gauge a person’s flexibility and resilience, and their ability to adapt to changing conditions.
It’s also a big opportunity for IT pros to showcase their skills in a meaningful way: WFH would simply not be possible without people like you.
“Most companies would not have been able to move their workforce overnight to working fully remote without the help of talented technologists,” says Jenna Spathis, unit manager, technology services at LaSalle Network.
This could apply to many technical roles, but Spathis notes that it is especially relevant to core infrastructure and operations roles: Think sysadmins and systems engineers, network administrators and engineers, security pros, help desk personnel, and so on.
“These professionals likely had a hand in rolling out processes, procedures, and new technologies to a workforce that may not have been used to working remotely,” Spathis says. “New technologies may include collaboration tools or security tools to protect against phishing [because of] increased phishing attempts this year.”
If you had a hand in rolling out new cloud services or infrastructure to support the sudden shift to long-term remote work, talk that up. If you’re interviewing for a leadership role, you’ll want to think about how to describe your management strategy when everyone is working remotely.
[ Related read: Remote work: 6 ways struggling managers can reset. ]
Regardless of your role, Spathis says this is a topic where you can show off: Don’t downplay your specific role in helping a previous employer rapidly shift its operations.
“Humblebrag – how did your work positively impact and keep or increase efficiency for your organization?” Spathis says.
3. What examples can you give of how you've adapted your plans when circumstances changed?
Consider this the more individually focused drill-down on the second question: What changes did you make to overcome the challenges that everyone faced in 2020? (Of course, you can talk about other challenges you’ve overcome, too.)
Ian Hensen, client success manager at Philantech3, says this is an important one for employers to ask because, again, the impacts of COVID-19 will be felt indefinitely.
“We’ve not felt the pandemic’s effects ease yet, so having team members who are flexible and can roll with changes will be very important for time to come,” Hensen says.
For candidates, it’s a chance to talk up how you evolved personally in the face of such extraordinary circumstances. Even building a unique or innovative home-office setup could be a positive part of this answer. Hensen suggests being as specific as possible.
“The pandemic should give [you] at least a few things to describe how [you] dealt with unexpected changes that came up,” Hensen says.
[ Read also: How to answer 7 top DevOps interview questions and How to spot a great software developer: 7 interview questions. ]
4. What have you learned about how IT operates in a fully remote organization?
Nick Allo, director of IT services at SemTech IT, expects that employers will get into the weeds with questions about home office setups, sufficient bandwidth, and such for any WFH positions. But he thinks they’d be better served focusing on the IT environment itself and what the candidate has learned as a result of 2020’s circumstances. With the exception of teams or organizations that already had deep experience with remote work, this was a significant learning experience: How do we do our jobs without ever going into the office?
“The questions should be more about how they can overcome challenges within their IT environment regarding situations where all users are being sent home,” Allo says. “For example: How does the candidate think they can be better prepared to address those challenges?”
Many IT pros now have a serious crash course in running technology for a fully remote workforce to add to their resume. The phrase “business continuity” is no longer an abstract “what if?” scenario, but something many IT pros experienced hands-on.
[ Read also: 3 types of IT leaders emerge from the pandemic. ]
It’s another storytelling opportunity for job seekers. For instance: What have you learned about a specific platform or tool as a result of working remotely? What have you learned about how teams build software when they never see each other IRL? How does DevOps culture influence WFH culture, or vice versa?
This is also a good example of a broad question that can be turned around and asked of the employer: How did their IT organization change as a result of the pandemic? How will they do things differently as a result of what they’ve learned?
Let’s delve into four more questions to expect - touching on security and digital transformation:
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