Leadership

When interviewing, find out how the company views IT

Finding out how a company views IT is crucial in deciding whether to accept a position. Use the interview to ask some questions that will give you clues to their view of IT.

I've stressed many times that an interview is not just an exercise is convincing a potential employer that you're the best person for the job. It's also a vehicle by which a job candidate can find out if a company is suited for him or her.

This is important for any numbers of reasons, including determining if its a good psychological fit, that there is room for growth, that the position will utilize the skills you're best at, etc. But it's particularly important for those in the information technology field to know "what they're getting into." Here's why:

Knowing how a company views its IT department is a crucial element in making the decision to accept a job. Some companies view IT as they would the building's property manager--just keep the lights on and we're good. Other companies, particularly the more savvy ones who understand the connection between IT and the bottom line, will value input from their IT departments and will treat IT as a partner.

If you're being interviewed by an IT person, you can sometimes get the inside track. You wouldn't be offending the person by asking how the company views its IT initiatives.

If your initial interview is with someone in HR, you might as well save the question because that person will likely have no idea. But if, in the second interview, you meet the hiring manager, you should ask some guiding questions about IT's role. Ask the obvious ones like:

*"What OS does the company use?" It's not fiscally possible for all companies to stay at the forefront of OS migrations, but if you get an answer along the lines of: "We're sticking with NT, because if it ain't broken, why fix it, you know?" you have the right to be reasonably alarmed.

*"What mobile devices does your company support?" If the CEO refers to an iPhone as a "newfangled gadget," then that might be a red flag.

*"How does your company integrate its business intelligence?" Again, if by "business intelligence" the CEO thinks you're talking about Fred, the company accountant, you might want to flee the site.

I'm being facetious to some extent, but you get the idea. There are non-invasive ways of finding out how a company views technology.

Of course, you might purposefully choose to join a company that is a little behind on its technology. It might be a good way for you to become a leader for the company in a very important field. You will also more likely be the be-all end-all for all issues technical. It can be both good and bad if the other employees think of you as the go-to person for everything IT. You become known for a certain set of skills, which can raise your profile and make you indispensable in their eyes.

Of course, it also means that you'll be the one everyone turns to regarding anything remotely mechanical or technical. In other words, people will be asking you about their personal cell phones and their TiVo.

Either way, the interview is a good way to discern the atmosphere of a company before making a commitment.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

34 comments
gmmoon
gmmoon

I've now been at my current position 10 years, longer than with any other employer. But I've considered jumping ship twice because of the remarkable disdain the user base holds for IT. I never thought to ask the larger question to Human Resources about what they thought - I would have run the other way!

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

The defacto rule where I work seems to be "anything smarter than a vaccuum cleaner that uses electricity is IT's problem".

Geek Gurl
Geek Gurl

Hey at least you get anything smarter than a vaccuum cleaner and things that use electricity! Here, if it has a battery, plugs into a wall, or has anything even remotely "techie" we get it here in IT. Digital cameras, personal cell phones, the door "clicker" for the lobby/receptionist, the list is never ending. Since there are only two of us in IT, we laugh about it. It's really hilarious to see what people think we should be responsible for. Selectric anyone? LOL

Nonapeptide
Nonapeptide

If an employer has the attitude "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" that's not bad of itself. If only more IT people would stop tinkering just for the sake of tinkering or more business leaders would stop upgrading just to say they've got the latest and greatest, many IT mishaps would have never happened. The problem with the sentiment is that the employer used that attitude to justify NT4. NT4 *is* broken and *does* need to be fixed. The fact that they haven't been rooted from here to Zimbabwe is amazing... and in fact they probably already have been and are a chief component to the Conficker botnet. Just wanted to clarify that. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" is something all IT people should heartily agree to. However, the larger issue is properly identifying what's broken and then how it should be fixed. Does the company give those decisions to the IT department? If so, great. If it's the business leaders making those decisions, then they already have an IT department and it's the CFO, CEO, COO, etc.

Computer Dave
Computer Dave

While the article makes some valid points about the interview process, I have to wonder what economy it was written for? When was the last time you had more than one job offer in front of you at the same time? Ever? While un-employed and searching I was lucky to line-up more than 1 interview in the same week. I can recall going 3 months without so much as a call-back or a phone interview. Sorry, but for the foreseable future we IT folks are not in the driver's seat. This ain't the late 90's and we're not in Kansas anymore. ~Dave

mmcguire
mmcguire

Is the one question I receive all the time. As the company's only IT person, I've discovered that I am that person that everyone always comes to for advice on everything technical. Just because I can manage a small 100+ user base and network infrastructure, usually means in their eyes that I know how to fix everything from Cell phones to Microwave ovens. The job isin't without it's perks however. I do get to make important decisions as to where our company moves, but then again I am the ONLY one that knows the ins and outs of everything that has been implemented here within the past 2 years. With no IT staff under me, it can sometimes be fun and at other times very stressful. When I interviewed for the position I had no idea what I was going to do at a car dealership. I have since found out that there is a LOT that can be done if your the right type of individual to diversify your talents. Not only do I manage all the company's IT initiatives, but I also found out I'm pretty good at digital marketing, Graphic design, web administration and design, telecommunications, customer service, and a whole slew of other talents that allow me to be invaluable to the company. When I tried to go on vacation last year, I was called back early because I was the only one who knew how to set up a scanner for our Cash for Clunkers deals. This year I've learned my lesson. I'm disconnecting from all things that beep, boop or otherwise have something to do with technology. I will effectively be LOST in my own back yard. Even if you ask all the right questions, you may still find that your position (as well as you thought you knew it) may not be the same in a year or 2 years time. I would recommend looking into the company's facebook page first. If they don't have one or don't want one, there's a full time opportunity that you can exploit as well. Good Luck and make sure you ask the employees there how they like their job. If a lot of them hate their jobs, run away!

Vettefreak
Vettefreak

Now that's good advice! Taken from a man in the same situations you describe. There are many rewards to being the "go to guy", but just as many head aches. One should learn to balance the job requirements and personal responsibilities. Family first..no matter what. These are the things in life that should matter most.

Cerebral*Origami
Cerebral*Origami

As I AM the IT dept. Early on I became responsible for fixing the printers/plotters, photocopiers, PBX phone system, pretty much anything electronic. I also work on anyone's personal computer if they bring it in to the shop. AND as I used to work in building renovation I get to build "work walls" (free standing wall tied together with power sockets, liquid nitrogen lines, lights, etc. (the electricians do the final wiring but I install the boxes) And as the drafting dept I am currently working on a new building layout. (I am a MECHANICAL draftsman but I can do the basics and have a licensed architect approve/sign the final draft.) Now let me be perfectly clear I am NOT complaining the variety keeps me from getting bored and I have rock solid job security (which is worth a great deal these days!)

ellyaquim
ellyaquim

Will you can hire me and let me move to Michigan state to assist you..

ossyemeh
ossyemeh

This is a great one and it has been giving me some concern whenever i see an advert. But it makes me to under-rate any company if its not one of the world class companies.

LevyRecruits
LevyRecruits

Toni, if you have to wait until the interview to find out how the company views IT, you're late to the dance. With LinkedIn, forums, monthly association meetings, Meetups, Twitter, etc. as "social" targets if you can't find this info about the IT environment and that thing called culture before you put on your nice suit, you're not terribly inquisitive. Perhaps it's because articles about job search and interviewing haven't changed in decades; sell enough hammers and everything begins to look like a nail. @LevyRecruits www.recruitinginferno.com

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

LinkedIn is full of unemployed "contractors" with inflated job titles and two or three people who kiss each other's asses.

RayJeff
RayJeff

Speaking for all of the unemployed contractors out there Linkedin is one of the many resources that "we are told" to use to network to find and get work. My job titles, I wish they were inflated, then maybe I'd have better luck finding work through Linkedin *lol*. As far as "two or three people who kiss each other's asses", I only have one. An that person, she's not an ass kisser: i got her recommendation honestly :-D But, I do see your point about Linkedin. Honestly, it hasn't helped me with getting work. All it's done was give me another avenue to connect with people I already know.

mattohare
mattohare

Did he get it from creating a 'really cool Access database' but otherwise come from a non-tech background?

mel897
mel897

"Of course, it also means that you?ll be the one everyone turns to regarding anything remotely mechanical or technical. In other words, people will be asking you about their personal cell phones and their TiVo." Been there! Never bothered me though... If I had a minute I'd help... if not I'd politely decline.

danw85
danw85

Being the go-to person does sometimes have it's benefits, like bottles of wine from ex-directors for fixing their laptop. Good article, though sometimes even when the warning signs are there you should still go for it. Ask as many questions as possible so you know what you're getting yourself in for. In a small town with little IT prospects you might not have a choice!

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

One time I got a gift certificate for dinner at one of the Director's country club--for defragging a laptop.

RayJeff
RayJeff

The perks are always great, ESPECIALLY if the department is non-IT. I've worked in departments like that where I was the go-to person. I didn't mind it at all, because I enjoyed what I did and I enjoyed even more helping the users. While the perks I had weren't trips and big bonuses. I did enjoy the annual catered dinners that this one department I worked in has every year.

smithsh1138
smithsh1138

When I was networking one of the largest Native American casinos, a tribal member asked for help with his home PC (paid, of course). when I had completed the fixes satisfactorily, he asked if I liked Ray Charles... That weekend I sat 12 feet away, with my elbow just about on the stage, from a legend - who only stopped playing because his bodyguards knew it was time for him to rest. Amazing show. And that's only one of the stories in my history!

mattohare
mattohare

Some of these 'bad' places are great opportunities to fly if you have the commuication and presentation skills for it. I loved the places that had all the red flags, except for the green one being the boss that was open to new ideas that he didn't understand, and was happy to work with them.

Mike Bird
Mike Bird

One thing to carefully ask about is what the INTERVIEWER thinks is the job-spec vs what the HR team has told the Agency to write about. I've been to interviews asking for a Windows/Unix site to be told by the interviewer that they use Novell and AS400/I-Series as back-ends. Remember that the HR team isn't necessarily "tech-wise" and their instructions to the advertising people or the Agency may not be right.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

That's a good point. Many HR departments post generic job descriptions from a jobs database for whatever Human Resources software package they use. My current job was posted as Network Engineer, but when I got to the interview, it was all about setting up PCs and desktops. I took the job anyways because it paid a Network Engineer's salary and it's a small company and they needed me to do that stuff as well as the Engineering stuff. So far I'm satisfied because we're about to hire a full time PC Tech and my job will be mostly Engineering. So this goes to show you that if you think you're even remotely qualified for the job--apply. Secondly, make sure during the interview that the job you applied for is the same one on the job description.

p.maggs
p.maggs

... reminds me of the time when I was told the HR team was insisting on 5 years relevant experience in key skills, so they demanded the agency stipulate 5 years experience on Windows 95. This was January 96! I didn't attend the interview.

newcreationxavier
newcreationxavier

Inasmuch as it is good to be the helms man in a company's IT unit, sometimes it has its downsides. How much you know is the limit of that unit, problems beyond your knowledge can be very embarassing and can cost company considerable sum...worse still is when the resolution is just a simple task, but billed so much! So,I prefer to rub shoulders with the highs and mighties of an elaborate IT environment.

mialp
mialp

Excellent article Toni! I've experienced both sides of this. I was head-hunted by a London ad agency to be their IT Manager and was so well prepared for the interview that halfway through, the FD to whom I was talking stopped and asked, 'Who's being interviewed here?' I got the job and had five happy years there! Later in my career a different agency offered me the position of IT Director. Blinded by a very large salary I didn't listen to the warning bells and joined a company that was all over the place in their use of technology.

mdbdks
mdbdks

I was expecting a list of the top 30 questions to ask a potential employer that can be used to ascertain the degree that a given company values its IT organization.

dcolbert
dcolbert

The difficulty really is in tactfully asking the questions necessary to figure out the attitude that the company has toward the IT department. I've made this mistake several times now during the 20+ years of my IT career, and it *just* recently dawned on me that I need to use that "do you have any questions for us" time in interviews more effectively in the future.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Of course if they respond that they feel the iPhone is an overhyped consumer toy that offers no observable benefit over their current WinMo or Blackberry then you might want to jump right on board.

MikeLott
MikeLott

Something that I have been curious about is this question. If I politely ask prior to the start of the interview, or, following the introductions, "Would you mind if I made notes during this interview?", will this count against me? Mike

DT2
DT2

I would think that any interviewer would EXPECT you to take notes. If they don't, then you should probably think twice about working for that company.

pjaneiro
pjaneiro

Amen to that brother ! LoL Phreaking Iphones, only toys that bring headaches !!!! LoL

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