Home > Articles > The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 14: The Interview

The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 14: The Interview

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Cisco Press.
  • Date: Jan 25, 2008.

Practice Your Interview Skills

An interview is, in effect, a performance of sorts. Your composure and poise when answering difficult questions go a long way in setting you apart from others who are being interviewed. Some people interview better than others. Unfortunately, if you have difficulty interviewing—for whatever reason—you are going to be handicapped in your job search.

Note, however, that you can go places to get experience without having to botch interviews. These might stretch you well beyond your comfort zone, but they are worth the time and effort:

  • Toastmasters— I also mention Toastmasters in Chapter 7, "Communications Skills.". Toastmasters is an organization that is dedicated to improving an individual's ability to give presentations. It is not directly geared toward interview skills. However, the organization has drills on how to give an impromptu presentation in front of a group. The practice of quickly thinking on your feet is one that is critical to effective interview skills.Typically, Toastmasters groups meet at predetermined times (once a week or once or twice a month). You can find out more about Toastmasters and find local chapters by visiting the Toastmasters website at http://www.toastmasters.org.
  • Local colleges— Most local colleges offer courses in speech communications or presentation skills. Once again, these are not synonymous with interviews. However, just as with Toastmasters, you might be able to refine aspects of on-the-fly verbal communications.

Be Prepared to Answer Difficult Questions

I am often amazed at the surprise of many interviewees when faced with a pointed question. Typically, employers throw one or two into the mix. They want to see the interviewee's reaction, to test the ability of the applicant to think on his feet.

In my consulting business, I often interviewed technologists. My first question often threw them on their heels. I would simply ask, "Are you smart, or are you stupid?"

My small consulting company placed technologists in a variety of environments on a daily basis. I needed people who were technically savvy but also highly adaptable. I could not have someone who was easily flustered when presented with a difficult situation. That question gave me an idea as to how someone might react in such a situation.

I do not expect that you will ever be faced with such a blunt question. However, I do expect that you might be faced with one or more of the questions described in the sections that follow, in addition to a few that aren't mentioned.

Prepare yourself to answer the following questions. More importantly, prepare yourself for questions that force you to think on your feet. Poise and confidence go a long way toward helping you answer effectively.

What Professional Accomplishment Are You Most Proud Of?

If possible, use the same piece of information that you supplied in your cover letter. It gives you a starting-off point, and if the interviewer has reviewed your cover letter, it lends itself to a cohesive message.

What Do You Feel Is Your Greatest Strength? Greatest Weakness?

I pose the two together because if you are asked one, it is likely the other will follow. My advice: Be honest. The employer will find out both if you're hired anyway.

If you have trouble with these questions, refer back to Chapter 5, "Self-Assessment."

When it comes to your weakness, however, frame it in a way that demonstrates an understanding of how you deal with it. For example, if you have trouble keeping track of various tasks, explain how you utilize and keep an accurate and up-to-date day planner.

Don't use a pseudo-weakness to make yourself look good. For example, I have heard interviewees, when asked about their greatest weakness, say, "I work too hard. Often, I take too much work home or stay too late."

The statement sounds trite and arrogant. It won't go over well. The interviewer wants to see if you have a strong sense of your abilities. It is the person who understands his limitations and has plans on how to remedy or work within them that brings value.

Why Are You Leaving Your Last Job?

Honesty is your best policy here. For some, the idea of conveying that you did not like the company or a boss is a difficult one. However, I believe this is more a question of how you frame it. Saying "My boss was a jerk" is probably not going to get you points during the interview.

However, claiming that you felt it was time to move on to a company whose direction better matched your career objectives should be acceptable.

When asked why you are leaving one company for another, it is important that you frame your answer so that you don't disparage your prior employer. Try to present uncomfortable situations in the most flattering light. Table 14-1 provides some ideas on how you can portray key situations that might be causing you to leave a prior employer.

Table 14-1. Diplomacy for Explaining Departure from Your Previous Job

Reason for Leaving

How You Might Explain It

I was fired!

Ouch! This is a tough one. Of course, a company and individual part ways for various reasons. You might say this:

"The company was moving in a professional direction that was incompatible with my professional goals."

Bad management

It is almost never a good idea to speak poorly of bad management, even if your current interviewer seems empathetic or disparages the other company himself. Maintain strict professionalism in this case. You might say this:

"I am looking for a management team that is better focused on company objectives and who helps its staff achieve them. I have heard good things about your company, and I feel I would make a good addition to the team."

Lack of training opportunities at the old company

This is a great reason to leave a company. If training is not part of a company's plan or budget, consider moving on. A company's commitment to its employees can be assessed not only by pay and insurance. Particularly in IT, training is a huge factor, one that impacts overall career growth and satisfaction. You might say this:

"I am looking for a company that works with its employees to ensure that skills match the required tasks and one that places importance on training and future skills."

Moral/ethical issues

If your previous company was involved in unethical practices—consider the case of Arthur Andersen and Enron in 2002, for example—you have to assess your interviewer's awareness of this fact. If your prior company's problems were highly publicized, you might need to address them head-on—acknowledging them openly in the interview. You might say this:

"I need to find a company that is more ethical in its business practices. I need a management team that places a high priority on integrity and honesty."

In all cases, instead of using the question as an opportunity to speak poorly about your past employer or indicate bitterness or complaint, frame the answers positively. The easiest way to do this is to reiterate what you are looking for in the new opportunity instead of focusing on the problems that existed at your prior company.

Although a myriad of reasons exist for leaving a company, the sampling in Table 14-1 is meant as a guideline. As you can see, I am attempting to frame each situation in light of positives with the new company. Although you are implying subtlety that the prior opportunity did not meet your expectations in this area, framing it positively for the new opportunity allows your interviewer to justify and explain how its company meets your requirements. In effect, the interviewer can begin to see how you are looking for a company just like that one.

There is nothing wrong with looking for personal advancement and financial/professional gain. If the reason for your leaving a company is to find a better opportunity and make more money, let the employer know.

Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

"On a white sandy beach in the Caribbean."

That's a good answer, but it's probably not what the interviewer is looking for. Once again, honesty is the best policy. Let the interviewer know your professional aspirations. Motivated employees generally produce better and are more valuable. Contrary to popular misconception, most managers are not threatened by good employees. A manager advances to the degree that he develops others. Good managers will seek out employees who want to get ahead and be rewarded.

If you are unfortunate enough to run across a manager who is threatened by your ambition and talent, it is better to know this during the interview rather than two years into a miserable job experience.

3. After the Interview | Next Section Previous Section

Cisco Press Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Cisco Press and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Cisco Press products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@ciscopress.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Cisco Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.ciscopress.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020