A Network Engineer is an expert in computer science who is responsible for the implementation, maintenance and improvement of networks. Their vast understanding of hardware and software helps companies optimize operational efficiency, and the support they provide ensures that critical internal systems are always fast, secure and maintained.
A qualified candidate will demonstrate a strong understanding of the relationship between systems and the sequential thinking and behavioral patterns necessary to be a good engineer. Look for a Network Engineer with at least five years of relevant work experience, excellent verbal and written communication skills, and a keen attention to detail.
General interview questions (such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why are you looking for another job?”) are a great way to get to know your candidate’s personal history, interests, and goals. However, be sure to add inquiries specific to the role they’re interviewing for, so you can gain valuable insights into their likelihood of success in that position.
Below are Network Engineer interview questions to help you get started:
1. What experience influenced you the most to become a Network Engineer?
What you want to hear: The candidate should be able to summarize what made them want to become a Network Engineer. Even if they are not able to produce a single most influential experience, they should be able to express various reasons why they decided to pursue their career.
Red flag: Computer science is a vast field, and the right candidate will be able to explain why they were drawn to their particular line of work and what makes it worthwhile to them. An inability to do so may signal a lack of passion or devotion to the field.
2. What are some of the most valuable tools you use on a daily basis?
What you want to hear: A Network Engineer should have a list of tools and resources they draw upon. Some of their answers may include software such as PuTTY, ZenMap and Python. They should also mention specific software programs that allow them to monitor network traffic, collect data, and conduct routine troubleshooting.
Red flag: A candidate who cannot identify major tools that are relevant to their industry likely lacks the experience needed to perform at a high level in the role. Different Network Engineers may rely on different software based on company standards or requirements, but they should be able to easily list what types of tools are most valuable to them and what they are used for.
3. What is your experience collaborating with developers and stakeholders?
What you want to hear: A Network Engineer must have strong cross-collaborative abilities, and they should be able to work with a variety of people to support a network and ensure that it performs flawlessly across multiple tiers.
Red flag: Network Engineers are industry experts, and they should have substantial managerial experience. Part of being a quality manager is working closely with others and structuring communication across multiple parties. The inability to effectively manage can lead to operational errors and inefficiencies.
4. Describe the largest network project you ever had to work on.
What you want to hear: Listen for a Network Engineer who can quickly summarize their largest project, and who can go into further detail when prompted. A simple, clear explanation demonstrates strong communication skills and an attention to detail.
Red flag: If a Network Engineer cannot recall their largest project, they may be underqualified or may simply not have invested enough attention into their work. A Network Engineer should remember their largest project because it was likely one of their greatest professional challenges.
5. Can you walk me through your general troubleshooting process?
What you want to hear: This question is an opportunity to evaluate their analytical thinking and creative problem-solving techniques. A good answer will start by identifying unnecessary detail and eliminating it, followed by checking for the most obvious causes of network malfunction including power outages and high activity levels. Listen for an explanation that reflects analysis in sequential order.
Red flag: A Network Engineer candidate who cannot clearly express how they would approach a problem is a risk for causing unnecessary delays in resolving system shutdowns or malfunctions. Troubleshooting is a routine part of their job, and one of their core responsibilities.
6. How do you scale networks to match a company’s growth?
What you want to hear: Companies are constantly evolving in terms of number and types of employees, as well as business functions. A Network Engineer is in charge of ensuring that networks likewise evolve and are able to meet new operational challenges without sacrificing efficiency or disrupting business. A good response will highlight the candidate’s understanding of network scaling practices and explain how they worked to scale a network in the past.
Red flag: A Network Engineer who doesn’t know how to scale and does not express a willingness to learn will impede your company’s ability to grow by failing to maintain operational efficiencies and individual and team productivity.
7. What was the biggest challenge you ever faced with a developer or fellow engineer, and how did you resolve it?
What you want to hear: Network engineering requires frequent communication and collaboration with others. A strong response will demonstrate the candidate’s ability to resolve conflict quickly and create solutions that prioritize the company’s network needs.
Red flag: A candidate who does not have significant experience working with others either lacks experience in a larger scale environment or prefers to go it alone with a “lone wolf” mentality. Be sure to match the candidate’s response with your company’s needs; for example, if your company has a multi-person IT department you may consider a candidate who is already well-versed in collaboration and conflict management.
8. What is the first thing you do on a new job?
What you want to hear: Network Engineers have to know each project’s network inside and out. They should discuss conducting a general survey, reviewing past data, and familiarizing themselves with the business’s existing infrastructure and security measures.
Red flag: A candidate who fails to explain how they acclimate to a new work environment or undertake new projects may require a longer than desirable period to “ramp up”, causing delays in completing their workload and potentially having a negative effect on productivity of the rest of the IT team.
9. How would you go about expanding a network to accommodate roughly 5,000 new connections?
What you want to hear: A candidate should explore several different options for expanding network capability. Their answer should also include common scaling methods such as network characterization and bandwidth expansion.
Red flag: A candidate who only lists one way to expand a network and does not discuss acquiring information about the current network before expansion is a risk for failing to meet the company’s scaling needs.
10. How do you work with clients who are impatient and demand immediate solutions?
What you want to hear: A Network Engineer will have good customer service skills and be able to communicate with clients while working on a problem. They should avoid using technical speech, express empathy, and ask questions to determine the scale of the problem.
Red flag: A candidate who does not demonstrate strong interpersonal and communication skills in an interview is likely to lack these important qualities in the workplace. Look for someone who will blend into the culture of your company and be a calming presence in the face of urgency and employee frustration.
Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Network Engineer position.
Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:
- Demonstrate analytical thinking and a strong procedural nature
- Can express networking procedures at different levels, e.g. from everyday language to professional terminology
- Understand the fluidity of networking and is comfortable expanding projects