An IT wannabe tries to pass the hiring gauntlet

In this IT tale, a self-taught techie hopes resourcefulness and enthusiasm for the profession will help him in the IT door

Applying for my first IT job gave me some practical reminders. First, to succeed in life sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone to realize your goals. And second, don't discount skill sets acquired in other career experiences. I've worked in IT for about seven years, and it has certainly been the right career choice for me.

Prior to my entry into the IT world, I worked as an intake analyst for an HMO. My duties were to document patients' prior approvals for procedures and inpatient/outpatient stays, as well as provide information for providers. After about a little over a year of this, I grew bored of the same routine and yearned for something more challenging. I decided to pursue a career in IT.

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At the time this story took place, I was just finishing up my first year of community college and my second year of PC repair work that I did independently on the side. A PC technician position opened up at the HMO's help desk. I didn't have all of the requirements listed, but I did feel confident in my abilities to figure out problems and was anxious to get started with a real IT position. And I was excited about the possibility of experiencing the best of both worlds: academia and practical application. I went back and forth in my mind about whether or not to apply, but finally decided why not try and see what happened.

I sent my resume to HR and made it through the cut: My interview was scheduled for several days later.

When I arrived, I was taken aback by the number of people conducting the interview. I assumed it would be a one-on-one with the help desk manager, but it was the entire help desk. There were only nine of them, yet it was slightly intimidating.

The manager introduced me to the team and gave me an opportunity to give them some history about me. They started with the basic questions such as, "What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses? Describe the ideal job. What are your hobbies?"

Then the technical side of the interview began. The manager folded his hands and asked me in a serious tone, "You get a call on the line. It's a frantic secretary talking 60 miles per hour about the CEO's Treo not receiving any messages although he has a signal. He has been waiting for an e-mail detailing an important meeting, including times, locations, and itinerary. And she adds that she is a delegate of the CEO's e-mail and doesn't have it either. What would be the best way to handle the situation?" I hadn't gotten to that in my classes yet, but I ran with it with the best logical approach while thinking of how to apply my intake analyst's skills to the situation.

"First, I would reassure the caller then ask her to check the spam filter."

"And if the e-mail isn't there?"

"Then I would have her try and send a test e-mail to the CEO's Treo."

"And what if she did, and he still doesn't have it? And she adds that she received an undeliverable notice?"

Luckily enough, I remembered my first semester of Microsoft Office 2000, including Exchange. I replied, "I would have the secretary read back to me the undeliverable notice, then advise her that the mailbox limit on the CEO's account has been reached and walk her through archiving the e-mails according to date." The manager nodded with an impressed look. Several of the techs nodded as well, while others didn't really seem to care.

We continued with a few more technical questions for about 40 more minutes. He then said, "We actually already have a candidate chosen for the job, but HR forwarded your resume down and we figured we could always pre-interview for his possible replacement since this will be a promotion for him. Would you be interested in starting on the phones?"

I almost jumped out of my seat. "I would sweep the floors of the datacenter," I blurted out. They laughed and the manager told me that they would give me a call prior to the help desk analyst position being posted so that I could act accordingly. And they did exactly that.

One month after interviewing for the PC tech job, I interviewed for the help desk position and started my first day two weeks afterward.

I enjoyed my job and it gave me the challenge I was seeking. And I have never looked back.

This story, "A rookie learns practical lessons in his first IT job interview," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.

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