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I had applied for a company that does managed IT services so the question is quite fitting. It was asked by an HR recruiter who probably wasn't very technical herself.

I have trouble with questions out of context like this. For example is it assuming you know what is causing the problem but don't know how to fix it? In IT support most of the time you don't know how to fix something at first glance (i.e. you can't be 100% certain just from reading the comments in the ticket) so in a sense most of the time "I don't know how to fix something" but I'm guessing this isn't what the question is asking.

I ended up saying "I would do a Google Search or consult the internal knowledge database or documentation, depending on what the problem was. If that didn't work I would reach out to a colleague who may have more knowledge in the area." Was this good? Was this the kind of answer they were looking for?

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This is a STAR format interview question:

It's generally 5 questions, 2 managers, and every question in the format:

Situation - Task - Action - Result

The Situation - Task are the questions they ask you.

The Action - Result is where you come in with examples, preferably unique and 99% of the time, not completely true (People Skills...).

It basically tests for what you do when things don't go according to plan.

The worst thing you can possibly do in these interviews is start the answer with the word "usually".

Your answer shows that you don't need to memorize things because you follow proper training that taught you how to look up your question in a knowledge base of any kind. The knowledge base isn't updated by you. It is accessed, and all you need to know is where to find it.

+1 with Corporate

You followed that up by telling them if that didn't work, you also know how to follow the proper chain of command which keeps you from bothering people that don't need to be bothered (Managers...) and those above (Supervisors...) look like they didn't train you correctly.

+10 with Corporate

2 unique examples in order to address the question at 2 different levels, instead of a "usually I..." answer.

An interview usually went, how you feel it went. YOU are YOUR best indicator. What do you think?

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  • 1
    I'm not sure what you mean with "don't need to be bothered and those beneath look bad." Is that sentence missing a verb maybe? Or could you add a few more words to explain that part? :)
    – Erik
    Feb 19 at 6:56
  • 2
    very knowledgeable answer
    – Fattie
    Feb 19 at 14:20
  • 1
    @Erik Updated to reflect meaning. =)
    – suchislife
    Feb 19 at 15:06
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    I agree with the understanding of the STAR format but disagree that he gave a good answer - no effort at self experimenting or troubleshooting, all looking for external sources for a solution. Qualifies as junior only.
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 19 at 15:14
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    Good thing the question came from Suzanne the "HR recruiter who probably wasn't very technical herself." =)
    – suchislife
    Feb 19 at 15:20
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This is a situational interview question. They typically want you to answer as a specific instance that it happened to you. Situation, actions, outcome.

Typically, if you answered it the way you did, very general, most interviewers would say "can you give me a specific example."

And either you pull something out of your head from a true past experience or you come up with an answer based on your experience.

"Great question. Let me give you an example. I had a call/ticket a couple months ago, and the page was saying the employee didn't have the correct access type, I checked all his credentials and even triple checked the internal credential requirements for the system. no go. I checked our internal resources and reached out to my manager and a couple collogues. I did find an obscure reference to something similar but the document hadn't been touched in 8 months. Turns out, that even though he had the correct credentials in his portal, the main administration framework that downloads the credentials hadn't had a check in in 3 months. I pulled out every trick i knew and reached out to anyone i could think of, and after 15 minutes was able to find and fixed the problem."

So, that answers all the expected parts. But you could go one further, "I brought this crazy instance up to our team manager and we were able to add another support doc and link the old one i founds so no one has to go through this again."

This shows that not only was there a good outcome that you were able to fix, but you went one further and helped out some part of the organization as well.

Typically, you want it to be about 5 sentences, explanative, but not "omg, this guy won't stop talking"

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It's usually better to say what you want to say rather than trying to guess what they want you to say. Most of your second paragraph would have been a perfectly good start to your answer, because it's sincere:

In IT support most of the time you don't know how to fix something at first glance (i.e. you can't be 100% certain just from reading the comments in the ticket) so in a sense most of the time "I don't know how to fix something"

Then go on to describe how you typically gather information from a customer, how you gather information from the system, and get to a point where you know how to fix it.

Then personally, I would embellish with a specific event that stands out as being extra tricky, since they specifically asked, "Tell me about a time..."

One time, the problem turned out to be an obscure setting in the virtual machine configuration. I had to read the entire user's guide to find it, because it didn't turn up in any of my usual searches, and even the VMware expert I consulted could only point me in a vague direction.

Sometimes, if they ask for a specific event, but you can't think of one, talking in generalities first will help you remember a specific event.

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