I'm currently in the process of switching jobs, and because of some internal reasons, I was tasked to interview my potential successors. While it's debatable to give this task to someone who is unhappy and has resigned, I take this challenge as a learning opportunity.

In this post, I'm collecting various things I noticed while interviewing people for a Senior DevOps Engineer / Cloud Architect position - and what the candidates could've done better.

Before you apply

Read the job description

We had candidates apply to a Cloud Engineer position that never worked with any cloud vendors before. We even had candidates apply to an IT position that never worked in the IT industry before. We have also seen people using a completely different job title in their cover letter.

➡️ While many skills in IT are transferrable, applying to a Senior position where you have absolutely no previous experience with any technology mentioned in the job description will get your CV directly thrown into the bin.

Check out the company

What is their business? Were they in the news recently? How are their Kununu and Glassdoor ratings?

If they later ask you in the interview what you know about the company, and you just do the 😐 face, that won't open you any doors.

➡️ Make sure you have a basic understanding of where you're actually applying to. You don't have to fake enthusiasm, but show some interest.

The CV

I've read 100+ CVs in the last few weeks. Some things happened quite often:

  • Check for typos, especially when it comes to technologies. If you cannot even spell a technology, I doubt you're proficient in it. Let someone else proof read it before sending it out.

  • Have it properly formatted. If it looks like hastily typed into Word, you may give the impression of a sloppy or careless work attitude.

  • Be able to back up your claims: When you write "Kubernetes Expert" and don't even know the relationship between Deployments, ReplicaSets and Pods, you will fail the technical interview and it will let you look like a imposter.

  • One candidate even called themselves a "proven leader" in their CV without ever having a leadership position in his career.

  • If you link your GitHub profile, make sure it actually contains something worthy looking at: An empty profile or many never finished experiments give a bad impression.

  • If you have a website or custom email domain, make sure there's at least something on it - not just the placeholder page by the hoster.

  • Upload your resume as a PDF file, not as a Microsoft Word .docx.

The CV is the first impression of a candidate. Hiring managers often receive hundreds of CVs per position and therefore don't have the time to look at each of them in detail. Because of this, low quality CVs will be filtered out in an instant.

➡️ A good CV gets you an interview. A bad CV only a rejection email.

At the interview

First impressions count

🏃‍♂️ We had a candidate that called us while taking a walk outside. He didn't even stand still during the interview, which was really distracting. In combination with the bad audio quality of the phone and connection, it was really hard to understand him at all.

🕰️ One candidate joined the meeting 15 minutes before it started - and then sent us an email 2 minutes later that he's in. While not a red flag, it made us question his ability to read the clock. At least he was able to explain it (being burned before by Microsoft Teams being a mess).

➡️ Be on time (especially with German companies) and have a acceptable audio and video setup. You can join the meeting 2-3 minutes in advance to ensure your devices are working properly. If you cannot make it in time, send an email.

Be prepared

There's a bunch of standard questions that HR loves to ask, like the classic "What are your strength and weaknesses?". While I consider these often to be pointless by themselves, they show if candidates have prepared to the interview game or not. Those that do will have an advantage.

➡️ Ask your preferred search engine for common interview questions and think about an answer for each of them before you join the interview. Also a great exercise for self-reflection.

Show some passion

My favorite question to ask engineers is:

What is the project you're most proud of? Can be both work and personal.

This is a very positive question that shows if they have passion for something, or just do IT because it's a high-paying field. If they cannot name anything they're proud of in their career, I consider candidates to be either too inexperienced (I mostly interview Seniors, not Juniors) or do not care about their work results at all.

Just to clarify: It is okay to see IT as just a job. But if the people on the other side are more passionate about it than you, there's a chance you won't be seen as a "cultural fit".

One guy was quite interesting: He said that there's no project he is proud of, then listed some things that I nonetheless found quite impressive. #ImposterSyndrome

Be honest

My second favorite question:

Did you ever break production? And if yes, what did you learn from it?

This question is not about whether they broke it or not, but more if they're honest when making mistakes and what they did learn from these accidents. Being able to admit errors is the first step in learning from them: If you think you're perfect, why should you invest effort to improve yourself?

I discussed this question with a Junior colleague recently, and he was quite confident and also said "No, never". Then I replied: "Do you remember the incident last week ago, where you took down service X?". 😑

➡️ Lying might help you through the interview, but will it also help through the entire probation period?

We also had multiple candidates responding to this question with: "No, because we had good processes to prevent something like this." Also a good way to answer the question.

Ask questions

Most candidates did not ask any questions about the company or the work. It's likely they just wanted get any job, and didn't care the slightest what it is or what's expected from them.

➡️ Based on the interviews I had so far, I can tell that more experienced applicants tend to ask more (and sometimes critical) questions, which often lead to interesting and detailled discussions.

Things you should ask

Why is the position open? Is it new or is someone leaving?

This allows you to identify the situation you're getting yourself into: Is the company growing and need more people, did a single person leave or do they replace an entire department?

How does the onboarding or handover look like?

Helps setting expectations and finding out how organized a company is. Also a good indicator to detect "red flags", like no handover because the people have already left, or the company has not spend a single thought on that matter.

How large is the team? Who am I reporting to?

Are you the only person doing all the work, or is there a proper team structure and a substitute in case you're on vacation or sick? The person you're reporting to should also be part of the interview process, so you can check if you get along with them.

What does the team and position do? How does a typical day look like?

I interview DevOps Engineers, which is a quite broad definition. Many companies give them different tasks, so find out what you're actually expected to do - and if you want to do that.

Only one candidate actually asked that question. And while I managed to give a quite energetic presentation, through that she learned about (and mentioned!) the high workload of the position.

What percentage of the work is engineering vs. other tasks (like coordination meetings)?

When looking at how my career has developed so far, there is a high correlation between seniority and the time sitting in meetings.

One candidate asked the question, and when I said "around 20-30% engineering", his face changed in an instant and you could see he wanted to leave the interview as fast as possible. 😅

How does the interview process look like?

I generally consider 2-3 interviews or calls to be a good process: A first interview to check the candidates, then a technical interview, then a final chat with HR to clarify the contract and answer any open questions.

If they have a process with 5+ interviews, say politely thank you and run.

Communicate your expectations

Not just companies have requirements and expectations, you should have them too: What should the company provide, for you to be willing to accept their offer?

For example:

  • What would the ideal working environment look like to you? What would make you happy?
  • If you want mentoring, paid training or certifications, ask for it. Some companies offer that, some cannot.
  • Be prepared to discuss the pay, as well as benefits like vacation days. Talking to recruiters can help to get a good estimate (and it's also in their interest to get you a higher salary).


➡️ The more you can learn about the position through the interview process, the less "surprises" you'll see later being in the position.

➡️ A job interview should be two-way discussion, not an one-sided interrogation. Asking questions also demonstrates your genuine interest in the company and position.