IT Assessment Interview Preparation

A Guide to IT Assessment Interview Preparation

How to Prepare for an IT Assessment Interview

This post describes IT Assessment interview preparation from the perspective of the interviewer. You will learn some simple guidelines on how to prepare to conduct an interview as part of an ITSM process maturity assessment.

Maturity assessment is of course much more than just a series of interviews, and you can read about the wider context in the Visual Guide to ITSM Maturity Assessment.

In this series on interviewing we’ll cover these subjects:

Without more ado, let’s get into it.

Assessment Interview Preparation

First, the bad news: if you’re going to ask questions about an IT subject (often a process) you need a sound grasp of that subject.

If that sounds daunting given the complexity of IT, let me explain that there are various levels of expertise and with good preparation you can approach any assessment confidently. I am not an expert on every single IT process in the sense that I would be able to step into a job in – for example - Release and Deployment Management, and immediately be effective. That process is a discipline with its own body of knowledge, tools, technical practices, technical shorthand (jargon), etc.

So what level of expertise is needed? The answers fall into two main categories.

1. Understand as a management discipline, not a technical one

Let’s suppose that you will be assessing the ITIL process called Release and Deployment Management. If this is not a main area of expertise for you, go to the source material (ITIL Service Transition 2011 CH4.4) and review it. You can start by grasping the main objectives of the process, and then drill down into the actual practices. I like to use Mind Maps for this.

The process has its own jargon and if you come across something you don’t understand – DML, perhaps, or V-model – make sure you learn a clear definition or at least get the concepts clear in your mind. Any difficult terms or acronyms can be colour-coded in the mind map or other note-taking software. The source material should include the right definitions, but if not, apparently there’s something called the internet that may be able to help…

You will come away from this exercise with a refreshed understanding of Release and Deployment as a management discipline, but not as a technical practice. So what happens if the interviewee starts to ‘talk tech’ in response to a question?

How to deal with ‘tech talk’

Don’t try to shut the interviewee down, because the devil is often in the technical detail. There are a few things that you can do though:

  • Be open and admit that you are not a technical expert in this area. Be sure to strongly imply that the interviewee is a technical expert. Flattery will get you everywhere
  • Ask your interviewee to explain the issue in lay terms. Then guide the conversation to the substantive effects of the technical issue, not the technical details themselves
  • Make sure to take good notes that you can follow up later
  • If appropriate, arrange to follow up with the interviewee so that you can see the issue at close quarters

2. Make sure you understand the meaning of the question you're asking!

If you are using a standard set of statements such as those available through Axelos (or better still, through Zeno) as a basis for ITIL process assessment, make sure you look at each statement long before you start the interview.

If not, you will come a cropper.

It’s not that the statements and questions are technically difficult to understand, it’s that some of them are semantically difficult. And if you, the assessor, can’t understand the question, what chance has your interviewee got?

Resource: ITIL Maturity Model: High Level Self-Assessment Service *

* Alternatively, you could wait for the feature rich but ITIL Maturity Model compliant Zeno SaaS version, due in Q1 2018. Just sign up here for early access and more info:

Zeno: Powerful process improvement made simple

My approach to this is to practice putting a question or statement in my own words, retaining the essence but making the question as simple as possible. 

It may seem that I’m exaggerating the problem here. But imagine you’re an hour into an IT Service Continuity assessment where the conversation has been non-stop, and the interviewee is beginning to flag. The statements are starting to sound a bit similar to the interviewee's ears because they are each focused on a slightly different detail of the process. Then you put this corker to your unsuspecting victim:

“IT service continuity management works closely with projects and changes and other design activities for new services, to ensure that the designs for the service continuity of new services match the needs of the business and are consistent with continuity design criteria and architectures and business continuity requirements.”

Yes, that’s a real ITIL process assessment statement and by no means the worst example of its kind!

Bear in mind that you will be looking for an answer from the interviewee that indicates whether or not they agree with the statement. But in the unlikely event that they understood the statement on first hearing it, exactly which part of it will they respond to? There are three approaches to preparing for the problem of over-complex statements and questions.    

How to Simplify Statements and Questions

        Approach 1. Break the statement down into its constituent parts and find the essence of what you want to know. It will often be the case that you’ve asked about several parts of the question before. For instance, in our example you will already know how well the process a) matches business needs and b) is consistent with design criteria and architectures and c) is also consistent with business continuity requirements.

Therefore, we can simply ask about the crux of the matter: "does ITSC work well with project management?". This is a more human way of putting it and gets at what you need to know in a straightforward way.

        Approach 2. With more experience you’ll realise that the statements are sometimes grouped into themes. For example, there are a series of ITSC statements around ‘how well does the ITSC process work with X?” (so, the general theme here is ‘interfaces with other processes’). 

Then we just repeat the technique of 'Approach 1' with the other processes that are referenced in the assessment statements, as follows:

- does ITSC work well with financial management to ensure that investments required by continuity plans are consistent with budgets and financial plans?

- does ITSC work well with capacity management to… etc.

        Approach 3. Finally, you could choose to move away from the ‘official’ ITIL statements altogether. This has the advantage of enabling the design of more user-friendly questions; however, it has the disadvantage of moving away from the objective ITIL standard and therefore makes it harder to benchmark or compare against other maturity scores. In Zeno we provide both: a drastically shortened set of easily understandable questions, plus the ‘standard’ statements with some built-in contextual help. The circumstances will dictate which is best to use.

IT Assessment Interview Preparation: not rocket science

Assessment Interview Preparation Summary

Assessment Interview Preparation Summary. CLICK FOR FULL SIZE IMAGE

Hopefully by now you’re convinced that one key to successful IT assessment interviewing is that you need to study the statements and questions you’ll be asking!

All of the above may seem a little complex, but all will become clear when you have the assessment questions in front of you, and have picked out and understood the themes and repetitions

It’s not rocket science, but like any other area of endeavour, hard work and practice pay off. The hard work comes in when you make sure you are up to speed with the subject you’re assessing (and by reading about techniques in articles like this one). You can do practice runs in your head or in reality, or you can conduct an actual assessment interview. A great way to learn is to sit in with an experienced assessor, watch and listen.

If you have any questions on IT Assessment interview preparation , feel free to ask in the comments below.

Zeno: Powerful process improvement made simple

About the Author Dan McCarthy

Dan is the co-founder of Zeno. He likes finding new ways to improve processes and working life in general.

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