(SRE) Interview Tips

One of somewhat unexpected responsibilities in my current role as Senior SRE is interviewing candidates for the team.

It’s a good learning experience for me, as I have never been involved in these many interviews before (done around 20 interviews so far in the last quarter).

As an interviewer, we want the candidate to succeed and even if she doesn’t, we at least want the candidate to have a good experience.

With that motivation in mind, I thought of sharing tips from the interviews I’ve done so far.

Some of these tips specific for an SRE role, but some of them general:

  • For an SRE interview, please have a cursory reading on the SRE book and watch this video. You apply for an SRE role, so there’s an expectation of a baseline SRE knowledge (even though you haven’t worked as an SRE before). You should be able to explain SRE concepts such as: SLAs, SLOs, SLIs and error budget.
  • Prepare for the “why you apply for the position” question. Answer by highlighting your possible fit for the role from your experience and skills. Don’t just say what’s in it for you, but explain what you’ll bring to the table too. An example: I applied for this role with company X, because I have x years experience working as a systems engineer working with distributed systems in different industries, which I can contribute as an SRE for company X. I know this from the job description as well as my research of company X’s tech architecture and offerings.
  • Do talk, but don’t dominate the conversation. Have the situational awareness on when to stop, remember an interview is a two-way conversation. Most questions should be answered around 3 minutes max. Also confirm with the interviewers, if you answered their questions.
  • For scenarios based questions, do ask for clarifications. If you need to make an assumption, state the assumption or ask if it’s OK for you to make the assumption.
  • For an online interview, arrange your camera so you are looking directly to the interviewer. Some candidates have their camera on the side, which means we don’t see eye to eye during the interview, which isn’t ideal.
  • Answer succinctly. You can take your time to formulate your answer, e.g you don’t have to answer straight away, say “let me think about that for a moment”. Then answer in a structured manner, for example: “here are 3 things that I think differentiate SRE from devops, first SRE is about x but devops is more on y, seconldy ….”.