65. Planning for a GIS Job Interview - by Nathan Heazlewood


Due to the huge growth in demand for geospatial skillsets there are currently a lot of GIS professionals moving between and among industries. Despite this demand, geospatialists still need to carefully prepare for GIS interviews. In this week's post Geobreadbox's favourite New Zealander, GIS Programme/Project Manager and mentor, Nathan Heazlewood is back to lend some excellent advice on how to best prepare for the big day.


Thanks to Nathan who provided permission to republish his original post.

Over to Nathan.


A member of the NZ Emerging Spatial Professionals Group sent me this request, for which I thought my suggestions might also be useful to other people.

"Hi Nathan, I'm just wondering if you could offer me some advice, I have my first GIS related interview next week and I'm unsure about the type of question to expect. Do you have an tips or suggestions ? The position is a part-time GIS analyst at..."

Standard (and easy) questions


First thing to expect is some straight-forward questions about your qualifications and/or experience. These types of questions are common to any industry and most people expect them and have pre-rehearsed answers for them. Most of the time interviewers ask questions like this first up to help the interviewee relax a bit. Examples of these sorts of questions include:

  • What do you regard as your key strengths that would make you suitable for this position?
  • Can you tell me about a project that you have worked on?
  • What made you interested in taking up GIS/geospatial technology as a career?
  • Etc

Difficult interview questions


Often during an interview questions are asked that are designed to test how an interviewee will respond to questions that are more difficult or for which the interviewee won't have a pre-rehearsed answer: it is a good idea to plan how you will respond to these types of questions. Examples include:

  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Can you tell me about a situation where things have not gone to plan or have been a failure: how did you handle this situation?
  • Etc

Unfortunately if you aren't prepared for some questions like this then it could through you 'off-balance' so it is a good idea to be ready in case questions like this are asked.

There are many websites that list these types of questions and have suggestions for how to respond to them, try searching for "Difficult Interview Questions" or similar click here

Technical interview questions


ften later in an interview or during a second interview there may be a few technical questions, particularly if you have applied for a technical role and have indicated that you have technical skills. These may include questions like:

  • If I wanted to determine the best location for a new health centre can you describe that process that you would work through to determine this?
  • Can you describe what the software components of the Esri platform do?
  • Can you outline the advantages and disadvantages of SOAP vs. REST? 

IMPORTANT NOTE: obviously the types of technical questions that you might get asked depend on the type of role that you are going for, and what technology the organisation uses etc, so the questions above will vary a lot from role to role (don't worry if you don't know the answers to the above if they are nothing to do with the type of job you are after).

It is difficult to plan ahead for these types of questions, so you just need to trust in your education or experience, but what you can do to prepare is to be aware that these types of questions might come up. I would also recommend being ready to explain how you would step through a process to carry out a task that would be common in the type of job that you would do. If this type of question comes up then try to think of things like:

  • What would I need to be ready before starting the process? (i.e. what data or other resources would I need? where would I get them from?)
  • What problems could I encounter carrying out this process? How would I avoid problems?
  • How would my results be tested to ensure that I have done it correctly?
  • What would I do once the process had completed?

Organisation or role specific questions


Another category of questions that are common are questions related to the organisation that you are applying for or the particular team or role etc. Some questions in this category may include:

  • What made you decide to apply for this particular role?
  • What attracted you to apply to work for our organisation?

You can and should definitely think about answers to these types of questions prior to the interview. You should look at the organisations website in detail, and also consider doing a search for the organisation using a 'news search function': click here

There may be articles in the news about what the organisation has been doing recently that will give you more of an idea what the organisation does and some of the organisations advantages or disadvantages. Once I did this before an interview and noticed that the company I was applying to was not doing well financially (this was reported in the news) which was something that I took into consideration when looking at my options. Another thing to try is to do a general search for that organisations name and keywords such as 'GIS' for example: click here

This might help you to find out what type of technology the organisation uses and what types of activities they use GIS for etc. NOTE: make sure that you sort the results by date and only look at recent results: if you search by relevance or another criteria then you could look at results that are years out of date!

Preparing for the interview itself


There are plenty of websites out there that give suggestions around this, but a couple of tips that I would recommend that sometimes aren't mentioned:

  • Find out where you are going WELL BEFORE you need to go there: ideally physically go to the office you will need to visit several days beforehand. Work out where you can park or how you will get there on public transport etc. Make sure that you can find the exact door of the building that you need to go into. There is nothing worse than trying to get to an interview and not knowing exactly where you are going- if you start to get late you will get flustered which even if you make it to the interview in time you will not be relaxed.
  • Go to the venue well ahead of time: plan to be in the area about 30 minutes beforehand- if you get there early then fine find a cafe and have a coffee and wait.
  • If you are particularly nervous about interviews then another thing to consider is to get someone you know to do a 'mock interview' to practice with you. Practicing anything beforehand is always good and it is surprising how realistic it can feel, and how it will point out things that you could improve on. It will also make you less nervous when it comes to the real thing if you have already practiced in a 'mock' situation. When I worked in the UK at the MOD they actually had a very good scheme that you could ask for someone to do this for you. If you think that this would benefit you then try to get someone who isn't too close to you to do it: i.e. not your parents or partner: maybe an older neighbor or family friend (preferably someone who is a senior worker or manager themselves). Also if you aren't successful at your first interview then don't get down about it: just think of it as practice for the next one: you will have done well to get an interview so there will be more sooner or later.

Finally to the recent graduate who contacted me above: all the very best for your interview! I hope this is some help! See also the links below.

If you liked this article then more items that might interest you:

  • More on this topic: click here
  • For more information on the NZ Emerging Spatial Professionals Group see: click here or here
  • My colleague and good friend Duane Wilkins also had some valuable thoughts on this topic: click here and there are some useful comments in the comments section below from Aaron Kreag also.
  • Duane has several useful posts for job seekers and on other interesting topics: click here