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What are the best interview questions for candidates for a GIS Analyst position?

I am looking for techniques for interviewing analysts at varied experience levels (we are currently looking at hiring for entry and senior-level positions).

In the past, I've asked questions about their most recent projects and what sites/newsletters they use to keep up with the industry.

Any good ideas would be greatly appreciated.

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community wiki? –  Derek Swingley Feb 13 '11 at 8:06
    
How do I make this a community wiki question? –  Seth P. Feb 13 '11 at 15:55
    
Only moderators can do that afaik. –  underdark Feb 13 '11 at 19:16
    
@underdark - Looks like you are right: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/392/… –  Seth P. Feb 13 '11 at 19:24
    
'Separating the good programmers from the bad' by George V. Neville-Neil: queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=1998475 –  radek Jun 15 '11 at 14:12

15 Answers 15

up vote 40 down vote accepted

How do you handle boring repetitive tasks?

If the answer doesn't mention scripting or automating then you should be wary. Candidates should have come across a scripting language or macros at some point in a GIS course.

What database experience do you have?

Many GIS analysts become responsible for geodatabases - whether or not they wish to or are suitable. Any experience with creating databases, primary keys, SQL, foreign keys etc. is going to be a big plus point.

What are the differences between raster and vector data?

I'd consider this the fizzbuzz test of GIS.

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Would be nice if these were split into separate answers that can be voted for independently. –  underdark Feb 14 '11 at 10:46

As GIS is a constantly evolving domain, you can ask about the technology watch practices of the candidate. For example their opinion about the technologies, tools and data source to know and to watch today.

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Ask them about their love and passion of GIS analysis. What have they done out of intuition following a lead on a project? What kind of analysis have they done out of pure curiosity? and ask for specific examples

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I think asking about what specific areas of GIS a candidate are interested in is always beneficial. Answers to this question will obviously be wide ranging (ex. Network topology, Distributed GIS, Cartography...etc), but should elucidate where they may fit in your project and/or organization. Also, how well they articulate their response can provide an insight into their communication skills; it is a bit of a tricky question after all.

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  • What is your strength/weakest point in Gis analysis?
  • Are you a "calculating-person" or an "explain/writer-person".
  • What is driving you mad in a working environment?
  • How do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • Why hire you and not Mr.X ? What can you offer?
  • How often do you backup?
  • What is your favorite gis software? why? How is that better than X ?
  • How would you express your complain about your supervisor?
  • Which latest gis-research topic in intrigued you to start a new project?
  • Which latest gis-related project you think is useless and why?
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Would be nice if these were split into separate answers that can be voted for independently. –  underdark Feb 14 '11 at 10:46
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To be honest, half of those questions are really cheesy and just variants of typical generic interview questions with GIS thrown in. See theoatmeal.com/comics/interview_questions for a similar opinion to mine. –  Andy W Feb 14 '11 at 15:32
    
@Andy W: Great link. Thanks! –  underdark Feb 14 '11 at 17:02
    
@Andy W: I've been asked every one of those questions multiple times in interviews! And my thoughts were very similar to the comic guy's. –  Baltok Feb 7 '13 at 20:55

Duties of a GIS Analyst can vary widely. For the last slot we filled, ArcGIS Server administration was a requirement, and all interviewed candidates had experience with it. We got them up on a whiteboard and had them, in as much as confidentiality would allow, draw detailed diagrams of ArcGIS Server setups they had configured/worked with in the past. This allowed us to get a good understanding of how much they understood the guts of one the systems/processes that we really needed them to manage.

Use your whiteboards, make them draw and diagram things out.

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I'd be careful about specifics. I've never used ArcGIS Server, but I reckon that I could do a bloody good job of configuring, setting up, performance tuning. Maybe asking the potential employee to diagram a web mapping stack, or a workflow for field data collection? Look at the process, don't worry about software, is what I'm saying. –  alexgleith Sep 20 '13 at 0:50

Start with the basics

What is a projection ?

What are different projection systems and what is difference between projected coordinated system and geographic coordinate system?

What is a scale?

What is geocoding?

What is reverse geocoding?

What is geo-referencing?

What is geo-processing?

Hardest Questions:

What is more important for you: money or work?

What are your weaknesses?

Define Diversity? [a real question asked by a GIS Manager in June 2009]

enter image description here

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Was the Diversity question pertaining to political correctness or image processing? spatialanalysisonline.com/output/html/LandscapeMetrics.html –  Kirk Kuykendall Feb 14 '11 at 15:41
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They did NOT specify - just repeated the question. (mentioned both imagery processing and multicultural aspects of the company) - the job was offered but it was the inner London core and the salary could not even cover transportation costs. The job was for security measures for the Summer Olympics in 2012 in London –  Mapperz Feb 14 '11 at 16:01
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Most ridiculous question on an application form - what gender were you at birth? - what does this have to do with the actual job you will be doing? –  Mapperz Feb 14 '11 at 16:08
    
I'd be surprised if asking about birth gender wasn't outlawed in the UK at least. –  iant Feb 14 '11 at 18:25
    
@Mapperz - interesting. I wonder if Olympic security will have CCTV cameras that use facial recognition to track movements of people fitting particular profiles. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  Kirk Kuykendall Feb 14 '11 at 18:27

I personally think a GIS analyst should be able to solidly walk through a solution to the Point in Polygon problem. This exercise exposes the spatial reasoning abilities of the applicant.

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That's only useful in a programmatic sense. If you only need to use spatial functions, you don't need to be able to solve a specific algorithm implementation. If someone could identify a solution to point-in-polygon or buffer algorithm, then they are doing better than most. –  alexgleith Sep 20 '13 at 0:47

I think asking about opensource or 'community' GIS projects would be a good way of exploring how broad their knowledge base is, and whether they have participated in these types of projects. Of course gis.stackexchange.com would be one example, http://www.openstreetmap.org/ could be another.

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I recently applied for a GIS job. Since it was a governement job with lot of applicants, they had a written part to make a first selection. Apart from the job specific part, there were some questions to check general gis knowledge:

  • Define (in 3-5 lines): shape, kml, large scale/small scale, wms, INSPIRE, (some names of laws and datasets relevant for gis in our country).
  • Given 2 tables products and orders (structure was there): write a sql query to get the product description for order id xxx.
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What is a RDBMS and what is versioning and how would you impliment it in a GIS? Have you taken advanced coursework in GIS analysis that is recognized by ESRI? Why is a GIS not a map and why? Do you have a computer science degree and do you think that is relevant and why? Do you have experience with Python, Unix, Linux, ArcGIS? Are you good at creating solutions, solving problems, and learning new technologies, software environments, and in creating and analysing geographic data? giving me several examples. Where are the best sources of various GIS data sets good for statistical analysis and why? What is root square mean error and why would that be relevant to address accuracy? What is scale and distance in a GIS database. The last one is a trick question BTW

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Do you mind what tools you use?

We don't advertise what's in our toolkit as we want to attract a wide variety of people with database, scripting and analytical geo-experience; not necessarily ESRI experience or MapInfo experience. That can always be covered by a training course or two and enough time for ramping up the skills.

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A GIS analyst should know about datums, projections etc. Hence I would ask:

What is a datum?

What is a projection?

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@Sunil: I believe this 'question' is an appropriate answer, since the Main question talks about Interview Questions. –  Devdatta Tengshe Jul 8 '13 at 5:07
    
@Devdatta Tengshe Yes you are right. I removed my post. –  Sunil Jul 8 '13 at 5:13

For an analyst role where they will presumably be problem solving, I think giving them a problem they have to walk through or a riddle puts them on the spot and helps to identifies strengths and weaknesses that may not present themselves in questions.

Even if it is a problem that they don't solve/can't solve - you can tell who gives up quickly, who thinks creatively, who gets frustrated etc. - a good indication of who you would like on your team.

Also what parts of previous project they liked the most - the process, coding, analysis, problem solving, debugging, thinking of different solutions.

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Do YOU have any questions you would like to ask us?

I dont know how many times I have taken the afternoon off of work for an interview where I am asked a million and one questions about myself for 55 minutes, and then at the end of the interview, maybe I get given five minutes to ask the prospective employers questions. Of course in the last five minutes, everyone is itching to go attend other meetings or to try and rush you out to keep schedule with the next candidate.

Remember, your best candidates will be interviewing you back. Treat the interview like a meeting between equals who both have busy schedules.

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