What are some general GIS questions that are asked in an interview process, not related to any particular software but questions that can test one's core knowledge about GIS?

  • Sometimes asking questions is overrated. Anyone can regurgitate a textbook. Try this at your next interview. Put the person in front of a computer (with all the tools they need) and ask them to (for example) create a centroid layer from a polygon layer using only the ESRI modelling tools. Having them perform a simple task goes a lot further than just seeing if the person was listening in his college class.
    – brenth
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 19:32

6 Answers 6


To be able to answer questions asked in a GIS interview not related to any particular software you should have the ability to explain the following topics:

  1. What is GIS?
  2. What is remote sensing?
  3. A bit about Image processing.
  4. What is georeferencing?
  5. The role of GPS in GIS.
  6. What are projections?
  7. What is cartography? (Questions on map elements like scales, legends etc:)
  8. Data structures that can hold spatial data. (Raster, Vector, ...)
  9. Examples of what can be achieved by GIS? (Geocoding or Network or Spatial Analysis giving real life examples)
  10. Open Standards related to GIS. (OGC or otherwise)

If you have a development background, questions pertaining to which development language you know are bound to rise up. It will benefit the organization hiring to have someone who can develop custom GIS solutions. These questions could be either GIS related or not depending on your previous experience. As far as development is concerned, people with no GIS background are also hired to develop GIS solutions.

Finally, if you're the interviewer, then confirm which GIS software the interviewee is already accustomed to working with. It would help to hire someone who already knows how to tinker with the solutions that are implemented in your organization.

If you're the interviewee, well, know that for a large part you'll be judged by what is in your CV/resume. The list of the above questions might give you an approximate direction on what you need to start looking at.


I am not convinced that an interview process is all about questions... Knowledge is important but it's not everything. In my own experience, the very fact that that a person has been chosen for an interview means that the employer is more-less satisfied with the particular candidate's qualifications. As an interviewer, I would definitely not waste any time asking a candidate whether they know what heads-up digitizing is. Let's also make clear that I am talking of direct recruiting here (an actual employer directly communicating with potential candidates), not trough an agency/ headhunters, etc.

A huge part of an interview is to discover whether the chosen candidate will "fit in". How passionate they are about GIS, what is their personality like, work ethic, etc. Holes in knowledge are easily remedied with training but holes in personality are not.

I think the best questions asked at an interview are those that examine the candidate's own experience; a project that the candidate has worked on, etc. This allows the interviewer to find out just about everything they need to know: depth of knowledge, problem solving, team work, troubleshooting and problem solving, communication and presentation skills, etc.

If I may then recommend; be prepared to talk about your own GIS project/experience. This should be something challenging and something that your are passionate about. For folks with no work experience it may be easily be a school project or thesis. Bring visuals. A mini-portfolio with you to support your experience; examples of maps, slides of web applications, anything interesting that will give you the opportunity to talk about your skills.

Even if this type of question is not a part of the interview you will almost always be asked if you have any questions or anything to add.


It depends what you are hiring for. We tend to avoid glossary like questions, though we include one or two just to quickly throw out people.

We more often than not have been disappointed with fabulous resumes and smooth talkers that fail miserably on competency tests we give them. It's gotten to the point that we don't even bother looking at resumes and just focus on the candidates interest because great candidates don't always represent themselves well via resumes but outshine in tests.

Rather than simply asking questions, we like to give tests that demonstrate competency and comprehension. So if for example you are hiring for a GIS database architect, ask them a problem and have them itemize the list of tables etc they would create to solve it.

Have them write a spatial sql statement that solves a posed question. If an application GIS architect -- ask them what operating system, choice of tools etc would they use to solve a proposed need? Challenge them with why they chose that set over others in similar family.


General GIS Interview Questions:

  • GIS is a highly technical, cutting edge technology. As a member of the IT community, how do you stay current with changes in GIS and technology?
  • You have been given a text file consisting of miscellaneous data including names, addresses, and X-Y coordinates. How would you input this data into a GIS?
  • What is the difference between CAD and GIS? What would an appropriate use be for either?
  • What is a projection? How is a projection changed using ARCINFO or ArcView?
  • How do raster and vector data differ, and give an example of each?
  • How would you copy a file from a network location in a Windows environment?
  • What is Heads-Up Digitizing?
  • What is a variable?
  • What is the difference between a Union and an Intersect function?
  • What is the difference between geographic and projected coordinate systems?
  • Given a database with a “Last Name” Field, describe a SQL statement that selects all people with the last name of Smith.
  • What file is required to properly display a TIFF Image in the correct coordinate space?
  • Given a Future Land Use coverage or shapefile, how could you calculate the acreages by Land Use type? Assume that there is a field called “acreage.”
  • A data request for eagle nest locations has been given to you. How do you go about locating the data?
  • How do you set an environment variable in Windows NT, 9x or any programming language?

GIS Mapping Analyst Interview Questions:

  • What are the duties of a GIS Mapping Analyst?
  • What is meant by the term 'precision'?
  • What are sliver polygons?
  • How would you copy a file from a network location in a Windows environment?
  • What is a variable?
  • What is a projection? How is a projection changed using ARCINFO or ArcView?
  • What is positional error?
  • What is the difference between a Union and an Intersect function?
  • What file is required to properly display a TIFF Image in the correct coordinate space?
  • What is attribute uncertainty?
  • What is the difference between CAD and GIS?
  • What is meant by the term 'accuracy'?
  • What is meant by the term 'data quality'?
  • What is the MAUP?
  • What is Heads-Up Digitizing?
  • What is a mental map?
  • What is ArcObjects?
  • What is Monte Carlo simulation?

I really liked a concept I ran into in a Google Earth interview.... I was asked if I was familiar with about 15-20 different spatial analysis related programs, packages, programming languages, etc.

It was a very comprehensive list of the major proprietary pieces and some open source along with quite a few language thrown in. It was probably most of the Wikipedia list of GIS software: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_geographic_information_systems_software If I said I was familiar, I was asked my level of familiarity then given 2-3 questions on the software if I had a high level of familiarity.

Catch was, GE used few of these packages in-house, and the position would not require much programming. They just wanted to find out the depth and breadth of my exposure to spatial analysis, and, I think, whether or not I was honest in my self-assessment of my familiarity. If someone has been able to handle 6-10 packages over time and has some basic concept of programming, they probably have a firm foundation in GIScience and an ability to adapt to new analysis tools as they come out.

Interestingly enough, followup interviews were not the slightest bit technical and much more intimidating.


some of the questions are ESRI - biased. Try more general questions.

Try asking about the role of gis in information management (data->information->knowledge->wisdom->policy).

A good GIS professional should be able to explain that , in the context of managing geospatial data. After all GIS means geographic(al) INFORMATION SYSTEMS.

update: At this point let me go as far as suggesting to ask about the systems development life cycle, since a good GIS Professional should be able to come up with solutions not only using turnkey commercial and opensource platforms, but with custom solutions as well. As any Info.Sys. guy does, the GIS professional must be able to choose solutions that fit the current way of how things are done in an organization (business process) or improve it.

It not only about skills and improvisation, but also to analyze what fits.

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