Interview question of the week: troubleshooting monitor issues

When you interview for an entry level IT Support position, you should expect some troubleshooting questions. Here’s one to be ready for.

Photo by Simon Hattinga Verschure on Unsplash

You should expect a few basic hardware troubleshooting questions during your interview, and this one is as basic as it gets – if you’re a techie. I’ll explain what I mean in a moment, but first, here’s the question as I usually ask it:

A user moved to a different office this morning. They have two monitors. Since they moved, only one monitor is working. How would you fix this?

On one hand, it’s basic. Almost everyone who owns a computer (and that’s almost everyone these days) has had to figure out why they were staring at a black screen at some point. On the other hand, it’s a scenario using two monitors. At the time of this writing, it’s still only techies that have experience with two monitors. This can be through previous work on a help desk, but it can also be from having two monitors on your own rig at home.

Now, before we start answering this question, I want you to memorize this phrase:

Check the hardware first.

If you remember this phrase, you will not only spare yourself endless hours of useless work in the future, but you’ll look pretty good during interviews too. While I’m having you memorize sentences, memorize this one too:

Ask questions.

Imagine going to a doctor’s appointment where the doctor asks you no questions and just hands you a prescription for migraine medicine. That’d be pretty strange, and you probably wouldn’t go back to that doctor ever again. (Unless you actually did have migraines. Then you’d be pretty impressed! But I digress.)

The same goes for any kind of troubleshooting. It’s perfectly fine, nay, expected to ask questions. Now let’s walk through a sample interaction between you and the interviewer so you can see what I mean. I reserve the right to butt in to provide some observations… you’ve been warned.

You: “Am I able to walk to the user’s office, or will I be providing support by phone?

Interviewer: “You can walk to their office. It’s in the same building.

You: “Great, the first thing I’d do is walk to the user’s office. These types of situations are stressful enough for users without trying to follow someone’s directions by phone. Let’s take care of this in person. When I get there, the first thing I’m going to check is the hardware. Is the problem monitor plugged in to the power outlet and turned on?”

Me, butting in: I like how you sneakily snuck in how good you are at working with users there. You understand how frustrating tech problems can be, so you’re taking a white glove approach. Good… Good…

Interviewer: “Yes, you see the power light and it is in fact plugged in.

You: “Ok. Now, there should also be a monitor cable. Is the monitor cable connected to both the monitor and the computer? Also, is this a desktop or a laptop we’re working with?

Interviewer: “There’s a monitor cable and it’s plugged in to the computer, which is a desktop.

You: “Thanks. I was asking about the type of computer in case it was a laptop and we were using a dock. What kind of cable is it – HDMI, DVI, display port, VGA?

Me, butting in again: Nice job establishing the parameters of the question here. Like I said earlier in this post, ask questions! Some companies use docks. A dock is something you, well, dock your laptop to. The monitor, power cable, mouse, and keyboard are plugged into the dock instead of the laptop. This gives a few advantages: you’ll have more monitor ports available on the dock, more USB ports, and you don’t have to unplug everything and replug it every time you move to a different desk. The fact that we’re not dealing with docks takes out one line of troubleshooting: troubleshooting the dock.

By the way, well done naming some common cable types instead of just asking what kind of cable it is! It really shows you know your stuff. Ok, back to the interview.

Interviewer: “It’s DVI.

You: “Ok, I’ll cycle through the input modes to make sure it’s set to DVI. There’s usually a button on the bottom right of most monitors to do so. Was it on the wrong input mode?

Interviewer: “You cycle to DVI, but the screen is still black.

You: “Alright, before we start getting invasive and re-installing drivers, let’s make sure the display settings are set correctly. I press the start button and type ‘display settings’ and verify that the computer recognizes that there’s another monitor plugged in. If it does, I’ll select it and make sure it’s not disabled and I’ll extend it. If it doesn’t, I’ll try detecting the monitor. If that doesn’t work, we’ll need to reinstall the display driver.

Me, butting in for the last time (I promise!): Very slick. You threw in that part about not wanting to be invasive until you have to be, showing that you’re sensitive to the user’s time. Hey, just because this is a question about troubleshooting, it doesn’t mean you can’t highlight some of your soft skills, right?

Interviewer: “It looks like the monitor was disabled. Once you extend it in the display settings, it comes right on.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is technically a very basic question. However, you can use even a basic question to highlight just how much you know.

But what if you don’t know these things? What if you don’t know the difference between a DVI and VGA cable? Or you’ve never had two monitors because you can’t afford another monitor?

Many folks reading this post will not have prior experience, but there’s a way to gain this knowledge without experience. If you haven’t already read the A+ material, start doing so now. Cable types are covered in it. Don’t gloss over that section thinking it’s not important! If it weren’t important, there would only be one cable type. Some cables are used for their quality. Others carry sound. You need to know this stuff. Read the A+ book.

Next, go to the thrift store and find the cheapest monitor you can find. It shouldn’t set you back more than a few bucks. Go home, plug it in, and practice with the different options in the display settings. You can extend your display field, duplicate your monitor to this new monitor, or disable one of the monitors.

You’ll have shelled out around $50 and in return you’ll have gained knowledge that will help you start your career… and a second monitor!

Now go learn something!

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time visiting this blog, start here. Or, see all my posts about interview questions you should definitely be prepared for.