8 min read

Entry-level GIS interview preparation

I teach many GIS students who are interviewing for jobs and internships. Students would often ask me how to best prepare for these interviews, so years ago I started assembling a document that would help students through the process. This started out as a simple document containing tips for interviewing and how to prepare, but over time I had students send me the questions they received during the interview so that I could share these questions with future students. I made a deal with anyone who was sent the list that if they read it, they were obligated to share the questions they received back with me.

This worked reasonably well, and most were enthusiastic in sharing about their interview experience. For a long time I was hesitant to share this list publicly, since I suspected that without a one-on-one conversation explaining that students should share their interview questions if they benefit from seeing interview questions from former students, but I’ve reached a saturation point where students aren’t often receiving new questions. So it’s time to share this with the known universe. There are other good resources out there that can be found by searching for “entry level GIS interview questions”, but I have yet to see evidence that other resources are actually based on questions received in an interview. Every question/tip listed here is based on actual interview experiences of my former students. Plus, many other GIS interview resources are produced by large organizations (universities or companies) which are far too risk averse to write in a manner that will resonate with students in fear of the prospect that they may come across as normal human beings.

General things to do/prepare for

  • Be prepared to talk about your previous GIS courses, term projects, independent projects, cartographic work, or internship experience (if you have any).

  • Be prepared to talk about software programs that you have experience with.

  • Review basic concepts of GIS (raster vs. vector data, geoprocessing operations, etc.); the Mastering ArcGIS book is a good resource for this.

  • Prepare for the “tell me a little a bit about yourself” question. You should be able to answer this question in a couple minutes, avoiding anything before your first year of college. Talk about your academic and professional experience/interests. Personal hobbies can work here if they are quasi-related to the job. E.g., if you are applying to a forestry position and love backpacking, that could be a good addition to this question. The bulk of your response should focus on professional experience and interests though.

  • Have a good answer for the question “Why did you apply for this job?” Focus on them and the benefits you can provide to their organization.

  • Show that you have good communication skills. Don’t be a robot; try to be yourself. If you are actually a robot, then it is ok to act like a robot.

  • Be honest yet confident.

  • Be sure that you engage everyone in the interview room equally. Engage with entry level employees just as much as the senior employees. Make eye contact with the women and the men in the room equally!

  • Prepare 30 minutes of questions for them. Do your research on their organization first! Note: it’s probably not appropriate to ask about pay in the first interview (suggested questions for employers are listed in a later section).

  • Send a thank you email after the interview.

  • If you get a verbal offer for a job, do not accept immediately. Wait for a formal offer letter, and haggle for more pay!

Actual interview questions from student interviews at previous organizations

It’s good to ask beforehand whether or not your interview will have a technical section. Not all will. In fact, most won’t. When you answer technical questions, it’s ok to not know the answer to a question. No one can know everything! In all likelihood, the interviewers are /not/ going down a checklist to determine if you got all the right answers. They want to hear about your /thought process/.

  • What are 3 things you are expecting to get out of working at our company?

  • Why did you choose to go to UWEC? Note that this question was asked to a UWEC student. If you didn’t go to UWEC, instead prepare for the question “Why on earth did you choose not to go to UWEC?” and be prepared for a rejection letter if you are interviewing against a UWEC student.

  • Why did you choose geography (or other major) as your major?

  • Do you have experience working in the field, and if so, tell us more about it?

  • Why are you interested in a consulting career? (Note: keep in mind that consultants often have to work with clients, meaning they need to be able to build and maintain relationships)

  • Why are you interested in working with air-related sciences?

  • What attracted you to this position?

  • Why should I hire you? (Note: talk about what sets you apart from other applicants. Don’t be afraid to brag a little here!)

  • Can you give me an example of a time when you had issues or problems with a GIS project? How did you overcome these?

  • What’s the difference between raster and vector data?

  • Describe your experience working with geodatabases, data creation, and data maintenance.

  • Where do you see yourself in the next 1, 2, 5 years?

  • What area would you like to focus on? What long-term projects can you see yourself working on?

  • Where do you see yourself in the future?

  • What is your experience with remote sensing? What remote sensing programs have you used?

  • What operating system do you use?

  • The work we do can be repetitive, so how would you handle this type of work? Note: if you receive this question, I’d recommend interviewing elsewhere or staying in this position as little as possible.

  • If overtime is available, would you be ok/willing to work more?

  • This is a 12-14 month contract position; do you have any issues with contract work?

  • What experience do you have working with programming languages? (Note: if you don’t have experience with programming (or any other software they ask you about), that’s ok! Talk about how you see value in the software they’re asking about, and make it clear that you are confident that you can learn whatever they need you to!

  • We can sometimes work in a high demand and stressful environment. How would you prioritize and organize clients?

  • What resources have you used for help on GIS other than coworkers, classmates, and professors?

  • Will you be prepared to start individual GIS projects on day 1, and how comfortable are you with that?

  • What is your dream job and how do you think this job will further get you there?

  • What experience do you have working with model builder?

  • How familiar are you with the [job location] area? Note: do some background research first, but if you don’t know much about the location, don’t lie!

  • Draw a map (Note: they are probably looking for basic map elements such as a title, scale bar, legend, balance, and use of negative space).

  • What does adding a buffer around vector data do? Draw it. What do those polygons look like if there is overlap and you dissolve the overlaps? Draw it.

  • An electromagnetic reflectance graph was drawn by interviewer for a typical corn leaf. Using the drawing and given equations for NDVI and NDRE, calculate both NDVI and NDRE.

  • Describe a familiar building on campus in terms of height. Then, how many Legos would you have to stack to reach the top of the building (purely vertically)? Explain how you got your answer.

  • A land plot of 100m x 100m was drawn and a hypothetical drone with a sensor that can read 10m x 10m at a time. If the overlap between images are 60% frontal and 60% side overlap, how many images will be taken of the entire plot of land? What about if the drone can take 6m x 6m images?

  • Draw a hypothetical model using model builder to find 3m around each weed in a plot of land, clipped to the field boundary, and connect the 3m polygons if there is overlap.

  • Given:

    • FindWeeds() function in Python

    • GeoTIFF of land

    • fieldboundary.shp

  • How would you render multiple plots of land (rectangular polygons) that represent plant health based on values -1 through 1 to show a client?

  • How do you produce “Hello, World!” in python? Note: the answer is print(“Hello World”)

Good questions to ask employers

Avoid questions about pay in the first or second interview for an entry-level job. Those questions can come after you receive an offer. Do some background research on the organization. Realize that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

  • How was this position created? Is it a new position or was someone else here previously?

  • What software are you using?

  • What does the typical day or week look like in this role?

  • Is there fieldwork or travel associated with this position?

  • What are some of the current bottlenecks in your workflow?

  • Who are some of your clients (if they can say)?

  • How would you define success for the person who takes this position?

  • Would this person be working on a smaller team within the organization? If so, with how many people? And who would they be working with closely?

  • What are the goals for the organization? Any big ideas or long-term future plans?

  • Is there support for travel to professional conferences?

  • Is the organization connected to professional organizations? E.g., WLIA, MN GIS/LIS Consortium

  • What do you personally like about working here? What do you not like?