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Exchange Server administrator job prep: Security and compliance

Get that Exchange administrator job offer by standing out with security and compliance prowess in your interview.

Email serves an essential function in most organizations. Potential employers realize the importance of having a dependable and consistent Exchange setup, and they know whoever administers Exchange has a major responsibility.

If you're an Exchange Server admin looking for a new position, be prepared to answer a potential employer's questions about your expertise in a number of Exchange-related areas, including security and process control, especially in regulated industries. Use these questions to practice your interview skills and to clutch that new job.

How do you protect your Exchange environment?

Any disruption in Exchange hardware, software or setup makes an immediate and noticeable impact on business operations. This makes resilience and recovery vitally important to Exchange administrators.

At the hardware level, Exchange environments often rely on server clustering to provide redundant computing resources for Exchange Server components. Discuss your approach to clustering and the concepts or business needs that drive Exchange clustering. Note ways to manage and monitor the Exchange cluster for hardware health and performance.

Take the discussion to backup tools and practices you routinely use, along with the backup policies or guidelines governing Exchange backups. This may include software tools such as Acronis Backup Advanced for Exchange or backup and recovery appliances such as a Dell DL4000. Virtualized Exchange environments may rely on snapshots and redundant VM tools to provide protection. Cite cases where you successfully recovered messages from Exchange Server.

Email is also central to many legal issues: What was said, when and by whom? Share if you possess expertise in email archiving and legal discovery tools such as SonaVault Email Archiving Software as well as data lifecycle tools for automated adherence to email and other data retention policies. While it's unlikely an Exchange Server administrator must master these areas, the skills will put you ahead of other applicants with some companies.

How do you handle documentation or process control? Have you dealt with compliance issues?

Server and application management roles involve standardized processes and practices, so don't be surprised when the interview includes messaging documentation, process control and automation.

Talk about your standardized messaging management processes; this is a key part of automation with tools such as PowerShell and is important for accelerating common tasks while reducing errors or unintended consequences. For example, creating new mailbox accounts for new end users can be a cumbersome, time-consuming and error-prone affair. But by entering the necessary end user details into a simple comma-separated values file, you're able to use a simple PowerShell script to import the CSV file and automate the creation of new mailboxes, forcing new passwords on the end users' first login. This approach saves valuable time, reduces errors, and can easily be communicated to other IT staff.

Documenting changes to the messaging environment ensures that other IT professionals can follow your work, saving enormous time and frustration for other staff members. It's worth mentioning if you write up tips and knowledge articles for the team and end users.

You should have a solid familiarity and involvement in regulatory governance and risk management as well. Messaging systems such as Exchange are the focal point of legal discovery and compliance issues under regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. These regulations are often reinforced with in-house corporate policies. Show that you understand appropriate documentation for system configurations and can include factors such as change control tracking, access control logs, system logs, discovery tools and archiving and retrieval tools.

What will our future messaging system include?

Finally, don't overlook the cloud or other technological avenues. Exchange administrators handle in-house messaging system deployments, but Office 365 and other services push messaging into the cloud. An interview will likely conclude with some discussion of cloud alternatives and cloud/on-premises hybrid options. Noteworthy candidates will understand the key cost and performance issues involved with cloud-versus-local deployments and have a working familiarity with platforms such as Office 365.

If you've made it this far in the interview, chances are you've made a strong showing and you can leave the interview with confidence. Good luck -- and let me know if you get that job offer.

Next Steps

Part one: Certifications, IT background and education

Part two: Exchange environments, tools and virtualization

This was last published in June 2015

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What makes someone stand out in an Exchange Server administrator interview?
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Won't say this would apply only in case of ES Admin interviews but I feel in-depth knowledge of the field/application, confidence, ability explain ideas by doing down/up to the level of interviewer, convincing them about your continuous learning attitude and excellent social skills would help to stand out IMO. 
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