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How to Handle Interviews

A long time ago I interviewed almost every data professional for the company I worked for.  Some were DBAs, some developers, even other data architects.  These are some things I look for whenever I interview a job candidate.  

Technical Questions

I don't like to ask a bunch of these.  I would rather have a technical conversation with someone.  For instance, I like to start with the candidate summarizing his resume in his own words.  From there I probe into projects that sound interesting.  I try to get at the meat and potatoes to see how technically-involved the candidate was in the given project and how much they understood.  If I had a nickel for every resume that said "I implemented SQL Server Clustering at this engagement" but during probing questions I determined the candidate didn't even know what a quorum disk was, I'd probably have a few extra bucks.  In those cases I am sure the candidate worked on a clustered system, but clearly didn't implement it.  With data architects I often see something like, "I architected the company's accounting system based on requirements."  Why did your company build vs buy?  What features were challenging for you to implement?  Did you break any best practices and why?  Very quickly you can determine if the candidate was just another developer or was intimated involved in business requirements.  

For more junior DBA candidates I like to ask a question like "You see Error 14588 in the SQL Error Logs when you perform your morning server checks.  What do you do?"  The key is that I have no idea what error 15588 is, if there even is such an error, nor how to handle it.  I wouldn't expect anyone else to either.  A good answer is something like, "I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with that error, but I'm constantly seeing new errors in the logs everyday.  I typically google them or search my favorite newsgroup until I find a workable solution.  Then I test on a non-prod environment."  That's a great answer.  I'm constantly surprised at people who insist on telling me all the knowledge they have memorized.  Who cares?  That is what google is for.  

If you really feel you must ask technical questions for your junior DBA candidate try this one, and ask the question quickly to invoke a clear sense of urgency...It is 3:15 and you have just gotten a call that your production database is corrupt, it is critical to get it back online quickly.  You determine you must restore from backups.  You have midnight's full backup and hourly log backups.  What do you do first?  The answer is ALWAYS to back up the tail of the log FIRST.  

Other Questions

For more senior candidates I like to ask some brain teaser questions, but I like to structure them so the candidate doesn't immediately see they are a brain teaser.  I'll write more about these soon, specifically how I structure the questions to be fun and relevant.  

Stock Interview Questions I Hate Asking

The answers to these questions are too canned and no one answers honestly:

  1. What are your weaknesses?  (I work way too hard and it impacts my marriage sometimes...yeah right)
  2. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  (retired because my side work, that I'll work on during company hours, is starting to pay off)

Questions the Candidate Should Ask Me

I often went on job interviews and the interviewer would ask me if I had any questions.  Honestly, I didn't have any and I would say so.  I hate mindless chit chat.  On an interview so much information is bombarding both parties that it is difficult to think of any good questions sometimes.  After reminiscing on this for a number of years I realized I was wrong.  It sends the wrong message to the interviewer that the interviewee doesn't have interest in the position when questions are not asked.  So I've come up with what I think are some good questions for the interviewee to ask.  

  1. How many other candidates have interviewed for the position?  How many interviews do you intend on doing for hte position?  (shows you a little bit of where your standing may be and shows the interviewer you are definitely interested and are starting to think to the future)
  2. Is this a new position or are you backfilling?  
  3. How big is the team I would work on? 
  4. What is the biggest problem you are facing?  (this shows inquisitiveness)

Obviously the interviewee wants to build upon the answers received, otherwise the question looks hollow.  So be prepared to discuss depending on what the answer is. 

HR Interviews

I always ask these questions during HR interviews:

  1. vacation time
  2. How would you rate the benefits as compared to other places?  I'm surprised at how honest many HR folks will answer this.  This is extremely important with ObamaCare looming.  Many companies are cutting benefits, so you may be getting a bump in salary and losing twice as much in benefit expenditures.  

My Interview Brain Teasers Part 1

My Interview Brain Teasers Part 2

My Interview Brain Teasers Part 3

My Interview Brain Teasers Part 4

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