TSQL Tuesday: Interviewing Patterns and Anti-Patterns

T-SQL Tuesday is a monthly blog party hosted by a different member of the SQL Server Community each month.  It is the brainchild of Adam Machanic (b|t).  This month’s host is Kendra Little (b|t) who gives us the topic of “Interviewing Patterns and Anti-Patterns“.

Of the suggested choices, I picked:

  • You can write about your own highs and lows as a candidate or as an interviewer

I’ve been in the workforce for 26 years as of this writing…and in IT since 1998.  I have bounced around between Independent Contractor/Consultant, to Full-time employee, to W-2 contractor working for someone else’s client.   I’ve been on probably around a hundred face-to-face interviews, several hundred if you add in phone screens and recruiter calls.  On the other side of the desk I’ve interviewed dozens of database professionals, either to come work for/with me, or on the behalf of recruiters that didn’t have a SQL Server person that could do the tech screen.

I’ve seen a few things good, bad and ugly along the way.   I’ve been asked a few brilliant questions, and some seriously stupid ones (“What kind of tree would you be?”  Really? Dude….)

My number one rule for a candidate BEFORE you go into an interview:

  • Make sure you know something about the business and it’s industry before you walk in the door.  Everyone knows how to back up a database, or use Profiler, or what an Availability Group is.   Those are givens and of course you need to be able to discuss them.   But, when it is your turn to ask questions…you need to have some ready to go.   Know what industry the firm is in.  Know where they rank.  Are they gaining or losing ground?  Why?  What are they doing to get better as a firm?   This shows that you care about more than just your paycheck.
  • Be ready to admit what you don’t know!  When I was interviewing for a contract support gig at Microsoft in 2004, I told them I had never seen a cluster and had only touched replication once, in a lab.   They put me on the team that supported clustering and replication (and security and DTS and….).  Because I followed with “but I’m happy to learn them”.  I still use that line today…only now its Azure and PowerShell!
  • If the interview is over a meal, DO NOT order something you eat with your hands.   Specifically a Club Sandwich at a bank in Tulsa, OK.  You’re going to drop some in your lap and look like a slob.  If you are a slob, there’s no need to advertise! 😀

Yes, that’s more than one number one rule.  Its ok, because its my blog and that works here.  Its like magic or something.

My rules for when you are interviewing a SQL Server candidate:

  • Respect the candidate’s experience.  If she has 15 years as a DBA, don’t waste your breath on the types of backups. Its insulting.
  • Do ask what features they know well, know a little, and don’t know at all.  See above advice to candidates.
  • Do NOT make the job description look like a shopping list and put every SQL feature you’ve ever heard of in the requirements section.  If you are contemplating a Data Warehouse project that isn’t even funded yet, that goes into the “nice to have” part.   Focus on the top 5 skills that the person will spend the majority of their time on.
  • The candidates are human too…treat the first one you see as an equal, as well as the 10th, or 100th.   They are giving you their time, just as you are using theirs…but you are getting paid to be there.  The relationship and interaction with them in the first interview may very well set the tone for many years of working with this person.

Some wacky stories from my past:

  • See food suggestion above.  That was me, obviously.  Probably had food in the beard as well.  Maybe even a bat in the cave just to round it out.  Never heard back from them, after they flew me in for the lunch conversation. Be professional.
  • I’m a pretty confident interviewer…but I got too confident for one a few years ago and didn’t really prep.  Did it from my truck outside a Taco Bell (hardly the first time).  Nobody told me there would be 4 other people on a bad speakerphone in addition to the person I was supposed to talk to. Nor did they tell me that Negative Nancy was going to hit me with trick question after trick question.  I said early on I was not a SQL developer…so she spent 20 minutes asking me T-SQL syntax questions.  I could hear the giggle in her voice.  I finally said I was done and left the call.  Told the recruiter there was no way I would ever work for that team.  Recruiter told me I did well based on what she heard back.   NOPE.
  • Best question I ever asked:  Interview with a home builder (there are dozens in the DFW area) post-2008 recession.   Knowing that the housing industry was absolutely pummeled, I asked how they weathered the storm, and what actions were taken by the company to protect themselves.  The previously quiet manager of the IT dept. piped up and said “We laid off 60% of the sales force, and built this amazing data center since materials were extremely cheap.”  I showed him I was thinking outside of the (SQL) box, and responded by joining the team lead and me in the conversation.  I got the gig, but turned down the FT offer a few months later.

That’s all I have.  Well…I have tons more, but there are other posts in this months TSQL Tuesday for you to read, so go do that!

Thanks for reading,


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