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What about questions to ask the company?

Lately there have been a lot of great blog articles with active discussions talking about questions to ask potential SQL Server DBA or Developer candidates. Off the top of my head (and by means no offense implied to the many others, check out my blog roll for some of the blogs I try and keep up with in my Google Reader) I can think of:

  • Brent Ozar’s post about questions to ask a developer
  • Brad Mcgehee’s post about DBA questions and characteristics to look for
  • Thomas LaRock’s questions for Jr. DBA candidates

From those posts you can see links to other posts as well. All great information and handy. I like the points and I tend to harp on some of those mentioned and especially on common sense (do you follow a troubleshooting methodology, do you search for empirical evidence or do you practice the shotgun approach to troubleshooting?)

How about questions to ask a company if you are a candidate?

Sure there are the basics you should ask:

  • Clarify expected roles and responsibilities
  • Understand how the peer level resources enjoy working at the company
  • Learn about the growth opportunities that exist
  • What is the work/life balance like? Depending on where in your career and family growth you are this is an important thing to feel out or directly ask. I have turned down some great opportunities that would have been a guaranteed tilt to the work side (busier weeks, on call time, releases etc are fine)

Even in this economy, if you are looking for the highest level people, if you are looking for the candidates who give back to the community as posted by Brent, Brad and Tom. If you are looking for people who will come in and provide value right off the bat there are some things that those candidates may be looking for in return. Yes we are in a down economy but judging by the contacts I have through friends and colleagues, I also know that A players are still in demand and coveted.

What kind of questions would I ask if I were looking? What kind of questions could you expect if you were a hiring manager? (Please don’t see this as a smug arrogance, ultimatum list, etc. I hope these are fair questions that are met with open arms).

  • What is the company commitment to training and conference attendance? If you are asking me about my community involvement, my giving back on forums, user group attendance, etc. I want to know how you feel about me spending some company time at the PASS Summit. I want to know if it’s okay if I am effectively getting my job done and answer a few forum questions here and there without interfering with deliverables or deadlines. I used to think expert meant, knows all the answers never has to ask. I think an expert (of which I am certainly not claiming to be) is someone who knows they don’t know a lot and is seeking to help fill that gap while knowing they never can. This means ongoing training is important, ongoing time learning from those who “write the books” is huge. Do you?
  • Do you listen well? Great question to ask a candidate but a great question to ask back (worded differently). What I mean is if I use my experience in an area and identify issues will they be taken seriously? You are hiring me for my experience, there is a hope for a “trust but verify” environment and a “break-in” period is expected. That being said, if I can explain something clearly, point out deficiencies (even if it means some things were done wrong before), propose a plan for making it better, etc. are you going to listen and consider? Or will it be ignored and when a $250/hr consultant comes in and suggests the same thing will it be taken as axiomatic truth?
  • Where is this role empowered? If I am coming in as a DBA with goals and being put into a senior DBA role, will the development staff follow guidelines and best practices? Will the server and storage team laugh at me when I suggest a better I/O subsystem? What kind of support am I going to get from you to accomplish the goals we discussed in the interview? I don’t want to see a world of opportunity and have the ideas quashed before discussion (you can kill my ideas after a reasoned discussion but not quashed “because that is how we have always done it”).
  • Speaking of idea crushing, what is the typical dialog around new ideas? I am going to be wrong some, existing employees are going to be wrong some also. What kind of dialog does the company have around ideas and improvements? Is weight given to the best solution for the company (regardless of the team or person who came up with it)? or is it given based on some strange political system that I don’t want to try and learn?
  • A scenario based question: You are sitting in your office working when the phone rings. The CIO is telling you that the important application the CEO relies heavily on just died (again). What is the business and management style used here to respond? I am looking to know if the existing employees like to do happy clicking, if it is encouraged by a panic from above or if methodology and sanity tend to at least be felt in part during a serious production outage. I want to know if there is a commitment to a favorite past time of mine (Root Cause Analysis – or making sure that same failure doesn’t happen like that again). I want to see if I can detect any hint of the blame game being well practiced there. I am looking to see if the company practices what it was trying to get out of me during the interview. Sometimes there must be blame but the blame game takes time away from Root Cause Analysis and takes the focus off of the problem statement (the users hate the system, are angry at IT and just want a working system) and puts folks on the defensive. I want to make sure that the focus is on the customer and making things better in the long run.

What do you ask? Or do you just sit there and ask the questions they want to hear? I hate it when I interview someone and get asked those kind of questions (or no questions)…

Mike Walsh
Article by Mike Walsh
Mike loves mentoring clients on the right Systems or High Availability architectures because he enjoys those lightbulb moments and loves watching the right design and setup come together for a client. He started Straight Path in 2010 when he decided that after over a decade working with SQL Server in various roles, it was time to try and take his experience, passion, and knowledge to help clients of all shapes and sizes. Mike is a husband, father to four great children, and a Christian. He’s a volunteer Firefighter and EMT in his small town in New Hampshire, and when he isn’t playing with his family, solving SQL Server issues, or talking shop, it seems like he has plenty to do with his family running a small farm in NH raising Beef Cattle, Chickens, Pigs, Sheep, Goats, Honeybees and who knows what other animals have been added!

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2 thoughts on “What about questions to ask the company?”

  1. Brent – Your points are great also. I forgot about reading that back in January but when I just started looking through it the Twitter Firewall question brought it all back 🙂 Thanks for all you continue to do for the SQL Community.


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