Looking for that next technology job? I’ll let you in on a little secret – six little secrets – Reasons I’ve said “no thanks” to SQL Server candidates when interviewing them for clients & employers:

1 – “I Don’t Know” isn’t a phrase you know…

I ask different kinds of questions. Some are questions you’ll find in books or internet searches – like, “how many clustered indexes can you have on a table?” Some are more “describe or explain”  in nature with no absolute right or wrong answer – I want to see you can string some thoughts together and add common sense, logic and knowledge. Some questions I don’t expect you to know! In fact, I learned from a great manager awhile ago to go out of my way to ask a question you won’t know the answer to. I’m looking for, “I don’t know” as a response here. I’m fine with an “I’m not sure, but is it” type of answer. I don’t normally get those responses though. Even a “simple question” –  I would rather hear “I don’t know” to an easy question than some far fetched stab in the dark that was  confusing and off. (ex. “What are fixed server roles?” “well in those old versions of SQL Server the roles didn’t do what people told them to do, so now they went and fixed them, so the roles are right”) If I am recommending someone give you the keys to their prized production environment, I don’t want you to get all “what does this button do?” in it. “I don’t know” is not a bad answer*

*Quick disclaimer – it can’t be the only answer to all questions, though
 

2 – You have no defense…

I’m not mean in an interview. I’m not dishonest in an interview. I do like a little disagreement from time to time, however. I want to hear you defend a position. I want to hear you stand up for your answer when it is a case of lots of ways to do the same thing. So I may disagree with you mildly. Or play the opposing view of one of those “religious” wars in SQL circles. I don’t approach it in a rude way, but I want to prod you further along. Defend yourself. When I am hiring someone to join a team I am on or a team I help – I’m not looking at it like I’m a dictator trying to fill cabinet positions. We are dealing with important environments and significant investments. If I decide to do something that burned you at your last employer, I want to know you’ll raise a flag and say “Actually, the last time I saw this here is what happened… Here is why I don’t think we should do this and have you considered this instead?” not “Okay! Go for it, Mike!” Even in positions that have “junior” in the title, I want to see folks willing and comfortable raising objections… As I talk about in presentations on learning from real life disasters – agreement in spite of concerns is a disaster causing attitude… I don’t want that anywhere near database servers I care about.

3 – You don’t need to defend yourself…

Along those lines, I also really don’t want you if your only defense is, “I’ve been doing this a long time, that’s the right answer, how long have you been doing this?” Arrogance is also a disaster causing attitude. Just because you personally detest anyone ever using an identity column as a primary key doesn’t mean you are right and any exception to this rule proves the rule breaker is an idiot. So if I ask you to defend your position, just remember it has to be a valid defense (Or at least heading towards validity.. I’ll even take “the glove didn’t fit” over “I said I’m not guilty, what more do you want?”) Tell me why identities are bad as primary keys. Answer my counter points when we have that discussion. Then tell me how you’d work with them anyway if that’s the scenario we paint. You may be an industry expert, but if you can’t get over yourself and outrage that someone would ask you to explain a little further, I’d be hard pressed to suggest you join a team that ever has the potential of being staffed by more than one person.

4 – You do, know and learn what is expected…

Only. Only what is expected. It is a competitive marketplace out there!  So you need to stand out, you have to be different. I will always ask about what blogs you read (if you say my blog, by the way, I know you just googled my name before the interview), what SQL events you go to, what SQL books you’ve read lately, what you do to learn new features, etc.  If you are coming to me for a SQL related job, I will take points away if you can’t show me you actively work to improve your skill set. I don’t mean I expect you to spend every single waking hour living SQL Server – Family comes first, kids  come first, weekends enjoying the backyard come first… There is still time to increase your knowledge and wear your more important hats. Stand out from the crowd by showing you care enough about what you do to know more than just what the scope of your last role was! If you feel you’ve already learned enough and don’t need to grow anymore, then you aren’t the right person.

5 – It’s not you, it’s me (okay, it’s you…)

This one may seem odd to write and maybe odder to read. We have to be able to work together – especially if it is a team I am on or a team I help out frequently. I don’t mean that we have to have the same political leanings, faith, hair stylist (in fact, my wife does my hair, she better not be doing yours too) or like the same bands. I want to see -you- not just a talking resume but a human being. I’m looking for that in the later stages of interview processes definitely but even to a degree in the beginning screening calls. Basic things like eye contact, smiling from time to time, engaging in some idle conversation while walking someplace, you asking questions about the role, the company or even the team or talking about your life. We may have to work on some tough issues together from time to time, it helps to have that feeling of a team atmosphere. Again, I’m not looking for you to hug everyone and be fake, or to bring cupcakes to your interview (I won’t refuse them, though..) I just want to know we’ll get along. Be confident and outgoing, those little things add to the complete picture.

6 – You don’t have the right skills for the role…

Finally, yeah – you do have to have the right skills for the job. If you were great in every other aspect for a report developer role but you didn’t know what SSRS was, it would be tough to give you that position. If you were a little off on some of the technical questions but showed me you had a passion to learn, could explain your thoughts, use logic and apply common sense to troubleshooting I may consider you over someone with a bit more skill but less of these traits. In fact, I’ll do that a lot, I believe you can teach skills better than you can teach “traits” but at the end of the day the skills have to at least me someplace on the same map. Make sure you read about the position you are interviewing for and honestly assess yourself before committing. It shows when you just read a bunch of interview questions the second we go a level deeper.

 

I’m sure I missed a bunch, what do you look for when hiring for that next position? What are you most nervous about when looking for that next SQL job?

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