A popular motivational speaker once said, “Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” And really, our goal when we are interviewing people should be to get good answers so that we can accurately assess and analyze the candidate. Over my professional career, I have done a lot of interviewing of applicants for technical and non-technical positions. Additionally, I have interviewed people one-on-one, as a committee, and even at huge career fairs. And personally, I have been through various types of interviews, such as technical, behavioral, committee, and tested (i.e. Wonderlic).
That being said, too often I see people not giving enough forethought to the questions they ask during an interview, which really can lead to bad hires. So, the reason I am writing this post is to help interviewers ask better questions and understand what they should look for in an applicant’s response. I will handle this as multiple posts that will start with some general questions.
What are/were your responsibilities at your current/last job?
- The reason I ask this question is to get them talking so I can evaluate their soft skills and hear about their experience. From their answer, I may be able to tell whether they are self-motivated or if they need lots of direction. Additionally, I should be able to tell if their real world experience aligns with their resume. If an applicant is having a hard time explaining their experience or I am having a hard time understanding what they did, this could serve as a warning flag.
How do you learn new things?
- I am always looking for people who want to grow professionally, because they seem to be motivated to also help the organization grow. As for a database professional, I would expect to hear them mention learning sources such as: reading technical blogs and books, attending SQL Server User Groups (SSUG) meetings, professional networking, and/or attending training events and conferences. Additionally, I like for them to be specific with their answers by naming a specific blog site or book.
Have you worked with third party database tools?
- Everyone who would consider themselves a professional should be knowledgeable about the tools in their trade, whether they have personally used them or not. Additionally, there are an abundance of free tools that can help make a database professional’s life easier. Some of the companies I would expect to hear would be: RedGate, Idera, SQL Sentry, and Quest.
How do you convince people (i.e. manager or co-worker) that a certain course is the correct one?
- It is inevitable that an employee will have to try to convince someone of a certain course at some point in time, and hearing how they go about it is important. Do they give up easily? Do they put together and document proof as to why a certain course is better? Do they try to explain it in various ways and at various times?
Why are you leaving your current company? What are you looking for in your next position?
- I think this question really helps to find out what motivates or drives a person. Is it money, experience, or technology? This can be valuable because it will also tell you what you need to focus on to keep an employee happy.
Questions for all database professionals
What is an index and why is it important?
- This is an essential concept for all database professionals to understand because indexes are fundamental to databases that run fast and efficiently. At the very least, an applicant should be able to discuss the differences between clustered and non-clustered indexes, and why maintenance is needed on indexes (i.e. defragmenting or rebuilding).
When might you use a view, stored procedure, function, and/or trigger?
- Since these are the basic objects within a database, I feel like all database professionals should have a basic understanding of how and when they may be useful.
What’s the difference between an INNER, OUTER, and FULL join?
- I ask this question as an introduction to the depth of their T-SQL skills. Frequently, this question leads me to ask more questions to dig into how experienced they are with T-SQL.
What is database normalization? And when might you choose to de-normalize data?
- This question helps me to determine if they understand one of the core benefits of a relational database, by not having redundant data. If they can also explain when to de-normalize data, then they may understand the difference characteristics of OLTP versus OLAP databases.
Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list of questions that I may ask, but rather is just a list of starter questions. And depending on how an applicant will answer, it may lead me to a follow up question. In my next post, I will focus on questions to ask database administrators and business intelligence developers.