The topic of this months T-SQL Tuesday #93 (hosted by Kendra Little / @Kendra_Little) is Interviewing Patterns & Anti-Patterns. The question: What advice to you have for people preparing for or going through an interview?
It is a big question with many different perspectives and factors:
- Entry level vs experienced professional
- Startup vs enterprise
- DBA vs developer
Instead of delving into each specific domain I will discuss some insights that have served me well. I hope they will help you too. Whether you are interviewing for a Senior DBA role or an entry level BI developer some things remain the same.
A lot of what happens here is shaping your mindset. Nevermind anyone who isn’t supportive of your quest for employment. You need to keep it positive from sitting in the parking lot until you exit past the front desk.
You need to get motivated, get disciplined, and get it done!
You are a brand – a personal brand. Form it, protect it, and keep it professional. Pretend you are a consultant coming in for an exciting new challenge. You have to be your biggest advocate. Don’t rule yourself out – that is their job!
Know your value – salary is only one part of compensation
Like them or not technical screenings are a part of the job search for us.
You need to rehearse before the interview and brush up on your skills. Practice your whiteboard game because you’ll need it – especially for developer jobs. Don’t forget the basics: algorithms, data structures, design patterns, etc. Make sure you can…well…program. You’ve got to be able to bang out FizzBuzz without having an intermission and phoning a friend. I almost always get asked a question about the relational model so be ready to draw a simple ER diagram.
During the Interview
There is no magic formula for interviewing. Everyone is on their own in the search for a good match. Companies are trying to screen out candidates – you need to prove why you deserve to remain. Understand that you are already qualified for the job. That’s what the resume is for. The interview is for learning more about each other and closing the deal.
Remember, the interviewer is nervous too – just not about the same things. Ideally they hire a great candidate (you!). Otherwise they want you to walk away with a positive impression of the company.
During the interview, you must do most of the talking. The interviewers are trying to learn about you and you have to communicate to them that you know your stuff and can do the job. Oftentimes open ended questions are asked – this is your time to shine. They are probing you to see what you know. If you don’t know everything about a topic they ask about then redirect it to something similar. Explain how you would find out things that you don’t know.
If you are stuck at the whiteboard then keep talking. Say out loud what you are thinking. Talk through the pseudocode. Speak the English logic for solving the problem. Most times interviewers aren’t necessarily looking for the right answer but instead the right thinking.
Set Yourself Apart
Show them something extra. All things equal a candidate who learns on the side has a competitive advantage to one who does not.
- Are you part of your local SQL Server user group? Search Meetup for one in your area!
- Do you know about SQL PASS?
- Have you attended a SQL Saturday?
- Do you even blog bruh?
- Social Media – actively helping others on Twitter, Stack Exchange, open source development, etc.
- Playing with the latest toys – get yourself an evaluation of SQL Server 2017 on Virtual Box
When I interview people one key thing I look for, aside from the technical aspect, is enthusiasm. I want to talk to someone who is excited to be here and wants to do the job. Drive the conversation to where I want to go. I have an agenda and I’m happy to go through it but I prefer for you to drive.
Enthusiasm goes a long way. Be excited about the job!
I keep a spreadsheet of all the jobs I’ve applied for along with details about them. After each interview I write notes about it – how I felt, how my preconceived thoughts were right-on or changed, etc. Sometimes the interview doesn’t turn out how you hoped.
- Demeaning talk – an interviewer openly spoke down to me as if they didn’t want to hire.
- “Solve my problem now!” – they think interviewing candidates and quizzing them on their business challenges is cheaper than hiring consultants.
- The “we are so great you are lucky to be here” interview where you sit and wait to be sold a timeshare or work there.
- Active opposition – the panel is trying to stump you.
- Sometimes you rock the interview but realize you don’t want to work there.
I know someone who was so confident that she would get a job after an interview that she told her current employer she was probably going to be moving on soon. Turns out the offer never came through and the company immediately terminated employment.
Never close a door until you have another to step through.
Rejection is a part of the job search. Keeping notes and writing it down can reduce stress and make it less scary and more useful. Conversely, keep perspective – your feelings might not match the other side of the table.
When you get the offer you want then it is time to celebrate! Just don’t forget how you got there. Interviewing is best with practice and in our field job changes are common.
Remember, you only need 1 acceptable (hopefully awesome) job offer. With any luck I trust this helps you to prepare, perform, and have better interviews!