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Cramming for Interviews Expand / Collapse
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Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 7:05 AM


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Digression: agreed that cramming to exhibit skills you don't have is misrepresentation. Ironic that Microsoft themselves, in a way, encourage this misrepresentation by way of their poorly written certification exams (SQL Server certifications), which seem to reward rote memorization far more than real knowledge.

Hakim Ali
www.sqlzen.com
Post #1407259
Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 7:17 AM


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Cramming knowledge for an interview to impress a prospective employer is kind of like stuffing toilet paper into your pants to impress a girl. You are advertising what you don't really have. Bottom line, you either have it or you don't.

"Technology is a weird thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ..."
Post #1407264
Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 9:26 AM
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Steve, I have to admit that today's editorial is one of the most hard-nosed, direct, hard hearted, and excellent ones you put together and I could not agree with you more. To help a charlatan build a facade to bilk a potential employer is akin to fraud. Not something I would want a part of.

Excellent!

M.


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Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 9:36 AM


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majorbloodnock (1/15/2013)
GSquared (1/15/2013)
[quote]

The problem with the part I added emphasis to, is that quite often a company needs to hire a DBA because they don't have anyone who knows anything significant about the subject. So they really can't effectively screen against fraudulent interviewees.

...

Hmmm. Yes and no.

You're quite right, of course, that I was being overly flippant, and I hold my hands up; guilty as charged.

Personally, I see a lot of small companies balk at the cost of a DBA, so try to enter into the world of databases on the cheap by trying to take on someone who's only starting out in that area. It's arguably better value to look for someone with quantifiable prior experience which, whilst not eliminating the risk, swings the odds more in your favour that you'll get someone at least half competent.

IMHO, of course.....


I see both sides here. It's hard to hire when you don't know how to evaluate skills. The trick of seeing through BS when you aren't technically skilled isn't one I think most people have. I find that hiring a consultant of some sort to interview for you is common, but it's problematic and expensive. Ultimately finding candidates is hard, and paying 20-30% for a placement firm is bad enough. Adding in what could be another 10-15% for interview time for a consultant is hard.

A good reason to retain people when you can and hire good people on recommendations, even if you don't have a slot.







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Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 9:47 AM


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Miles Neale (1/15/2013)
Steve, I have to admit that today's editorial is one of the most hard-nosed, direct, hard hearted, and excellent ones you put together and I could not agree with you more. To help a charlatan build a facade to bilk a potential employer is akin to fraud. Not something I would want a part of.

Excellent!

M.


Thanks







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Post #1407346
Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 10:07 AM


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majorbloodnock (1/15/2013)
GSquared (1/15/2013)
majorbloodnock (1/15/2013)
Gary Varga (1/15/2013)
A reasonable interview will test deeper understanding, however, the biggest problem is that some interviews are conducted so poorly these people that "learn by cramming" sometimes succeed. If they didn't then it wouldn't be worthwhile trying it on and therefore wouldn't be an issue.

To an extent, I agree. Cramming only helps with facts, and detailed facts at that. It doesn't do anything for understanding concepts. The value of a decent DBA is their ability to understand concepts and theory, and put that understanding into practice, so that's what an interview should be attempting to tease out.

That said, this world is full enough of charlatans as it is, so whilst I'm tempted to say any blagger and any company lax enough to hire them deserve each other, I certainly wouldn't want to do anything to help introduce them. After all, despite my best efforts, it may be my details they end up working on.


The problem with the part I added emphasis to, is that quite often a company needs to hire a DBA because they don't have anyone who knows anything significant about the subject. So they really can't effectively screen against fraudulent interviewees.

The usual answer I see on that one is, "pay someone to do the tech screening for you". But how can a company know whether or not the person/company doing the tech screening knows their business or not?

I've had technical interviews by people, frequently at recruiting companies, who quite obviously didn't know SQL well enough to detect whether I did or not. Questions like, "why are table variables faster than temp tables", and when I reply that they aren't, and provide details on why, and explain that it's a "DBA urban legend", they start to look like deer in the headlights. I swear, when those people ask their second question (usually, "what recovery models do SQL databases have"), I could tell them that "SQL Server doesn't actually use recovery models. It uses azimuths generated by flux capacitors to power the warp coils for wormhole navigation", and they'd be so intimidated by the reply to the first question that they'd believe me.

So how can a normal small business tell? That's why so many small businesses end up with people who can baffle with BS instead of actually competent technical personnel. See it all the time.

Hmmm. Yes and no.

You're quite right, of course, that I was being overly flippant, and I hold my hands up; guilty as charged.

However, there still exists the problem of how a company needing skills about which they've no prior experience can successfully interview. I was certainly being unfair to label them as lax by lumping them straight in with those that only go through the motions. However, I'll argue that if you don't have the technical expertise to spot a blagger, you shouldn't attempt to perform a technical interview per se; if you do, you effectively become another blagger and it's just a contest of who blags the best. I'd argue instead that the company should concentrate rather harder on understanding the candidate's attitude and outlook, and scrutinising closely their past professional experience. In short, interview harder in the areas you really are qualified to judge. If you can enlist outside help to judge technical excellence, great. Ditto if you can find any other way to give you an interviewing edge.

Personally, I see a lot of small companies balk at the cost of a DBA, so try to enter into the world of databases on the cheap by trying to take on someone who's only starting out in that area. It's arguably better value to look for someone with quantifiable prior experience which, whilst not eliminating the risk, swings the odds more in your favour that you'll get someone at least half competent.

IMHO, of course.....


Pretty much matches the interview process I prefer when I'm managing.

I pay minimal attention to skillsets I can't verify, but aim for honest, intelligent, and energetic. I can turn that kind of person into any sort of technical expert I need, regardless of their resume experience or lack thereof. Can't turn educated but dishonest into anything useful.


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Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 10:11 AM


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GSquared (1/15/2013)
majorbloodnock (1/15/2013)
GSquared (1/15/2013)
majorbloodnock (1/15/2013)
Gary Varga (1/15/2013)

....

....

....

....


Pretty much matches the interview process I prefer when I'm managing.

I pay minimal attention to skillsets I can't verify, but aim for honest, intelligent, and energetic. I can turn that kind of person into any sort of technical expert I need, regardless of their resume experience or lack thereof. Can't turn educated but dishonest into anything useful.

Agree totally. Skills can be taught, but attitude cannot.


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Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 1:21 PM
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Let me try working through a few variables on this one!

If the interviewee is going to fool a completely competent and prepared interviewer, he's going to fool the SQL forums and get his answers. (I'm obviously mistakenly ommitting the geniuses here who will see through every scheme no matter how sophisticated by the sheer power of their perception, but in that case I'm an ordinary joe that can subsequently answer questions the faker posts because well I'm an ordinary joe and Steves advice does not apply to me in this case.)

If the interviewee is not going to fool a completely competent and prepared interviewer, will he fool the SQL forums and get his answers? If I find him out, I'm going to answer him but tell him it sounds like he wants to cheet and will probably fail because if I'm an ordinary joe unskilled in HR and spotted his dastardly scheme, the competent HR department will surely find him out!

If the interviewee is going to have an incompetent and unprepared interviewer, do we reward incompetence and lack of preparation by refusing to answer questions in order to protect the incompetent and unprepared interviewer? Or might this somehow dilute free market forces that would otherwise penalize incompetence and lack of preparation?

How about the many different degrees of competence on either of the interview participants part? How does that pan out?

Additionally, if an applicant is truly dishonest (and especially good at being dishonest), are we saying he's going to fool the interviewer but not the forum participants? Heck, he's got an easier job fooling forum participants because by definition in his participation here he's not providing answers, he's formulating questions!
Post #1407457
Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 2:36 PM


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patrickmcginnis59 (1/15/2013)
Let me try working through a few variables on this one!

If the interviewee is going to fool a completely competent and prepared interviewer, he's going to fool the SQL forums and get his answers. (I'm obviously mistakenly ommitting the geniuses here who will see through every scheme no matter how sophisticated by the sheer power of their perception, but in that case I'm an ordinary joe that can subsequently answer questions the faker posts because well I'm an ordinary joe and Steves advice does not apply to me in this case.)


It's usually pretty easy to spot most interview questions on the forums. Not always, but it doesn't take any particular perception skills to know that, "What are the differences between temp tables and table variables?" is frequently an interview question. Can be a valid forum question, in which case, answering it the next day works for a valid question, and defeats the interview-hack (the interview is probably long-since over). Foolproof? Nope. But it's probably as good as we'll get on this situation.

If the interviewee is not going to fool a completely competent and prepared interviewer, will he fool the SQL forums and get his answers? If I find him out, I'm going to answer him but tell him it sounds like he wants to cheet and will probably fail because if I'm an ordinary joe unskilled in HR and spotted his dastardly scheme, the competent HR department will surely find him out!


That works. If you think it's a test/homework/interview question, ask. I do that pretty frequently. Again, delaying the answer by a bit is usually enough to make it still valuable to someone who's on the forums to learn, and to defeat the purpose of a cheat.

If the interviewee is going to have an incompetent and unprepared interviewer, do we reward incompetence and lack of preparation by refusing to answer questions in order to protect the incompetent and unprepared interviewer? Or might this somehow dilute free market forces that would otherwise penalize incompetence and lack of preparation?


The interviewer isn't usually trying to defraud anyone. They're doing their best effort to fix a business-problem by paying for expertise. Not always the case, but it is most of the time. It would be dishonest of a business to hire someone and then not pay them, but it's not dishonest of them to hire someone to fill a gap in their knowledge assets. It's difficult, and has risks, but it's honest. Trying to interview for a job you can't actually do is inherently dishonest. It's trying to take money from someone without providing any value to them. Definition of fraud/theft/scam.

How about the many different degrees of competence on either of the interview participants part? How does that pan out?

Additionally, if an applicant is truly dishonest (and especially good at being dishonest), are we saying he's going to fool the interviewer but not the forum participants? Heck, he's got an easier job fooling forum participants because by definition in his participation here he's not providing answers, he's formulating questions!


We can't catch every attempt. Some will be more clever than we can deal with in this medium. No way around that. Something like 80% of all murders in the US go unsolved every year, and a lot more effort and expertise goes into those than will ever go into trying to catch out interview/exam cheats, and for darn good reason (not even vaguely the same order of magnitude). So I'm sure we miss quite a few. But that's not a valid reason to ignore the ones we could prevent, or at least call-out.

Generally, I start out by trusting everyone. Assume that even seemingly dishonest/unscrupulous looking activities are probably not because of actual intent. Life is more pleasant when you assume you can trust people till proven otherwise. But I will ask, "This looks like an interview question. Is it?", if it does look that way. And quite a few people will admit that it is, and then I'll work with them so they can learn for future interviews. I'll refer them to source material (usually MSDN or TechNet) that they can study for their next go. Most often, even the people who are trying to "cheat", will straighten out when confronted on it. Only about 2.5-3% of humanity is willfully criminal, but some of the rest need some guidance on matters of ethics, etc.


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Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 4:03 PM


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As those that have come to know me over the years will tell you, this is a REALLY sore spot with me especially for people that have alphabet soup after their name.

I can absolutely guarantee that there is no way to "cram" for a "Jeff Moden" interview. Although I don't ask difficult questions, I can guarantee that only a couple of the questions I ask are actually on one of those God forsaken interview question blogs. Those are used as "warmup" guestions to get the inteviewer to relax because everybody knows the answers. After that, you're required to actually think or show what you've actually done in the past in the form of thoughful dialog.

I used to be incensed by people that published those damned interview questions and even more incensed by moroffs that used them for anything other than, perhaps, a study guide of what they need to try, practice, and verify. Then, it dawned on me that a good number of those bloody sites had some really stupid and incorrect answers and so decided that I'd not correct the answers nor even acknowledge that some of the answers were wrong. In fact, I've taken to using those incorrectly answered questions as the warmup questions. Lord help the gamers that come to an interview with me and give me one of those incorrect answers. We will find out if they like high velocity pork chops or not.


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