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Posted Friday, July 25, 2008 8:32 AM
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blandry (7/24/2008)
All good points offered, but I learned years ago when I got into management that you must, and I mean MUST think outside the box if you want to build a great team. It is correct that employers are “supposed” to provide limited information during reference calls and this is especially true with HR people. That is why I use them only to confirm base facts on any submitted resume as Step One. Step Two is talking to former co-workers or bosses. ...

When I worked for the police department, the hiring process was tough. Since we dealt with criminal information, all of the civilian hires, and even volunteers!, went through most of the hiring process that cops went through: background investigation (not just check), polygraph, provide documentation of bankruptcies, divorces, name changes, etc. No felony arrests since you're 18, no questions of moral turpitude, etc. It's pretty thorough. It's also tough: a lot of people working for the city wanted to transfer to the PD but couldn't make it past the screening. I lost a good programmer because she was nervous and couldn't get past the polygraph: she hadn't done anything wrong (as far as I knew), but just general anxiety kept her from passing the poly and we had to let her go when her contract was up.

We were about to hire an IT guy. Made it through the background investigation and polygraph. Then the IT director was having lunch with a friend. Director mentioned "We're about to hire So-and-So." The friend said "Him? We fired his butt."

Turned out he was fired for, *ahem*, performing an act of self-gratification in his office.

He got through the background investigation, he got through the polygraph, he got through reference checks, and he got through the technical interview.

Good thing IT directors network. :D
Post #540962
Posted Friday, July 25, 2008 10:38 AM


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Getting references and using your network is important, but honestly, I'm mostly with Jeff. A good technical interview and my instincts are what I mostly use.








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Post #541129
Posted Friday, July 25, 2008 11:42 AM


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I would be very interested to hear you guys talk a bit more about your technical interviews. What makes for a good technical interview and what approaches do you take?

Sometimes, these can be a "stump the chump" session and I think that can be counter-productive. That is, you might have a real SQL Server wizard who is weak in one area (maybe like Temp Tables vs Table Variables) and so just trying to stump an interviewee is not necessarily a good measure of overall skill.

How do you approach assessing someone's technical expertise? Do you focus specifically on just SQL Server, or SQL Server as it applies to your specific business? Do you use formalized questions - or find a discussion more useful?

What in your view, is a good guide to an effective "technical interview"?


There's no such thing as dumb questions, only poorly thought-out answers...
Post #541198
Posted Friday, July 25, 2008 11:50 AM


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Actually that's a great question and probably worth an article or two. If Jeff/anyone else if up for it, send me a draft. I'm sure people are intereseted. Likewise Mr/Ms blandry, I think you have some good thoughts on your interview process. Want to formalize some of those into an article?

I've used a couple techniques, partially taken from what's been done to me, in technical interviews.

I usually give an on site pre-test. It's the same test to all applicants and it's more for a discussion point to give me something to talk about. I have them take it while I'm actually doing work, and then it gets to me and I might glance at it while they get a break, but I typically don't grade it. It's more to see what people know. It's 15-20 questions, asking in all areas of SQL, not too much code, but it's what I consider typical knowledge you should have. How to return identity values for an insert, find duplicates in a simple table, what's a good backup scheme, things like that.

For the technical interview, I like to have multiple people from the team asking questions. It's kind of round robin, people firing questions, building off other's questions or answers. We work through various issues we've had or we consider to require thought. It's scenario based, we allow them to ask clarification questions, but we want them to think out loud. The idea is to understand how a person thinks about problems. The answer is less important than to see if they collaborate with the team, ask us questions, logically pursue a solution. If they need to look something up, we'll provide some info, we don't require they know syntax for DBCC xxx, but that they know there are commands. We ask where they look things up. We may ask about things we haven't solved, just to see if they approach it like us or have an interesting take.

The written test provides a basis for where we test people. If it's on your resume, it's fair game to ask. We have set scenarios based on our environment we ask about (to be fair to everyone), but the answers and follow up discussion may lead anywhere.







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Post #541206
Posted Friday, July 25, 2008 12:44 PM


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Thanks Steve! Thats great feedback and frankly, your confirmation of the sort of "round robin" approach was great to hear because that is something I have come to really believe is highly effective in weeding out not only technical skills, but how a prospective employee will interface with other members of my teams - you know, the "human factor", which is as important to me as technical skills because cohesion is a very big factor for me as a manager.

Your comments on the written test are also very enlightening, and I see what you are saying - its not so much to stump the candidate, as it is to test basic general knowledge. That's a great idea and I am sharing your post with a couple of my staff as I think your take on it hits the right mark on how that technique should be applied.

And yes, if time permits, I would be honored to contribute - I have found SSC to be a great resource, great site and it would be nice to give something back!





There's no such thing as dumb questions, only poorly thought-out answers...
Post #541232
Posted Wednesday, April 10, 2013 9:12 AM


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Steve Jones - SSC Editor (7/23/2008)
Never a guarantee, not never works out. ;)

I agree with you, but I've seen people give out references, including former bosses that were co-workers. If you call XYZ corp and ask for Bill Smith, supervisor for DBAs, how do you know Bill Smith is the supervisor? He could be your interviewee's best friend.

Also, you never know because someone could have a life changing experience. There are plenty of people that are great employees and then they get divorced, sick or something else and they don't perform. It happens all the time. Not necessarily everywhere, but it does happen.

I've had people I've hired that seemed marginal and out-performed expectations as well, even after checking references.


I think this post in particular is probably the most accurate of any in this entire thread. The bottom line, is "there is no guarantees in anything or anyone in life". It's all a crap shoot for the most part. Yes, there are things you can do to hedge your bets in life but when it comes right down to it,it's the luck of the draw most of the time, it's just that simple. Once you start defining maxims (rules) in anything or anyone that is when you get let down primarily because there will always be someone out there that will try to get around them, particularly if you have the money.. Recommendations and references can be bought.


"Technology is a weird thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ..."
Post #1440870
Posted Wednesday, April 10, 2013 9:26 AM


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I actually feel that the number of recent certifications a person has is directly related to how long they've been un-employed;

I'm guilty of it myself, when one company went under, and i was looking for a job, i used a lot of my free time burning through certs to make myself appear more desirable.


Lowell

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Post #1440884
Posted Wednesday, April 10, 2013 12:10 PM
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The value of certifications and degrees is much smaller than we anticipate. A degree from a university/college generally does indicate that the individual has shown they know how to learn, and meet the minimum requirements to obtain a degree. A certification does indicate that the individual was able to pass a test.

The other side of the coin is far, far larger.

Passing a certification only means you knew the answers long enough to pass the test. You may be an expert, but you might have crammed for the test, or used a brain dump site, or as in my case, simply have an inate ability to determine the right answers from the context of the test questions. The last one has value, as it speaks to other qualities that benefit us. If I can look at a group of disparate facts, come up with a hypothesis as to what may be a root cause, and then quickly work to confirm that, benefits are gained. However the ability to use a brain dump site or temporarily memorize facts may not be nearly as useful long term.

A great case in point is "Bob". Bob worked at the same company as me for a short period. He had all his network certifications for Cisco, and was hired to replace a Cisco expert who had left. Bob had no work experience in the area of networking. Bob lasted about 2 days. All his class work, studying for the certification, and anything else he did, had zero value when it came to doing a job for a real company. Bob was a great example of why a certification isn't a sufficient reason to make the hiring decision.

Phil is a friend of mine that, like me, has an inate ability to pass tests. Phil enjoyed college quite a bit. Unfortunately his enjoyment was more along the lines of partying and spending time with the opposite sex, than actually opening a book. Phil graduated with a degree in communications. Phil never attended class unless he absolutely had to for a test or other requirement. His attendance was less than 50%, probably less than 25%. Phil graduated with what would be a "B" average. Phil is a great example of how a degree doesn't prove anything other than you able to learn. It does not show committment or anything else. Phil went to a very good state school, too, so it isn't realistic to assume the university was the issue. Further, I know a lot of people who graduated from MIT and other very prestigious universities that had s similar work ethic. Granted they weren't as extreme as Phil, but their behavior was similar.

I should note that Phil is an exception in that he does excel at work, and has been promoted significantly often, and is making very good money for a fortune 500 company! When he needs to, Phil is excellent at getting things done, and getting them done right.

By now you know that I agree with the premise that a degree or certification does not have the value that a lot of people think. I do believe they can be beneficial to the employee, and that they sometimes equate with a good, hard working individual. I know for a fact that having one or the other, or both, does not prove anything at all.

Why then do companies frequently use these as a guideline? The same reason schools punish all the kids when one acts up. The same reason we pass stupid laws against (redacted list of stupid laws that might cause anger or disagreement that is unnecessary to this discussion), and a million other arbitrary rules and laws that we have.

It is simply easier, and allows the hiring manager to defend their decision with facts. Useless facts, but still facts.


Dave
Post #1440972
Posted Wednesday, April 10, 2013 12:19 PM
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pollockk (7/22/2008)
In general, I agree, and certainly the attitude to certificates as described has been a widespread attitude anywhere I have ever worked over the last 15 years (UK).

There is distinct difference, I find, in people with and without a CS degree. It's a subtle thing, but it is in database design that I actually see it come out. People with the solid theory design less problematic databases and usually have a better feel for set-based operations.

In the non-database end of things, grads are more likely to have 'got' pointers.

But maybe its correlation not causality

Passion? hmm, it's just a job after all, maybe that's expecting too much from most of us.


Passion? Let's see - you pay me the same whether I have passion or not. You simply use that as one of many excuses you can pull out of the review hat to support why raises are so low for everyone. No, I don't think passion is an appropriate thing to look at given companies unwillingness to pay for it.

Pointers, yes, maybe degreed individuals are "more likely" to "get it". Not guaranteed though.

Correlation versus causality, definitely right on with that point. A degree does not cause anything. It does correlate though.

Lastly, and the one thing I slightly disagree with, people with a solid theory background may be a problem in that they go too far. Normalization is a highly debated topic, and not one we should get into here. But it is an example of a topic where education sometimes causes issues. I had a professor that used the term "normalize until it hurts, denormalize until it works". Not sure of the original source, but the fact that he shared that with us was a benefit. I am pretty sure professors tend to teach what they perceive as the only way to do things, real world issues are irrelevant to them. Current social issues being a great example of that. Humble professors are, in my experience, not as common as the egotistical ones that seem to run post secondary education, and push their theories on the rest of society. This is bad enough with social issues. The recent push of this behavior into technical issues is a huge issue.


Dave
Post #1440973
Posted Wednesday, April 10, 2013 12:27 PM
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SuperDBA-207096 (7/22/2008)
Good point! I always try to ask 'thinking' questions whenever I interview a candidate to get an idea of how they think.

Mark


Two of my favorite interviews:

1) Describe how you would program an elevator.

I spent the good part of an hour verbalizing how to do this, only to have him point out the flaws in every idea I had. As I answered each of his points, he found something else wrong.

He didn't care how I would program an elevator. He cared about whether I could think things through, and when presented with a flaw in my logic, how would I go about providing an alternative solution.

One of the most intelligent people I ever worked with or for.

2) This what I refer to as the "Star Trek Kobayashi Maru" interview.

I was presented with a scenario during a behavior based interview. The scenario was that I was functioning as a project manager, was one month from go live, on a 12-month project, and I just found out the project would be delayed by six months.

I pulled a James T Kirk response and rewrote the question! I explained how that simply wasn't possible. There is no way I can accept that I got into that situation. There is no excuse for being that far out of touch with reality. The interviewer smiled, and said "OK, I just assigned you as project manager to the project after firing the guy that was in charge..."

I enjoyed working for that company.


Dave
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