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T-SQL Tuesday #174: Your Favorite Job Interview Question


My blog has been quiet lately. I recently wrapped up a master’s program (more details on that soon, once the formal graduation is behind me) and have been immersed in work related to it. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to breathe new life into this space, with a focus on tech content. The recent T-SQL Tuesday invite landed in my inbox right on cue. This month’s edition is being hosted by a friend, a brilliant tech enthusiast, and the primary lead of the Triangle SQL Server user group – a community I’m proud to co-lead alongside him and others. Kevin Feasel has thrown down the gauntlet, asking us to share our favorite interview questions. The scope is broad: questions we’ve encountered as interviewees, those we pose as interviewers, even ones we’ve asked ourselves and answered. I’ve thrown in an additional category, inspired by Kevin’s astute description of interviews as a ‘a strange and awkward dance, where interviewers and interviewees are trying their best not to embarrass themselves too badly while simultaneously attempting to suss out whether there’s a mutual fit.’. That category is on fellow interviewers and questions they ask. I also love it that Kevin has left it open ended and just defined it as ‘favorite interview questions’ and not ‘favorite interview questions to ask/not ask’. So it could be ‘Favorite interview questions to not ask’. Mine are a combo of all those.
Much like a dance, interviews can be solo performances – with one party not dancing at all and the other doing all the work, duets, or group routines. I prefer the group setting – it’s a chance to break a sweat, have some fun, and perhaps most importantly, hide any missteps. As an interviewee, I don’t really have a lot choice on my moves – I have been active dancer in the duet as well as the one ‘not dancing at all’, simply because the interviewer can’t stop talking and forgets all about the interview. Yes, this has happened.

Favorite Questions encountered as an Interviewee

How many deadlocks do you think are appropriate in any environment?

This is a favorite interview question to ‘not ask’. By all means, ask about deadlocks. It is important for a data person to understand that. Just not about numbers.
I consider deadlocks as somewhat of a normal thing that happens, like traffic jams, every now and then. SQL Server is well equipped to deal with the occasional deadlock from its end. If the system being affected is causing a user issues with outage, and is not self healing, then, we have a problem. We also have a problem if there are a seriously high number of deadlocks, since deadlocks take resources, when they happen. So, ‘should be minimal’ could be an answer. Anything causing outages should also be fixed. I was asked this question at two interviews. One found the answer totally acceptable and was complimented on it. The second, not so much. I was asked again to provide a number. There is no real number here, it is yet another ‘it depends’. I was told that they were looking for ‘someone pragmatic’ to deal with a vendor environment that had a ‘lot of deadlocks’. This had a bad smell to it and I was actually glad that they didn’t like my answer.

What is the difference between truncate and delete?

This is a favorite interview question to ‘ask’. Absolutely.
This was among the first questions that helped me learn about answering with nuances. I’ve been faced with this question a number of times over my two decade career as a DBA. As a junior/mid level DBA, my answer was usually –
1 Delete has a where clause while truncate cleans the whole table.
2 Delete is logged while truncate isn’t.
3 Delete needs delete table permissions while truncate needs alter table.

Most interviewers considered this answer adequate. When I graduated into a senior DBA, I learned more about the differences and therefore answer better.
Point 1 and 3 are still valid.
Point 2 is wrong – Truncate is logged, just logged minimally (only the pages de allocated are logged)
Point 3 Truncate resets the seed value on Identity columns
Point 4 Truncate has no trigger while triggers may be attached to delete.

I might throw in a scary one I learned at the PASS Summit – if you need statistics rebuilt on all indexes/columns on a table use below:
TRUNCATE TABLE <tablename>
It is a neat trick, but I would not be surprised if they didn’t want to hire me.

Can you facilitate discounts for consulting from among your community contacts?

This is a favorite interview question to ‘not ask’.
This question arose due to the inclusion of the PASSion award for outstanding community service on my resume. Preceding this question were inquiries about my connections within the community, to which I typically respond, “most people.” With 25 years of conference attendance under my belt, I naturally have a broad network. However, I refrain from dropping names or detailing my associations, as I believe it’s not pertinent. The term “connections” can be interpreted in various ways. The positive interpretation suggests strong networking and influence within the community for genuine reasons. Conversely, some view it as leveraging relationships for personal gain, such as seeking discounts on consulting services or conference fees. My response is consistently direct – no, I don’t engage in such practices. I can help them find a range of options for the help they need, which vary in pricing, but not any personalized discounts.

This community has a longstanding tradition of offering assistance without financial exchange. While I’ve received invaluable technical support from many individuals, it doesn’t extend to seeking discounts for their professional services.

Favorite Questions encountered as an Interviewer

I have a lot of options with jobs I can take. Why do you think I should work for you, at this job?

This is a favorite interview question to ‘ask’.
This isn’t a question every candidate can pose, as its relevance often hinges on the job market and individual skill sets. Currently, in the prevailing market conditions, it’s uncommon to encounter this question unless dealing with a highly experienced candidate. However, during times when the tech job market is thriving, candidates often find themselves spoiled for choice. Personally, I find this question valuable as it prompts the interviewer to articulate the competitive advantages of their organization and what they can offer a suitable candidate.

What makes it appealing is when I can respond with enthusiasm, highlighting cutting-edge technology stack, commitment to utilizing the latest versions and minimizing tech debt, ongoing collaboration with vendors for product enhancement, and an outstanding benefits package, including nearly free health insurance, generous training allowances, stock options, and a flexible work schedule. I’ve been fortunate to receive such an offer in the past, which has contributed to my continued dedication despite changes in benefit offerings over time.

Even if I couldn’t provide such an impressive response, I would always aim to be transparent about what the company can offer. Additionally, I’d emphasize the positive aspects of the team dynamics, which can often compensate for any shortcomings in other areas for certain individuals.

Do you consider yourself a valued employee of this company?

This is a favorite interview question to ‘ask’.
When I encountered this question, it caught me off guard. It wasn’t a query I had encountered from previous interviewees. Over time, I’ve come to realize the importance of not only posing this question but also responding to it thoughtfully if it’s asked of me. This question carries particular weight when directed at a supervisor. The perception of a team often hinges on how much the supervisor feels valued and respected. If they feel marginalized, it’s unlikely they can effectively support their team or advocate for their needs.

As a team lead, when asked this question, I conveyed that my boss holds me in high regard and is supportive whenever I need assistance. In two instances where I posed this question, the frustration evident in the response hinted at underlying political dynamics within the organization.

Favorite Questions I ask myself

I am a habitual ‘asker’ and putting it out there is my way of working through many an issue. I am asking questions and interviewing myself, all the time. Clearly I haven’t hired myself, yet.

The last question I asked was ‘Can I update more than one table at a time with SQL Server?’. This query sprang from a project outside of my regular workload, involving MySQL, where such an operation is feasible. I was parellely dealing with a poorly constructed Update statement at work. Although a part of me knew about the outcome, I still entertained the question and confirmed the answer: It is not possible in SQL Server.

With my perpetual questioning habit, it’s safe to say I’ll never run out of answers for this type of question.

Favorite Interview Questions other panelists ask of Interviewee
Most interviews I have done are panels, with other people that include other team members, managers or HR people. I posted this category because as a fellow panelist – I get a chance to voice my disagreement on the relevance of the question. Below are two questions that other panelists asked that I have found interesting – and voiced my disagreement on.

You’ve changed jobs frequently in the past. Could you shed some light on the reasons behind this pattern? And how can we be assured of your commitment to staying with us?
This is a favorite interview question to ‘not ask’.
This dual question often aims to gauge a candidate’s loyalty. I hail from a work culture where loyalty was a mutual exchange. In such contexts, questioning a candidate’s loyalty can be valid. If the organization doesn’t reciprocate this loyalty and can terminate an employee abruptly, questioning their commitment seems unjust.

There are many circumstances where changing jobs frequently may not have been by choice. For instance, encountering ethical dilemmas in the workplace or experiencing unexpected reorganizations can force a person to move on. I’ve faced both scenarios. These experiences are valid, and a candidate shouldn’t feel obligated to divulge extensive details about them.

Does a history of short-term roles reflect negatively on an individual? It might, but I’ve rarely seen cases where people do it intentionally. Moving jobs isn’t fun, its hard and most people like to stick around after they get familiar with an environment. There may be exceptions for sure – but the question has to be posed with respect to understand reasons.

A more considerate approach to this question could be like, “Could you briefly explain the reasons behind your job changes? This isn’t to imply any wrongdoing; we simply aim to understand.” This approach respects the candidate’s privacy while still garnering pertinent information.

Similarly, inquiries about resume gaps should be approached with sensitivity. People may take breaks to reflect on their career path or attend to personal matters, and these reasons shouldn’t be viewed negatively.

I have been asked this question at a few interviews – since I went through a period when i had to leave 2-3 jobs at short notice. I posted it under the panelist category because if I get an opportunity to – I can and do voice my objection to it, unless it is posed with adequate sensitivity and respect.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
This is a favorite interview question to ‘never ask’.
This again, another question that I deem to be irrelevant and has no real answers. Nobody knows what they are going to be doing, far out into the future. The # of years vary in this question, but it is a common one that people seem to insist on asking. I like giving it some sort of an irreverent answer, like “Finally achieving my dream of becoming a professional nap taker” or “Trying to convince my boss that my gardening skills are directly correlated to my coding prowess. Fingers crossed for a promotion to Chief Weed Puller.”

Thanks for hosting, Kevin.

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