The First Interview: What companies do that make me want to run far, far away

, 2012-06-19

I’ve recently been asked for some clarification about this statement (from my last blog post): “This is EXACTLY the kind of job I’m NOT looking for.”  Inquiring minds want to know: What turns you – meaning me – off of a job, especially in the first interview? 

First, it’s important to understand that everyone will have their own turnoffs. I’m happy to list mine, but mine aren’t necessarily red flags for everyone. They’re just things I dislike.  But you know, generally speaking, I have pretty solid reasons for disliking these things.


These days, and if I’m looking for a long-term position, I don’t want to hire into a  place that’s dysfunctional, and/or badly in need of processes.  If you have an IT shop and you don’t have solid, documented, known, and followed processes for customer support, internal support, development, change control, quality assurance, and so on, you have a deeply ineffective IT team.  This kind of thing is generally very easy to find out in an interview, with a few questions and an experienced ear.

I can no longer stand to own a big piece of responsibility in a shop that will do nothing but work against me (while tendering all the lip service to project life-cycles and development methodologies).  It shouldn’t be the DBA’s job to set the entire IT shop on the road to solid development and support; we have the need, but we don’t have the authority or backing.

Red flags: Anything “Agile”, where they can’t explain exactly what “Agile” means beyond “flexible development processes” and “daily scrums”. I got that much off of Wikipedia, pal…it doesn’t make you an Agile shop.  Also, sideways looks when you ask about documentation, testing, code reviews, security, and that sort of thing.

The “exception”: I’m not saying a shop has to have every single duck in a row, and a perfect SQL setup. In fact, a very common scenario is the small shop that simply outgrows its IT staff.  In the beginning, they have one or two guys that can do everything, and that’s fine. After all, DBAs are expensive!  After a certain amount of growth, the shop realizes it has to get a pro in to see to the databases.   Or, it’s a big shop that thought it had a good DBA, or it had a DBA that slipped up, or was just midlevel. All of these places may have problems with the SQL Server side, but that doesn’t mean your entire org has to be slipshod and process-free.

Lame Interview

This isn’t as big of a deal, but I must say that I’m far more impressed by people that know how to interview well – or at least people who are excited about technology – than otherwise.  I’d really like to work with people that know what they’re doing. If you can’t be bothered to interview well – even if you don’t know my technology well – I may come to work with you, but I’ll be inclined to think more highly of myself than of you. 

While it is flattering to go into an interview and skate by on my reputation as a speaker and an MVP, I don’t necessarily want to leave an interview feeling flattered. I’d like to leave feeling challenged and excited. Call me crazy.


A place that requires a certain mode of dress, strict 8 to 5 hours, no remote work, and other signs of formality will generally display other undesirable characteristics.  These don’t JUST show up at formal places, but a formal place will USUALLY have one or more of these issues:

  • Inflexibility – These are not the guys that will support your SQL Saturday habit. They’re certainly not interested in your work-life balance, and will often insist that you show up at 8am Monday after 17 hours of production work over the weekend.
  • Technology Superstition – “We can’t enable SQL Mail – there’s no telling what it will do to the system!!”  Ask me if I’m kidding about that one.  Prove that a thing is safe/good/industry wide best practice to these people, and they’ll still refuse because they have a bad feeling about it. Again, I’m not kidding.
  • Political Entrenchment – Oddly, this one shows up under the covers at extremely casual places, too. Maybe it’s everywhere, I don’t know, but it’s certainly prevalent at formal places. You WILL eventually have to circumvent or live with some absolutely idiotic technology non-decision because some business major upper-brassman puts in his or her two cents, and then cement them to the systems.

 A word more…

There are certainly other things that are a turnoff in the interview, but I think we’ve covered some good ground today. 

Also understand that right now I’m pretty much in love with short-term contracts, and that’s a whole other ball of wax. I come in, I fix things, I set up sustainable processes, and I ride off into the sunset…it’s fun to be a cowgirl.  For these interviews, all bets are off!  If your shop is dysfunctional, not that knowledgeable, or extremely formal, it’s fine…after all, I’m there to fix as many problems as you like, and at the end of the day I don’t own the processes. 

It’s the difference between being a parent, and being a babysitter.  The parent has to think very long-term about the kids’ development, about their continuing relationship, and also deal with the constant responsibility. There are huge paybacks, of course – you absolutely can’t put a price on having kids! But I guarantee you that the babysitter has way less stress, and can often be more effective with less effort simply because of the difference in his/her position. 

Plus, contractors and babysitters are paid by the hour.

Happy days,

Jen McCown

Have SQL Server issues? Like the cut of my gib? Email me at and let’s talk about your consultant needs.

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