Are technical phone interviews pointless?

  • Stephanie Giovannini

    SSCertifiable

    Points: 7422

    I've been conducting technical phone interviews for my employer. I've noticed the interviewees reading answers off the Internet. Of course they do! Some of them are very obvious about it and some are less so. Everything I could think to ask as a generic technical question is already posted somewhere, short of providing example problems, which is not feasible in a phone conversation with someone who barely understands me in the first place.

    With fluent English speakers, I can have a conversation about the technology and their past experience and get a feel for how much technical knowledge the interviewee is able to apply in his/her work. However, almost all of my phone interviews are with Asians who have limited English proficiency. I've tried having a conversational interview, but they are expecting a test and some have become very anxious when I try to just talk about SQL stuff. I've asked every interviewee about his/her personal experiences solving problems, but only one Asian understood the question. Most of them answer my question about "a difficult technical problem you have personally solved at work" with a generic answer about how exception handling works.

    I'm very frustrated because I don't have a clue how to assess these interviewees over the phone. The positions only require basic English proficiency, so an inability to understand American conversational nuance over the phone does not disqualify someone. An in-person interview is not possible due to geography and budget limitations.

    Ideas?

  • SQLRNNR

    SSC Guru

    Points: 281205

    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    I've been conducting technical phone interviews for my employer. I've noticed the interviewees reading answers off the Internet. Of course they do! Some of them are very obvious about it and some are less so. Everything I could think to ask as a generic technical question is already posted somewhere, short of providing example problems, which is not feasible in a phone conversation with someone who barely understands me in the first place.

    With fluent English speakers, I can have a conversation about the technology and their past experience and get a feel for how much technical knowledge the interviewee is able to apply in his/her work. However, almost all of my phone interviews are with Asians who have limited English proficiency. I've tried having a conversational interview, but they are expecting a test and some have become very anxious when I try to just talk about SQL stuff. I've asked every interviewee about his/her personal experiences solving problems, but only one Asian understood the question. Most of them answer my question about "a difficult technical problem you have personally solved at work" with a generic answer about how exception handling works.

    I'm very frustrated because I don't have a clue how to assess these interviewees over the phone. The positions only require basic English proficiency, so an inability to understand American conversational nuance over the phone does not disqualify someone. An in-person interview is not possible due to geography and budget limitations.

    Ideas?

    If they are unable to answer a basic question correctly, then do the meet the most basic of requirements?

    In my opinion, no!

    Mark the answer as incorrect because it did not answer your question. That is basic a English skill.

    As far as the other stuff with being able to determine easily that they are just reading the questions off the internet, I would disqualify them if you feel it is that obvious they are cheating. They cheat in the interview they will probably cheat on the job and cause an outage of some sort.

    On the other hand, I do require candidates that I interview to remote into a server and perform a basic hands on exam while I monitor what they are doing.

    This kind of effort could be deemed as a technical phone interview. And it really is hard to cheat that kind of test - it becomes rather obvious.

    Jason...AKA CirqueDeSQLeil
    _______________________________________________
    I have given a name to my pain...MCM SQL Server, MVP
    SQL RNNR
    Posting Performance Based Questions - Gail Shaw[/url]
    Learn Extended Events

  • Sean Lange

    SSC Guru

    Points: 286481

    If this is a sql job, which I assume it is, just ask them for any built in function to get the current datetime. If they hesitate more than a second or two the interview is over. Anybody looking for a job in sql should be able to answer that without any hint of hesitation. And from what I hear from a number of people around here is the ability to answer that is shockingly rare.

    _______________________________________________________________

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    Understanding and Using APPLY (Part 1) - http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/APPLY/69953/
    Understanding and Using APPLY (Part 2) - http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/APPLY/69954/

  • Lynn Pettis

    SSC Guru

    Points: 442160

    I've been on the other end of the technical phone interview quite a few times. I find it difficult when I am dealing with an interviewer whose first language is not English (Indian English does not count). In one telephone interview it took me 6 times asking a question for further information before I was able to provide an answer to a DR recovery scenario. All I was trying to determine was if I could take a tail log backup or not prior to doing a recovery of a down database. Really important when you are trying to restore a database to a point as close to the failure as you can.

  • Stephanie Giovannini

    SSCertifiable

    Points: 7422

    Sean Lange (7/21/2015)


    If this is a sql job, which I assume it is, just ask them for any built in function to get the current datetime. If they hesitate more than a second or two the interview is over. Anybody looking for a job in sql should be able to answer that without any hint of hesitation. And from what I hear from a number of people around here is the ability to answer that is shockingly rare.

    All of them answer that. But remember that they are on the phone and I have no idea what they are doing at the computer while I ask this question.

  • Stephanie Giovannini

    SSCertifiable

    Points: 7422

    SQLRNNR (7/21/2015)


    On the other hand, I do require candidates that I interview to remote into a server and perform a basic hands on exam while I monitor what they are doing.

    This kind of effort could be deemed as a technical phone interview. And it really is hard to cheat that kind of test - it becomes rather obvious.

    I like that! As of right now, I have nothing available for that usage, but that's a problem I think I could solve.

    That's a great idea, thanks!

  • Lynn Pettis

    SSC Guru

    Points: 442160

    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    Sean Lange (7/21/2015)


    If this is a sql job, which I assume it is, just ask them for any built in function to get the current datetime. If they hesitate more than a second or two the interview is over. Anybody looking for a job in sql should be able to answer that without any hint of hesitation. And from what I hear from a number of people around here is the ability to answer that is shockingly rare.

    All of them answer that. But remember that they are on the phone and I have no idea what they are doing at the computer while I ask this question.

    If they are giving you answers from the Internet, it has to be obvious in the delay it takes for them to answer. Again, I have been on several of these, including on while still in Afghanistan. If I had tried to use the internet on any of those interviews to help answer questions I am sure that I would not have finished any of the interviews. There is no way I could Google/Bing a question quickly enough to make it appear I knew what I was talking about on the phone.

  • Stephanie Giovannini

    SSCertifiable

    Points: 7422

    Lynn Pettis (7/21/2015)


    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    Sean Lange (7/21/2015)


    If this is a sql job, which I assume it is, just ask them for any built in function to get the current datetime. If they hesitate more than a second or two the interview is over. Anybody looking for a job in sql should be able to answer that without any hint of hesitation. And from what I hear from a number of people around here is the ability to answer that is shockingly rare.

    All of them answer that. But remember that they are on the phone and I have no idea what they are doing at the computer while I ask this question.

    If they are giving you answers from the Internet, it has to be obvious in the delay it takes for them to answer. Again, I have been on several of these, including on while still in Afghanistan. If I had tried to use the internet on any of those interviews to help answer questions I am sure that I would not have finished any of the interviews. There is no way I could Google/Bing a question quickly enough to make it appear I knew what I was talking about on the phone.

    Usually the delay is obvious. One interviewee pretended that the call dropped while she Googled. After a long series of "ums" the sound stopped while the call stayed active. After I hung up and called her back, she had a complete and perfectly phrased answer to the question I'd asked.

    But there are some that answer questions without delay that sound like a textbook. Maybe they have a textbook open? Maybe they have memorized a textbook? How many people can quote the textbook definitions of 1NF, 2NF and 3NF from memory in complete sentences? There was no delay on that particular answer, but it was definitely not in the interviewee's own words.

  • Sean Lange

    SSC Guru

    Points: 286481

    Lynn Pettis (7/21/2015)


    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    Sean Lange (7/21/2015)


    If this is a sql job, which I assume it is, just ask them for any built in function to get the current datetime. If they hesitate more than a second or two the interview is over. Anybody looking for a job in sql should be able to answer that without any hint of hesitation. And from what I hear from a number of people around here is the ability to answer that is shockingly rare.

    All of them answer that. But remember that they are on the phone and I have no idea what they are doing at the computer while I ask this question.

    If they are giving you answers from the Internet, it has to be obvious in the delay it takes for them to answer. Again, I have been on several of these, including on while still in Afghanistan. If I had tried to use the internet on any of those interviews to help answer questions I am sure that I would not have finished any of the interviews. There is no way I could Google/Bing a question quickly enough to make it appear I knew what I was talking about on the phone.

    That is exactly the point I was making. There should be a zero second delay in at least one way of getting the current datetime from the server. "uhh, getdate" followed hopefully by a few other options and bonus points for some explanation about each of them. It would be painfully obvious if the person on the other end of the phone couldn't answer that nearly instantly.

    _______________________________________________________________

    Need help? Help us help you.

    Read the article at http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/Best+Practices/61537/ for best practices on asking questions.

    Need to split a string? Try Jeff Modens splitter http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/Tally+Table/72993/.

    Cross Tabs and Pivots, Part 1 – Converting Rows to Columns - http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/T-SQL/63681/
    Cross Tabs and Pivots, Part 2 - Dynamic Cross Tabs - http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/Crosstab/65048/
    Understanding and Using APPLY (Part 1) - http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/APPLY/69953/
    Understanding and Using APPLY (Part 2) - http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/APPLY/69954/

  • Alvin Ramard

    SSC-Forever

    Points: 41190

    ... Last question now. Which search engine did you use? Google or Bing?

    😉



    Alvin Ramard
    Memphis PASS Chapter[/url]

    All my SSC forum answers come with a money back guarantee. If you didn't like the answer then I'll gladly refund what you paid for it.

    For best practices on asking questions, please read the following article: Forum Etiquette: How to post data/code on a forum to get the best help[/url]

  • Lynn Pettis

    SSC Guru

    Points: 442160

    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    Lynn Pettis (7/21/2015)


    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    Sean Lange (7/21/2015)


    If this is a sql job, which I assume it is, just ask them for any built in function to get the current datetime. If they hesitate more than a second or two the interview is over. Anybody looking for a job in sql should be able to answer that without any hint of hesitation. And from what I hear from a number of people around here is the ability to answer that is shockingly rare.

    All of them answer that. But remember that they are on the phone and I have no idea what they are doing at the computer while I ask this question.

    If they are giving you answers from the Internet, it has to be obvious in the delay it takes for them to answer. Again, I have been on several of these, including on while still in Afghanistan. If I had tried to use the internet on any of those interviews to help answer questions I am sure that I would not have finished any of the interviews. There is no way I could Google/Bing a question quickly enough to make it appear I knew what I was talking about on the phone.

    Usually the delay is obvious. One interviewee pretended that the call dropped while she Googled. After a long series of "ums" the sound stopped while the call stayed active. After I hung up and called her back, she had a complete and perfectly phrased answer to the question I'd asked.

    But there are some that answer questions without delay that sound like a textbook. Maybe they have a textbook open? Maybe they have memorized a textbook? How many people can quote the textbook definitions of 1NF, 2NF and 3NF from memory in complete sentences? There was no delay on that particular answer, but it was definitely not in the interviewee's own words.

    The key (1nf), the whole key (2nf), and nothing but the key (3nf). That's my answer. It has been too long since I graduated college that I really couldn't give you a full definition since I haven't had to explain this to anyone. I'd have to look it up to give a better description, but I wouldn't quote what I read to re-familiarize myself with the definition.

  • WayneS

    SSC Guru

    Points: 95342

    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    SQLRNNR (7/21/2015)


    On the other hand, I do require candidates that I interview to remote into a server and perform a basic hands on exam while I monitor what they are doing.

    This kind of effort could be deemed as a technical phone interview. And it really is hard to cheat that kind of test - it becomes rather obvious.

    I like that! As of right now, I have nothing available for that usage, but that's a problem I think I could solve.

    That's a great idea, thanks!

    join.me works really good. You get a link you can mail to them, or a code that you can use.

    Wayne
    Microsoft Certified Master: SQL Server 2008
    Author - SQL Server T-SQL Recipes


    If you can't explain to another person how the code that you're copying from the internet works, then DON'T USE IT on a production system! After all, you will be the one supporting it!
    Links:
    For better assistance in answering your questions
    Performance Problems
    Common date/time routines
    Understanding and Using APPLY Part 1 & Part 2

  • SQLRNNR

    SSC Guru

    Points: 281205

    Alvin Ramard (7/21/2015)


    ... Last question now. Which search engine did you use? Google or Bing?

    😉

    Yahoo

    Jason...AKA CirqueDeSQLeil
    _______________________________________________
    I have given a name to my pain...MCM SQL Server, MVP
    SQL RNNR
    Posting Performance Based Questions - Gail Shaw[/url]
    Learn Extended Events

  • Gail Shaw

    SSC Guru

    Points: 1004446

    Lynn Pettis (7/21/2015)


    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    How many people can quote the textbook definitions of 1NF, 2NF and 3NF from memory in complete sentences? There was no delay on that particular answer, but it was definitely not in the interviewee's own words.

    The key (1nf), the whole key (2nf), and nothing but the key (3nf). That's my answer. It has been too long since I graduated college that I really couldn't give you a full definition since I haven't had to explain this to anyone. I'd have to look it up to give a better description, but I wouldn't quote what I read to re-familiarize myself with the definition.

    I teach a DB design course a couple times a year, so I could probably quote the full, academic definition from memory. That's definitely an exception though.

    If they sound like they're quoting from a text book, maybe ask them what the long description means, or ask them to summarise it into a sentence, or to give you an example, or something that's not so easy to find from a text book

    Gail Shaw
    Microsoft Certified Master: SQL Server, MVP, M.Sc (Comp Sci)
    SQL In The Wild: Discussions on DB performance with occasional diversions into recoverability

    We walk in the dark places no others will enter
    We stand on the bridge and no one may pass
  • Alvin Ramard

    SSC-Forever

    Points: 41190

    Lynn Pettis (7/21/2015)


    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    Lynn Pettis (7/21/2015)


    Stephanie Giovannini (7/21/2015)


    Sean Lange (7/21/2015)


    If this is a sql job, which I assume it is, just ask them for any built in function to get the current datetime. If they hesitate more than a second or two the interview is over. Anybody looking for a job in sql should be able to answer that without any hint of hesitation. And from what I hear from a number of people around here is the ability to answer that is shockingly rare.

    All of them answer that. But remember that they are on the phone and I have no idea what they are doing at the computer while I ask this question.

    If they are giving you answers from the Internet, it has to be obvious in the delay it takes for them to answer. Again, I have been on several of these, including on while still in Afghanistan. If I had tried to use the internet on any of those interviews to help answer questions I am sure that I would not have finished any of the interviews. There is no way I could Google/Bing a question quickly enough to make it appear I knew what I was talking about on the phone.

    Usually the delay is obvious. One interviewee pretended that the call dropped while she Googled. After a long series of "ums" the sound stopped while the call stayed active. After I hung up and called her back, she had a complete and perfectly phrased answer to the question I'd asked.

    But there are some that answer questions without delay that sound like a textbook. Maybe they have a textbook open? Maybe they have memorized a textbook? How many people can quote the textbook definitions of 1NF, 2NF and 3NF from memory in complete sentences? There was no delay on that particular answer, but it was definitely not in the interviewee's own words.

    The key (1nf), the whole key (2nf), and nothing but the key (3nf). That's my answer. It has been too long since I graduated college that I really couldn't give you a full definition since I haven't had to explain this to anyone. I'd have to look it up to give a better description, but I wouldn't quote what I read to re-familiarize myself with the definition.

    Now you're going to make me look them up.

    I have no problem designing a database that is in the 3rd normal form, but don't ask me to give you the definition of 1nf, 2nf, or 3nf.

    Well, maybe in a few minutes you can. 😀



    Alvin Ramard
    Memphis PASS Chapter[/url]

    All my SSC forum answers come with a money back guarantee. If you didn't like the answer then I'll gladly refund what you paid for it.

    For best practices on asking questions, please read the following article: Forum Etiquette: How to post data/code on a forum to get the best help[/url]

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