T-SQL Tuesday is a monthly blog party that is the brainchild of Adam Machanic (b/t). This month the blog party is being hosted by Kendra Little (b/t). This month’s topic is on interviews and patterns used in interviews.

TSQL TuesdayAs Data Professionals, we spend a lot of time with our heads in books, blogs, Twitter, Stack Exchange, etc. learning as much as we can about data. So naturally, with all that time and energy invested, it only makes sense to find someone who would be willing to pay us for this. Specifically, to pay us to keep their queries running smooth, keep the SQL servers running, extract data to transform so we can load the data into another system, etc. You see where this going. We WANT a job where we can dazzle our employers with our SQL kung-fu. But before you can swing into action as your favorite SQL martial artist, you need to get past that pesky interview.


Ah yes, interviews. This is the main hurdle to finding employment doing what you love. You’ve managed to get past HR with your resume, been nice and polite on the phone call, expressing your interest, and now you’re being invited in to meet with an HR rep, a hiring manager (or 3), and/or the “team”, to answer all kinds of “fun” and “interesting” questions. You’ve stressed out over the expected questions like “what’s your biggest weakness?”, “what are your salary requirements?”, and my personal favorite “Tell us about yourself”. You’ve put on your best clothes, with your shiniest shoes and as soon as you sit down your heart is off to the races, you suddenly forget all those prepared answers, and you’re doing your best not to freak out. Sound familiar?

So there you are sitting down, the introductions are made, and you have composed yourself, the questions begin. Sometimes the questions become redundant and you’re asking yourself why you’re interviewing these people in the first place. I refer to these scenarios as interview games.

Interview Games

Here are some of my more “favorite” games I have encountered:

  • Interviewers being unprepared – I had this happen once. I spent my time preparing for an interview only to meet with the IT Director of a printing company, have the HR Rep hand me off to this person who either forgot about the interview or didn’t care. While we were interviewing, he looked over my resume for the first time (he asked me for a copy as he hadn’t seen it yet), and then complained I spend too much time in school for development to be a good Sys Admin (never mind the previous 7 years of Sys Admin exp). The guy was a rude, pompous ass who I wouldn’t have wanted to work for. Where I failed this interview, was not ending it sooner and leaving.
  • Panel Interviews – Panel Interviews are a royal pain. I get it, employers want to see how you react under pressure, they want to get the teams in there to meet you, and in some cases, other managers/hire-ups want to “meet” with you as well. As a professional, you better be able to articulate ideas with others well and discuss things in a meeting setting. I get that. During a recent interview, I met with the rest of “the team” and talked about the shop with them. Which was great, except the room was small, there were 6 of them, and they sat down circling me. At this point I was an hour in and mentally tired, already past the “technical” interview, I was now fending off more technical questions, as well as questions about my style of troubleshooting, goals, outside interests, etc. I was rehashing the previous hour.
  • Technical Questions – If you look at my resume, you’ll see I’ve only been a DBA in the SQL space for about 3.5 years. PRIOR to that, I was a DBA on an AS/400 for 7 years. Before that, windows and Linux admin. Plus I’ve been to school. Asking me what the meaning of acronyms is is wasting both of our time. Why? Because who doesn’t Google that? I’ve been asked questions like what’s the definition of ACID, on what level of the OSI layer do you troubleshoot connection errors, why would you choose spinny disk over flash storage? Come on. If you can’t flesh out whether I know what I’m talking about without asking juvenile questions, why do I want to work with you?
  • Tell me about a time…. – It’s either your worst day, your biggest win, or how you improved the business. Come on, seriously? You want a story about when I failed, how I handled adversity, how I saved the business or came up with a miracle solution? Honestly, I don’t keep score. So much stuff happens in a day, week, or month, that requires me to shift gears…I don’t have the bandwidth to remember. I just fix it, try to prevent it from happening again, and move on. If it’s that big of a lesson, I’ll take notes…..which I don’t have at my disposal during the interview.
  • Where do I want to be in Xyears – I deem this as a lazy question. I want to win the lotto, have a remote cabin in the Canadian Rockies, and spend my days riding my motorcycles and pursuing my other hobbies. Ohhhh you meant work….in X years, I don’t know…it’s too hard to predict technology a year out. In X years, if I still need to work, I still want to be growing and being challenged. What’s that going to look like, I have no idea….my crystal ball is in the shop (probably from me kicking it for the failed lottery numbers).

My recent tactics in Interviews

I am making fun of what I deem as arbitrary questions that can measure a candidate’s worth in an hour or two. Don’t misunderstand me, I understand companies invest a lot of time and money in hiring their employees. They want the best bang for their buck, I get it. A person has to fit with the culture of the company and meld with the dynamics of the team. Some managers are better at interviewing than others. BUT….they aren’t the only ones doing the interviewing, are they? If you’re not scrutinizing the employer, asking them hard questions – playing tit for tat, then why are you there? Do you really want to spend 40+ hours a week working with people, or an organization, you don’t like? It doesn’t matter if it’s your dream job, if the people or the organization are toxic, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Don’t do that to yourself, your friends, or your family. If you’re miserable, they are going to be miserable because you’re going to complain about your job all the time. As for employers/managers, don’t waste candidates’ time, don’t play games with them, and don’t jerk them around. If you can’t respect the people working for you then you either suck as an organization or a manager. Remember the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would like to be treated”.

One final note when it comes to looking for new opportunities as a Data Professional follow the advice of Buck Woody and Sean McCown:

“Do you have 10 years of experience, or 1 year of experience 10 times?” – Buck Woody

I couldn’t find Sean’s exact quote, but it’s something to the effect of you shouldn’t pursue a position because it’s the exact fit right now, you should pursue a position that’s an 80% fit and forces you to grow.

Each quote (or paraphrase) puts the responsibility of growing on you. If you care about what you do, you should be working towards growth.


1 thought on “#tsql2sday 93 – Interview Fails

  1. I enjoyed reading this.

    I personally believe in “keeping score” of your own accomplishments in all the little daily battles with technology. It’s true that a ton of stuff happens in a week — so much so that it’s easy to forget your own achievements. That makes life so much harder when it comes around to annual reviews, updating your resume, or doing interviews. I like to track notes on weekly highlights for myself, because otherwise my brain tends to minimize things and I don’t see the value in my own work.

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