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The Rambling DBA: Jonathan Kehayias

The random ramblings and rantings of frazzled SQL Server DBA

Some thoughts on interviewing….

At the beginning of the year I changed jobs, leaving a very stable position where I had the opportunity to learn under an amazing mentor (who happened to be a Oracle DBA and not a SQL DBA), to take on a job that I felt was much more challenging and had better potential for personal as well as professional growth.  I wasn’t necessarily looking for another job at the time, but one that interested me was mentioned at our local user group meeting and I decided to check it out and see if it was something I might actually be interested in further.  This put me in an interesting position that I haven’t necessarily been in before, where I was interviewing for a job, not because I needed it, but because I was interested in it.  However, to be perfectly honest, the situation didn’t do much for making me any less nervous about having to interview for the job.  I felt that there were a couple of things that I learned from this that I have always intended to blog about, but I never actually gotten around to doing it until now.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression…

This is something that my parents taught me as a kid, and I have carried it with me.  Your first impression when applying to or interviewing for a potential job starts with your resume.  Usually the only thing a business has to evaluate you by up front is your resume, so having one that highlights your experience is extremely important.  I currently have six different copies of my resume, each tailored to highlight different aspects of my experience and career, but all of them completely honest nonetheless.  One thing I learned in my last round of job hunting, when I used a recruiter to setup leads, was that the Microsoft Office templates for a resume, aren’t necessarily the best format.  A few dollars spent having a professional review and work on your resume with you can pay big dividends in obtaining interviews down the road.

This time around, I opted to include my community contributions on my resume, including articles that have been published online, a link to my blog, the whitepaper I wrote on MSDN as well as the books I have contributed in the last year.  I questioned whether or not doing this was beneficial since this could be misinterpreted by someone reviewing the resume.  However, after being hired I learned that this information was considered to be a positive since it provided validation of the other information contained in my resume.

Some people may not be to keen on this, but any interview that I go to, I always make sure that my initial image is a very professional one.  I personally wear a suit and tie unless otherwise directed.  The last time I interviewed for a job before this most recent time I worked through a recruiter, and they generally let me know if a suit and tie wasn’t appropriate for a particular interview.  In that case at a minimum, I would wear a dress shirt and slacks.  I also always carry a leather bound portfolio that contains four copies of my resume, copies of any pertinent certifications, letters of recommendation, a pad of paper for taking notes, and a ball point pen (ink pens tend to end up making a mess and staining the cuff of my shirts when I use them).

I make it a point to take notes during the interview process.  I do this for a number of reasons.  First it lets me review what was covered while not under the pressure of interviewing.  If a question is asked that I don’t know the answer to, I make sure I write it down, because it is definitely something that I want to lookup for the future.  I also make sure that I take down the names of anyone who is attending the interview and I do so in an order that I can remember who they were and where they sat during the interview.  If offered I accept any business cards that are offered, and I make sure to have my own personal business cards attached with a paper clip to the copies of my resume that I use during the interview.

Prepare ahead of time for potential interview questions…

If you are interviewing for a Senior Database Administrator position, you should know the kinds of questions that may be asked during an Senior level interview.  Don’t just prepare for the interview by reading questions online, but instead perform an accurate self assessment of whether or not you are actually competent to handle the kinds of problems that you might face in the position that you are interviewing for.  If you know someone in your local SQL Server User Group that is in a Senior level position, and consequently really knows their stuff, try and setup a mock interview where they can ask you questions and help gauge whether or not you have the necessary knowledge to fulfill the requirements of the position.

An interview is a two way road…

A lot of times we walk into interviews worried about making a good first impression and what kinds of questions we might be asked.  One thing I learned from Brent Ozar is that an interview is a two way road, especially when your circumstance matches my most recent one, and you already have a stable job that you love.  However, even when the circumstances don’t match my own, you should still be prepared to ask your own questions during an interview.  If you are someone like Paul Randal(blog/twitter) or Denny Cherry(blog/twitter) and you don’t wear ties (Paul said it and so did Denny), knowing whether or not the job has a dress code requiring a tie everyday is probably an important thing to find out before accepting a position that requires something that you would never be happy dealing with. 

I made it a point to have a list of questions to ask during the interview which sets up my next point…

Decide ahead of time what you consider to be non-negotiables…

No one knows you better than you.  You know what kinds of things you just don’t want to have to deal with, and the kinds of things that are important to you.  For me, the most important item that was completely non-negotiable was having the ability to work remotely if necessary.  I have two kids, and since my wife is finishing her PsyD in graduate school, they both are in day care, so if one of them is sick, someone has to stay at home until they get better.  Being able to work remotely in this scenario was a non-negotiable for me, since there is very little that I can’t accomplish over a VPN connection.  If remote access wasn’t allowed, it would have been an immediate stopping point in the interview for me, and I would have been up front and honest that the position just wasn’t appropriate for me.

In addition to this, the ability to have a flexible, but reasonable, schedule was something of importance to me.  I like to be very honest with potential employers when I interview with them, and one thing that I tell them is that my most productive hours of the day occur from 10pm to 2am so having the ability to flexibly schedule my in office hours around what work I am accomplishing out of the office is important to me.  I still stick to the normal work day in the office, but not being bound to a “you have to be at your desk at 8am”, “lunch is from 11:30am to 12:30pm”, and “you can leave at 5pm” schedule is extremely important to me. 

When it came time to prepare for my interview, Brent Ozar again helped me out with other things to consider such as training budgets, the ability to take vacation around the holiday’s, whether or not being on call rotated regularly and how that schedule was created, whether or not policies existed that restricted blogging or online activities, and what does success for this position look like a year from now.

Published Tuesday, March 30, 2010 1:14 AM by Jonathan Kehayias



MeltonDBA said:

Good...oh no...Excellent post!

I agree with the last section.  My last job change was about the same, I did not mind where I was working but it was not fully supporting Microsoft products (was a Solaris Admin).  So when I saw the DBA position open up I was quick to apply, but still made sure it was something I would like doing and not loose anything in changing.

I'm still trying to work on the that training budget with my employer, seeing if they will help pay for MCT fees.  It would benefit them in being able to have someone local that could do in-house MS training, but also to me in side work for a little extra money :).

March 30, 2010 7:43 AM

Jack Corbett said:

Thanks for sharing Jonathan.  Interviewing is always a bit of a nerve wracking experience, but just like presenting, preparation can help keep you calm.

I always wonder about putting community contributions on the resume, because I wonder if the employer will think I spend too much time on community.

March 30, 2010 7:44 AM

Jonathan Gardner said:

I am not in the market for a job change but these are some great tips.  I like when I interview people and they have intelligent questions for me.  I took some notes and dumped them into Evernote in the event that I need them one day.  Thanks!

March 30, 2010 9:50 AM

James Luetkehoelter said:

Excellent point (and pass it on to Brent Ozar) is that interviewing is a two-way street. The worst people I've interviewed have been completely defensive, trying to prove they deserve a job. There's absolutely nothing wrong with turning the tables and make the interviewer prove that this is a position for you. It's amazing what a difference that can make.

And by all means people ask real questions - if you can't stand ties, find out right away if you have to wear one.

Another thing I think too many people these days are afraid to do is to end the interview early. If it isn't a fit for you, or you clearly aren't a fit for them, there's nothing wrong with excusing yourself and saving both parties time. There's nothing worse than being an interviewer or interviewee sitting through a conversation where you know within five minutes that it isn't a good mutual fit.

Nice post!

March 30, 2010 1:56 PM

The Rambling DBA: Jonathan Kehayias said:

This is somewhat of a continuation post to my previous blog post, “Some thoughts on Interviweing…” . 

April 12, 2010 3:48 PM
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