TL:DR Version – Passion and Aptitude. When hiring someone, make sure they’re passionate about the job and have the aptitude to learn and grow.
My story starts when I was interviewing to hire a Jr. DBA. At the time I didn’t really know what I was looking for but I knew when I found it I would know. I spent 7 months interviewing candidates for this position and over that period of time, I’d like to think I’ve refined my interviewing techniques into something worthwhile.
When we started interviewing for this position I followed my managers approach of “Let’s bring the candidate in and see if we like them. We’ll ask them the normal interview questions about life and what’s your 5 year goal, blah blah blah, then we’ll hit them with some technical questions.” We got plenty of candidates who threw buzzwords around and avoided answering questions or answered them with some superfluous answer. I recall one interviewee actually getting mad because we were hiring for a “junior position” and we required too much job experience. We weren’t really requiring too much job experience… or experience in general… but we did want to make sure the candidate knew how to JOIN two tables together. Unfortunately after several candidate interviews the current approach didn’t seem to work and I felt like we were wasting time, not just our time…the candidates time, the recruiters time, the time of the 3-5 additional people who were in the interview…it was really inefficient.
I made the decision to change the methodology of which we were interviewing candidates. I wanted to start with a phone screen and ask the candidates some basic SQL related questions to get a feel for their knowledge and try to weed out people who lacked the appropriate skills. The next change I made was to bring them in for a face-to-face and give them a practical T-SQL test right off the bat using the adventureworks database. The test was four questions and included things like joining tables together, using a case statement, selecting the oldest date from a table, and then selecting the second oldest date from a table. Lastly I had a question where the candidate needed to delete duplicate records out of a table that didn’t have a primary key.
Once I started giving this test, we quickly saw the depth of knowledge the candidate possessed. This proved invaluable and really helped identify candidates that had a basic understanding of T-SQL; it was also great to see how they worked under pressure. Now you may be thinking, “WOW, throwing an interviewee into a T-SQL test the minute they step in the room seems kinda rough”, but it really wasn’t as bad as it seems. First, they were aware there was going to be a practical test, Second, they were told once in the room “Treat these problems like you already work here. We’re your team, ask us questions. Feel free to use Google, I use Google every day to solve problems”. But we were still coming up short and unable to find somebody that we felt comfortable hiring.
It wasn’t until I went to a career fair to talk to new graduates and see if there was anybody to fit the bill. Towards the very end of the career fair a young man approached and started talking to me about the opening. He had very little experience, as a matter fact, he had more experience being a bartender that he did a DBA. There was something about him though, so I decided to give him a chance and bring him in for a face-to-face. It wasn’t a week later he came in for a face-to-face interview, and I started off giving him the practical T-SQL test… a test many had failed and a test this young man succeeded at. I later came to find out that he was very nervous about his abilities to successfully do this job he was interviewing for, so after we met at the career fair he went home and downloaded sample databases and worked for 72 hours straight to hone the skills needed to hopefully pass my practical exam.
I knew when I spoke with this particular candidate at the career fair that I was going to hire him, but at the time I didn’t know why or what it was that made me like this candidate so much. After working with him for a few weeks it dawned on me…there we’re 2 traits he possessed that no other candidate had displayed, PASSION and APTITUDE. Those 2 traits were the the reason I hired him and those 2 traits are the reason, I believe, he’ll have continued success.