I thoroughly enjoy interviewing people. I take it the same as getting to know everyone in the SQL Community. Even with such a limited time to directly talk about a person’s experiences and skills, you can really dig deep into how a person confronts the daily trials of holding a position as a database professional or developer. At the same time, the interviewee has the same opportunity to reverse the conversation and do the same interview back. I must say, when someone does that, I am extremely impressed.
Prior to an interview there is only one thing available to focus on; the individuals resume. Your resume should never be static. What do I mean by that? A resume should be dynamic in nature and fit each position, company and specific skill set that the position you are applying for requires. That means you will probably find yourself adjusting your resume every time you submit it for evaluation. Don’t take that as a stressful or exhausting task. Your first objective is to impress the reviewers that are involved in making the decision to bring you in for that nerve-wracking first interview.
Getting away with it
Buzz words are great. They catch the unsuspecting director or VP’s eye and can get you in the door for a face-to-face meeting so you can further sell yourself. However, buzz words floating around your resume can hurt you when your resume lands in the hands of certain people.
Let’s take this example (completely made up for this article)
Jane Doe – Database Professional
Jane is an experienced database professional with an expert level in SSIS, SSAS, SSRS and SQL Server Internals. Jane has spent over a decade creating in-depth and comprehensive SSRS reports as well as building a knowledge base of SQL Server to ensure your data services are always available and valued. This time has proven to also build a level of knowledge in T-SQL, MDX, C# and many other Microsoft development and database platforms.
Wow! That sounds awesome doesn’t it? In fact, recruiter’s resume searches will flag you for around fifteen different career paths and jobs will abound. Let’s say this does get your resume in front of someone like me. Here are a few buzz words and words that may leave yourself open more than you would like during an interview.
SSIS, SSRS, SQL Server Internals, T-SQL, MDX and C#
Buzz city! The keyword in this opening paragraph of a resume is, Expert. Right away you are becoming offending in a way and the person reviewing it will start to feel (even if they don’t think they do) inferior. That is not a good portrait to paint for yourself. Always try to keep a lower key when it comes to the buzz words. Add them in to help your chances of being noticed but keep them limited and focused to the position you are applying for. Keep the tone to having a solid past experience in using them to complete projects when they were needed. If you are applying for a BI position and have a good stable set of skills in SQL Server BI, use something more inviting to discussions, such as:
Jane has used SQL Server BI features to successfully meet business needs and further enhance the user experience all while improving the performance of the systems and business functions.
Now that is a good line! I’d like to talk to Jane about those projects and how she used SQL Server BI to deliver. There is no doubt that SSRS, SSIS and even SSAS will come into that conversation. The key is, Jane did not blow things up by sounding arrogant about and left a great point for sharing her experiences.
Make them stressed
Referring back to Jane’s opening paragraph leaves far too many open doors to find a breaking point during an interview. Most people that are experienced in interviewing for technical positions will look to find a stress fracture in your shell. This is even more so while interviewing for something like a DBA position. It is the interviewers’ job to make sure you can handle the moment when everything is down and you are the one that needs to hold your composure in order to bring it all back up.
In the paragraph Jane wrote we can focus on several points to find the breaking point. The word Expert is the easy focus point. The problem with adding that Jane is an expert is the fact that it was followed by every major feature in SQL Server. I’m fairly confident that there are either none or an extremely limited number of experts on SSIS, SSRS and Internals. What weighs in the most with this paragraph was adding SSAS to the expert level. SSAS in itself is a career long feature and takes great focus and time to become a respected expert in it.
Interviewer: So you are an expert with T-SQL I see. Can you write a query to bring back the standard deviation for regional sales teams for each month starting on the 13th day of the month? The 13th also cannot be a weekend and return the regions total says and net sales as well. Just go ahead and make up table and column names.
Give most SQL Developers a few hours and they will be able to do this query. An expert should be able to snap this out in around 30 minutes or so. In an interview, not many people will be able to pull this off.
Can you see the stress fracture we are looking for with this question? Say the person cannot answer this with an example. Say they cannot even come close. Recalling the fact that they stated in the resume they were an expert in T-SQL, we can focus now on T-SQL and stress them on it. At this point I would ask another fairly tough T-SQL question. If they got the next one correct or not, I would ask another. Push the fracture to break wide open. Then further go into asking specific T-SQL related functions or methods that they should know. By now the interviewee is probably stressed. Those few minutes before moving onto the next topics are critical in how they hold themselves. If their composure is maintained well, it may get you beyond the facts that the resume did not portray your abilities at all.
Know your resume
Interviewers all have their own style or focus points. Some will only focus on what they want out of the person and some, like me, will focus on some of what they need and also focus on the persons resume. This is critical since I mentioned earlier to write your resume for each position you are applying for. That means removing and adding just what the job needs. If you do this, the interviewer doesn’t have to go through the process of trying to find it. Some will not take that time to search for it and simply pass up your resume all together. You should know your resume and know it very well. When you alter it for the position you are applying for, make sure you know what you changed. The last thing you want is for an awkward silence moment with a lost look on your face when a specific question is asked from your resume. If you wrote a document to show how to recover a system, the last thing I want is a deer in headlights look when I ask what you meant by a certain section in the event I need that document to save my business. Those two situations are the same and that is how it will probably be perceived when it happens with your resume.
I want to know you and know if you can work with the team. The most efficient, skilled and impressive technical person on your team can have negative effects if they are simply not a team player or constantly closed to the rest of the business. On the same note, that same person may be perfect if I need a computer operator that works in a data center alone for 10 hours a day. If you are an actor just to pass an interview as a comical and friendly person that everyone wants to be around but turn into the complete opposite after your first day with the company, things will just not go well. Yes, you may have the job but the effects could be a short lived stay and a damaging effect to your reputation in the field.
I look at LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and all of the common social and professional online footprints you may leave for yourself. It’s a resource that you just can’t set aside when reviewing a person as a potential employee. Personal blogs are just as exposed as technical blogs. Make sure your reputation shows you off well and not negatively. This doesn’t mean to never post a blog about your firstborn’s second birthday. It doesn’t even mean that you shouldn’t complain about the horrid service the facilities you held the party at was. It also doesn’t mean that Facebook or other social media sites should be all about work. Have fun with these but don’t burn your career on them. Remember that potential employers use those as a screening and review process.
Your reputation from past team members can filter into the online world which filters into communities. All of this is easily found by some searching. Maintain your professional reputation in a respectful manner that employers will want to bring to their teams.
Ready to do it?
Before handing your resume out, be sure you are ready to do so. Not only ready for the position you are applying for but ready to make a move. Logistics of the interview process, offer, benefits and such aside, you want to be sure that you are in it to sell yourself and have the company sell themselves to you in order for both of you to succeed. If you are not all in, wait a while. If you are happy and are doing what you love to do there is no need to apply simply to apply without advancement in either the company, compensation or other means like commute times. There should be excitement in how you hold yourself for the process of interviewing.