T-SQL Tuesday #93–Interviewing Patterns

tsqltuesdayIt’s time for T-SQL Tuesday, and this is a good topic. Not too close to T-SQL, but certainly something many people are interested in.

Kendra Little hosts this month, and her topic is interviewing patterns and anti-patterns. Things that are good, or things that might appear good, but are bad. Be a candidate or an interviewer.

You can read more about T-SQL Tuesday at tsqltuesday.com.

Pattern: Groups

One of the things that I think makes a good pattern for interviews is a group. It’s rare that any of us actually works alone or with just one person. Even if our group is 1 or 2 people, we often interact with others in different ways.

Those other people depend on our knowledge and skill. Why not use them in an interview.

I’ve had quite a few interviews like this, but they all are similar. Get the candidate in a conference room and bring in multiple people to ask questions. Usually it’s a round robin with everyone taking turns asking questions. Ideally, the same questions to all candidates from the same people. The discussions can veer into slightly different directions, but ideally in similar veins for everyone being considered.

I’ve been in the candidate seat with as few as two (one isn’t a group) and as many as 12 or 13 others. This can be stressful, but if everyone is probing, then the candidate needs to interact and communicate with those that they’ll actually work with. In my mind, a good test.

Anti-pattern: Confrontation

I love the old Monty Python Silly Interview skit. I’ve been tempted to do something like this, but never have. It’s not fair to the candidate, and I’m not sure it tests anything well.

I had a couple rough interviews in the past. One was where a VP of a small company was excited and interested after having talked with me over the phone and then in his office for 30-45 minutes. He then brought me to his consulting sysadmin/programmer, who peppered me with scenarios and questions. However, this gentlemen argued about every answer, and implied that I was answering incorrectly. In many cases I knew I wasn’t and said so, however the confrontation continued. In some cases, I just admitted I wasn’t sure.

Later, I came to be friends with the guy, but never too close. He tended to rub me wrong most of the time because he was closed, cold, and argumentative. It was a good job, and we got along, but if he had been my boss (I was interviewing to be his), I wouldn’t have accepted.

The other one was similar. I had a good phone interview with a technical person and then went in to meet the manager. He was brusk and short with me, constantly letting me know he was in charge, he didn’t think much of my credentials, and I should be expecting to work hard. With that offer was a pay cut I couldn’t accept, but not sure I would have in any case. His manner made me think that every day would have include some sort of insult, browbeating, or other unnecessary action.

I think we can make an attempt to evaluate candidates without being jerks.

Pattern: Flexibility

The last pattern I like is the idea of quizzing people in a flexible manner. I’ve never liked schoolteachers or managers implying that most of our work is extremely set and susceptible to deadlines without flexibility. Or that we work a certain way. The real world isn’t like that.

BTW, if you have hard deadlines, like shows or events, your stuff better be done well in advance, not hours before.

When I’ve had good interviews, or gotten a good handle on a candidate’s skills, it’s from adapting to them. Some people like to show something on a computer. Some will whiteboard, some like to discuss the question in detail and ask their own questions. I’m OK in all those cases. When I work with the person, I get a better feel for how they think, how they solve problems, and what catches their eye.

I can also evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and decide where they might fit in our team.

Evaluating someone is hard enough without being rigid about what we do. Expecting everyone to take a test well, or be able to answer any question orally, or any other specific way of interaction is asking to miss out on some potential good candidates, as well as potentially hiring someone that is good at interviewing, but not working.

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