Why candidates fail the job interview

At the moment, my work group is looking to hire a couple of new Oracle DBAs. My colleague, who is doing the interviewing, regaled us with stories about the people he interviewed. He extended at least one offer; whether or not the candidate accepts remains to be seen.

His stories reminded me of a SQL Saturday presentation by my friend, Thomas Grohser, entitled “Why candidates fail the job interview in the first minute.” The link sends you to a YouTube video of the session he did for the professional development virtual group. I haven’t yet looked at the video, but I have attended his session live and in-person at previous SQL Saturdays. If you are able to spare an hour, take a look at Thomas’ presentation. He gives a very good presentation, as he always does.

I have a few thoughts that, hopefully, will help you if you’re looking to go to a job interview. Again, I didn’t watch the video, so I’m not sure whether or not Thomas covered these points in his virtual presentation, but he did touch on them whenever I attended his live presentations, and I thought they were worth pointing out.

  • If you do NOT ask any questions, consider your interview blown. I overheard my colleague mention that he asked one of his candidates, “do you have any questions,” and he responded with, “Nope!”

    In the back of my mind, I said to myself, “he just disqualified himself. Please tell me you’re not extending him an offer.”

    Seriously. It is absolutely critical that you ask questions at an interview. If you do NOT ask any questions, then you just failed the interview.

    A candidate who asks questions indicates that (s)he is interested in the position and the organization. Keep in mind that you’re interviewing the company just as much as the company is interviewing you. Interviewing is a two-way street. You need to make sure that the position is the right fit for you.

    If you don’t ask questions, it’s an indication that you aren’t interested. Worse, it also signals that you aren’t taking the interview seriously. Why would a company want to hire you if you’re not serious about the interview?

    Bottom line: never, EVER, NOT ask questions at an interview!!!
  • It’s important to ask the right questions. Make sure that, when you do ask questions, ask the right ones. You should frame your questions in such a way that it shows you’re interested in the company.

    You shouldn’t ask questions about salary, benefits, etc. unless the interviewer brings it up. The company doesn’t want an employee who is self-centered. Instead, ask questions that show that you want to be a team player. A common one that I’ve asked when I’ve interviewed is, “what are the organization’s biggest challenges, and what can I do to help you out?”

    Whenever I’ve interviewed, I’ve always prepared at least two or three questions (sometimes more, depending on the interview) to ask in advance. I’ll ask questions about their system environment and their competition. I’ve even asked questions about their workplace dynamic — a question as simple as, “what do you guys like to do for lunch?” can sometimes be revealing about their workplace atmosphere.

    I highly recommend books titled Best Questions to Ask On Your Interview (I’ve seen these books in various titles — 200 Best Questions, 300, etc.). Get them from Amazon, check them out from your local library, or whatever works for you.
  • It’s okay not to know everything. I recently saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine who interviewed a candidate who didn’t know about what (s)he was being asked, and said so. My friend commented that it was refreshing that a candidate just admitted that (s)he didn’t know the answer, rather than try to BS his or her way through the interview.

    We’re human. We don’t have unlimited data storage that we can query on a whim. As such, you’re not going to know the answer to every interview question thrown at you.

    One of the worst things you can do is try to BS your way through every question thrown at you. More often than not, a good interviewer who knows what (s)he’s doing will see through it. That will not reflect well on you during an interview.

    Thomas admits that he will ask the candidate questions that either don’t have a correct answer or have ambiguous answers. (The question itself might even be ambiguous.) He isn’t looking to see if you know the facts; rather, he is looking to see how you answer the question. Answering “here’s how I would find the answer” or “I don’t know, but this is what I think” is often enough to satisfactorily answer the question.
  • Respect the interview. Make sure you’re showered, cleaned up, and properly dressed. Make sure you show up on time (even better, show up early — fifteen to thirty minutes early should suffice). Come prepared. If you’re late or unable to show up, contact them immediately and let them know. Say “please” and “thank you.” Use a firm handshake.

    In short, respect the interview. Not doing so conveys a message that you’re not taking it seriously, which causes the interviewer to question whether or not you really want the job. If you don’t take the interview seriously, chances are that the job offer will go to the candidate who does.

Hopefully, these tips will help you nail the interview. They might not guarantee that you’ll land the position, but they’ll definitely increase your chances of doing so.

Good luck at your interview.

References and memorization

I was working on a document, and wanted to toggle the language on MS Word that was used for proofing (I downloaded the template from our UK subsidiary, so it was proofing in UK, not US, English). I couldn’t remember how to do it, so I consulted Google, found my answer, changed the setting, and went along my merry way.

For whatever reason, it got me thinking about Microsoft certification exams (it’s funny how one’s mind works sometimes). It’s been a long time since I took one. What got me thinking was that, when you take a certification exam, you are not allowed to bring any notes or references with you into the testing room (as far as I remember — I’m not sure if that’s still the case now; like I said, it’s been a long time since I took a certification exam).

In this day and age where finding information is as easy as picking up your smartphone, I really believe that memorization is overrated (and, maybe in some cases, even dangerous). I wrote as much a while back, and I still believe that now.

Back when I worked as an adjunct instructor, all my assignments, quizzes, and exams that I gave to students were open-book, open-note. I also told my students that they were allowed to help each other work toward the answers, including during an exam. They were not allowed to outright give each other answers; that constituted cheating and were grounds for failing the exam. Maybe some instructors might scoff at this approach, but my students were very good about adhering to those rules (many of them told me later that they learned more in my class than any other they’d ever taken), and there was a method to my madness.

For one thing, I told my students that the ability to look up and research information was an important skill to have. We, as imperfect human beings, are never going to remember absolutely everything, so to be able to know how find the correct answers is important. Second, when we’re in a working environment, the ability to work together as a team is critical. When you’re working within a team environment, being able to work with others to achieve a common goal is a big deal.

Finally, how many workplaces are going to tell you, “okay, put away all your books and references. You’re going to do this project entirely from memory.” I don’t know about you, but if a manager ever told me to do that, I wouldn’t be able to update and distribute my resume fast enough.

In his SQL Saturday presentation entitled “Why candidates fail the job interview in the first minute,” Thomas Grohser mentions that he does not expect any candidate to be able to know everything. If a candidate says that (s)he “does not know the answer, but here’s how I would go about finding the answer,” then that is a perfectly acceptable answer. More often than not, trying to do everything from memory is a bad and sometimes dangerous approach, and is a bad way of thinking.

We are not perfect. We will never remember everything. And anyone who says that (s)he knows everything is full of crap. Rather than try to brute-force memorize anything and everything, it’s more important to develop skills that teach you how to think and how to find, verify, and process information. If I was a hiring manager, that ability would be vastly more valuable than someone who says that (s)he “knows everything.”

Characteristics of good recruiters

I’ve written some articles about spam recruiters. To put it very bluntly, spam recruiters are evil. They do not work for your best interests; they are just looking to make a buck. And it’s a pervasive problem. Do a Google search for “recruiter spam” and take a look at all the hits that come up. Quite frankly, I hate them. I’ve had bad experiences with them. I’ve done plenty of ranting about them. Every time I get an email from a spam recruiter, it goes right into the trash.

“Okay, Ray,” you might say. “We get it. You hate recruiter spam. So what do you think makes a good recruiter?”

That’s a fair question. Let’s talk about that.

I’ll say that I have a number of friends who are recruiters. I have very good relationships with many of them. There are many good recruiters out there who make good networking contacts. I can easily drop them a line to say “what’s up?” Every now and then, they’ll send messages like, “I’m looking to fill such-and-such position. Can you help me out?” If I know someone, I’ll gladly pass names along. If I have a good relationship with a recruiter, I make sure that I maintain it — even if I’m not actively looking for a new position.

So in my mind, here are some of the things that make a good recruiter.

  • A good recruiter takes the time to get to know you. As I wrote before, networking is about relationships. (S)he will sit down with you and ask what you want in an ideal position, how you work, your strengths, what you like, and so on. (S)he will also critique your resume and provide some advice based on what you tell him or her. More often than not, these discussions are more conversational, not necessarily a full-blown interview (although it might not hurt a prospective candidate to treat it as such).

    In my consulting position, I regularly have lunch with my consulting firm contact — who is himself a recruiter — about every couple of months. We’ll discuss a variety of things — how’re things going, what’s going on, etc. I enjoy these conversations that I have with him; they make me feel as though he’s looking out for me — which he is.

    Simply put, a good recruiter looks to establish a relationship with you. You are not just another number to him or her.
  • A good recruiter is honest with you. I’ve had conversations with recruiters who’ve said, “I don’t have anything that’s a good fit for you right now.” That’s okay. If (s)he doesn’t have a position that’s a good match for me, then it is what it is. (S)he will not try to force you into a position that is not a good fit.

    I have a friend — a recruiter — who is brutally honest with her clients. She has given me comments about my resume and job hunt activities in the past that I haven’t necessarily wanted to hear, but when it came down to it, I realized that she was often right. She doesn’t want to steer her clients wrong, and wants to make sure they end up in a good situation. I have some friends who’ve been placed by her, and they all attest that she is a great recruiter.
  • A good recruiter doesn’t spam you. Rather, (s)he’ll ask for favors. I often get emails from my recruiter friends saying something like, “we are looking to fill (insert name of position here). If you’re interested, or if you know someone, please let me know.”

    What’s the difference between this request and a spammer? These emails come from people with whom I have an established relationship. As I’ve written before, networking is bidirectional and symbiotic. They’ve helped me with my job search. In turn, they’re likely looking for a favor from me. Maybe I know someone who can help them. And as I wrote above, they’ve taken the time to get to know me. They know what I look for, and they know the kind of professionals with whom I likely associate. Contrast that to spam recruiters, who send you emails based on keywords that they find in your resume or your LinkedIn profile. A legitimate recruiter is someone with whom you’ve established a measure of trust.

    Speaking of trust…
  • A good recruiter is someone you trust. Can you trust that a recruiter acts in your best interest? Is (s)he someone you feel is reliable? Do you feel comfortable talking to your recruiter? If you’re looking for a position, do you feel that (s)he will place you in the best possible position? Is (s)he open and honest with you? Do you accept his or her feedback?

    If the answer to these is yes, then you have a good recruiter you can trust.

These are some of the characteristics that I feel make a good recruiter (and if you have any more that I’ve left out, feel free to add them below in the comments section). Good recruiters are good people with whom to establish relationships — even if you’re not looking for a job — and may very well be some of the best networking contacts you could have.

Ranting my frustration about connect requests

This article may seem to go against one of the things that I preach in my ‘blogging presentation, and that is to avoid frustrated rants and “getting it out of your system.” Maybe I should be a little more specific. One should avoid mindless rants in which you angrily spew your passions without any thoughts, and in which you say things that you’ll later regret.

Yes, this article is a rant. However, it is not without thought, and there is a purpose to this post.

As many of my regular followers (both of you) are likely aware, I write and present primarily on professional development topics. I’m not as technically sharp as I once was, but I still contribute to groups such as PASS and SQL Saturday in the form of “soft” topics that are of interest to industry professionals. I’ve started using this analogy during my presentation introductions: “when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Saturday, I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.”

Among other things — and if you follow my ‘blog and my presentations, you probably already know this — I write a lot about networking. These days, networking is the lifeblood of one’s career path.

However, there is a difference between networking and connecting. Therein lies the heart of my rant. I’ve written before about people who don’t give a crap about actual networking, as well as spam recruiters.

I still get connect requests from these people, and it frustrates me to no end. So with that…

<Rant>
  • If I don’t know who you are, tell me how we’re connected!!! I get a lot of LinkedIn requests from people whom I don’t know from Adam. Some might be people I’ve met from my user group or at a SQL Saturday, but if I’m not friends with you, I didn’t invite you to connect, I don’t interact with you on a semi-regular basis, or we don’t have some kind of common relationship (more on that below), chances are that I’m not going to know or remember who you are. I do NOT connect with random strangers that I don’t know. If you tell me how we’re connected, then I will be happy to connect with you. But if you send me a cold-connect request with no explanation whatsoever — or worse, send me a message where you kiss my ass without explaining how we’re connected (I’ve had that happen before) — then there is about a 98% chance* that I will delete your request. (And if you try to kiss up to me, insult my intelligence, or try to sell me something, that shoots all the way up to 100%.)

    (*If I recognize where you’re from, then there’s a slight chance that I might at least retain the request, not delete it altogether. But if I don’t know you, I still won’t connect until you tell me who you are. Don’t make me have to work to figure out who you are.)
  • I am NOT in a contest to see if I can get the most connections. So you have 3000+ connections. That’s great. But if you ask me for a recommendation, will I know anything about you? Networking is about relationships. If I need a favor (for example, let’s say I lose my job and am looking for a new one), are you willing to help me out? Or are you looking for something for me and are not willing to give anything back? If the answer no to the first question and yes to the latter, then don’t even bother with me.
  • We don’t have to be friends. We just need to have something in common. I don’t expect to be buddies with all my networking connections. Many of these people I will likely not recognize if I bumped into them on the street. Some might even be people with whom I have some kind of conflict. But if we’re both members of the same “family” (e.g. my alma mater, my fraternity, my gym, #SQLFamily, etc.), then I’m more likely to connect with you. If we’re friends, great, but having a networking relationship with acquaintances is okay.

And I have a special rant regarding spam recruiters. I hate spam recruiters passionately. (I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter — if you really want to hear more about it, I talk about it in the link.) They give legitimate recruiters a bad name. All of the above bullet points about connecting apply, along with these points.

  • I will NOT relocate. If you try to sell me a position that requires me to move, consider your message deleted immediately. I have a home and a life. I have roots where I am, and I will NOT pull them up unless I desperately have to do so. I will NOT even look at any message that tells me about a job in someplace I’ve never heard of or located hundreds of miles from where I live. Every time I see a message like that in my inbox, it goes straight into the trash. I won’t even bother reading what it says.
  • Don’t even bother contacting me about sales or help desk call positions. Although I’m open-minded enough that I’d look into nearly any job depending on the circumstances, there are some positions in which I have absolutely zero interest. I have no interest at all in any type of sales associate or help desk call* position, and I state that very clearly in my LinkedIn overview. (There are a number of other positions as well, but those are the ones about which I get the most emails.) I don’t even know what on my resume says that I have any kind of interest in either position.

    (*I might consider a position that involves managing or supporting a help desk, but again, it depends on the circumstances.)
  • No growth? No dice. I’m always looking to grow. That doesn’t necessarily mean climbing the ladder (although it could mean that). It means improving myself, learning new skills, and possibly even furthering my education. If you don’t offer that, chances are that I won’t budge.

Having gotten that out of my system, I do have some points for legitimate recruiters (some of whom are my friends).

  • I am not actively looking for a position (at least not as of this article), but I do look passively. If something that looks interesting drops in my lap, I’d be stupid to at least not look into it. And if it’s something that works for me — whether it’s an increase in salary or an upward move — then who knows?
  • No, I won’t relocate, but… I do enjoy traveling, so I give bonus points for a position in which I get to do some traveling. Also, I would consider a position where I can work from home full-time, even if the prospective employer is located hundreds of miles away.
</Rant>

Okay. That’s out of my system. I feel better now.

SQL Saturday #855, Albany — the debrief

This past weekend, we (the CASSUG user group) hosted our sixth SQL Saturday. I’ve attended dozens of SQL Saturdays, but the ones that we hold in my own backyard are always the most special to me. This is one of my favorite events of the entire year, and I look forward to it each summer.

At the speaker’s dinner on Friday night!

I’ll start by talking about my own presentations, which took place in the afternoon (I was scheduled for the last two time slots of the day). My first talk was a lightning talk about business cards. (If you want to know about what I presented, check out my ‘blog article — it pretty much outlines what I talked about.) Mine was one of seven talks, along with talks by Bryan Cafferky, Andy Yun, Deborah Melkin, Michelle Gutzait, Taiob Ali, and Paresh Motiwala. Besides my own talk, I was able to catch the first five talks (unfortunately, I had to leave to prepare for my presentation, so I missed Paresh’s — but that’s okay, because he gives a terrible talk, anyway*), and I can tell you that every one of them was an awesome presentation. I loved every single one of them.

(*ed note: I’m kidding, Paresh! You know I love you!)

I get ready to do my presentation

All kidding aside… immediately after the lightning talks session, I had my own full-length presentation to do. I debuted a brand-new presentation about ‘blogging. For the most part, it went well, but it isn’t perfect. I did get a couple of comments back saying that they were expecting more about the career aspect of ‘blogging. Apparently, they were looking for a direct link between ‘blogging and career. The idea of my presentation is that ‘blogging can enhance your professional profile and well-being, but apparently, that didn’t come across in my presentation. I’m scheduled to give this talk again in Providence next month, so I’ll have to figure out what tweaks I need to make between now and then.

Other than that, I attended two other sessions: Matt Cushing’s networking presentation, and Thomas Grohser’s interviewing presentation. I’ve attended both presentations before, and they are both great sessions; if you ever have a chance to attend either presentation, I recommended them highly! Tom asked me to attend his; when I attended his previous sessions, he liked my questions and commentary so much that he asked me to come back to ask the same questions and make the same comments — for the benefit of others in attendance. For Matt’s session, it was more a matter of personal pride. He has given the presentation (I think it’s been) six times, and I have been to all six! It’ll be seven for seven next month; he’s coming back to Albany to give his presentation at our user group meeting!

SQL Saturday isn’t possible without the help of volunteers!

I had to skip out on the second round of sessions to pick up more ice (which was especially critical, since it was the hottest day of the year so far). I didn’t just speak at Albany SQL Saturday; I also served as a volunteer. As I’ve written before, SQL Saturday is an all-volunteer event, and they wouldn’t be possible without all the volunteers who do the behind-the-scenes dirty work, such as setting up, manning the registration tables, making coffee, cleaning up, assembling attendee bags, and all the little things that help make the event go (such as picking up more ice for the coolers). Volunteers are the unsung heroes of SQL Saturday, so if you ever attend an event, make sure that you show them your appreciation!

A few of us went out for ice cream after the speaker’s dinner!

There were many other aspects of SQL Saturday that made it fun — and are among the many reasons why it is one of my favorite events of the year! I didn’t even mention the speaker’s dinner on Friday night, the after-party on Saturday after it was all over, and the great time I had with many friends whom I often only get to see at these events!

SQL Saturday is a lot of hard work and effort, but it is well worth it! It isn’t just about the data sessions and free training; it’s also about networking, talking to vendors, making friends, and having fun! If you ever get to a SQL Saturday near you, I highly recommend it!

July 20 — SQL Saturday, Albany, NY

On Saturday, July 20 (one week from tomorrow), the Capital Area SQL Server User Group (CASSUG) will host SQL Saturday for the sixth time in Albany, NY!

For those of you who are not regular readers of my ‘blog, SQL Saturday is a daylong conference centered mostly (but not entirely) around data topics related to SQL Server. It’s also a great networking event, and an opportunity to hook up with a number of data professionals! Check out the schedule to see what sessions interest you!

And yes, I am presenting, too! I will do a brand-new presentation about ‘blogging, as well as a lightning talk about business cards! I always look forward to doing presentations in my own backyard!

Additionally, there are three pre-con sessions on Friday, July 19. Unlike SQL Saturday, these sessions are not free, but they provide quality daylong training for specific topics at a decent price. Information about these pre-cons can also be found on the web site!

For more information and to register for the event, visit our website! Upstate New York is a great place to visit during the summertime! Hope to see you there!

Learning to Stop Being a Hero

Steve Jones posted what I think is a good read, and I wanted to share.

Voice of the DBA

A few weeks ago I re-published a piece on whether we might be giving too much of ourselves for our employers. At the time I was on holiday with my family and since this was a popular piece years ago, I decided to run it again. I was surprised at the response, with quite a few individuals writing about their experiences in their current positions.

A good friend of mine read the editorial and then sent me a link to a post by Paul Cunningham that looks at the IT hero. This talks about some of the ways in which we put ourselves out as employees. It’s a good read, and it’s certainly something to think about when you look for a new job. When I talk about finding a dream job, I’m not talking about a specific job or career path, but rather, what’s the right fit…

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