Feodor Georgiev is a SQL Server database specialist with extensive experience of thinking both within and outside the box. He has wide experience of different systems and solutions in the fields of architecture, scalability, performance, etc. Feodor has experience with SQL Server 2000 and later versions, and is certified in SQL Server 2008.
Feodor has written excellent article on Job Interviewing the Right Way. Here is his article in his own language.
A while back I was thinking to start a blog post series on interviewing and employing IT personnel. At that time I had just read the ‘Smart and gets things done’ book (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2007/06/05.html) and I was hyped up on some debatable topics regarding finding and employing the best people in the branch.
I have no problem with hiring the best of the best; it’s just the definition of ‘the best of the best’ that makes things a bit more complicated.
One of the fundamental books one can read on the topic of interviewing is the one mentioned above. If you have not read it, then you must do so; not because it contains the ultimate truth, and not because it gives the answers to most questions on the subject, but because the book contains an extensive set of questions about interviewing and employing people.
Of course, a big part of these questions have different answers, depending on location, culture, available funds and so on. (What works in the US may not necessarily work in the Nordic countries or India, or it may work in a different way).
The only thing that is valid regardless of any external factor is this: curiosity. In my belief there are two kinds of people – curious and not-so-curious; regardless of profession.
Think about it – professional success is directly proportional to the individual’s curiosity + time of active experience in the field. (I say ‘active experience’ because vacations and any distractions do not count as experience :) )
So, curiosity is the factor which will distinguish a good employee from the not-so-good one. But let’s shift our attention to something else for now: a few tips and tricks for successful interviews.
Tip and trick #1: get your priorities straight.
Your status usually dictates your priorities; for example, if the person looking for a job has just relocated to a new country, they might tend to ignore some of their priorities and overload others.
In other words, setting priorities straight means to define the personal criteria by which the interview process is lead.
For example, similar to the following questions can help define the criteria for someone looking for a job:
- How badly do I need a (any) job?
- Is it more important to work in a clean and quiet environment or is it important to get paid well (or both, if possible)?
- And so on…
Furthermore, before going to the interview, the candidate should have a list of priorities, sorted by the most importance: e.g. I want a quiet environment, x amount of money, great helping boss, a desk next to a window and so on.
Also it is a good idea to be prepared and know which factors can be compromised and to what extent.
Tip and trick #2: the interview is a two-way street.
A job candidate should not forget that the interview process is not a one-way street. What I mean by this is that while the employer is interviewing the potential candidate, the job seeker should not miss the chance to interview the employer.
Usually, the employer and the candidate will meet for an interview and talk about a variety of topics.
In a quality interview the candidate will be presented to key members of the team and will have the opportunity to ask them questions. By asking the right questions both parties will define their opinion about each other.
For example, if the candidate talks to one of the potential bosses during the interview process and they notice that the potential manager has a hard time formulating a question, then it is up to the candidate to decide whether working with such person is a red flag for them.
There are as many interview processes out there as there are companies and each one is different. Some bigger companies and corporates can afford pre-selection processes, 3 or even 4 stages of interviews, small companies usually settle with one interview.
Some companies even give cognitive tests on the interview. Why not?
In his book Joel suggests that a good candidate should be pampered and spoiled beyond belief with a week-long vacation in New York, fancy hotels, food and who knows what. For all I can imagine, an interview might even take place at the top of the Eifel tower (right, Mr. Joel, right?) I doubt, however, that this is the optimal way to capture the attention of a good employee.
The ‘curiosity’ topic
What I have learned so far in my professional experience is that opinions can be subjective. Plus, opinions on technology subjects can also be subjective.
According to Joel, only hiring the best of the best is worth it. If you ask me, there is no such thing as best of the best, simply because human nature (well, aside from some physical limitations, like putting your pants on through your head :) ) has no boundaries.
And why would it have boundaries? I have seen many curious and interesting people, naturally good at technology, though uninterested in it as one can possibly be; I have also seen plenty of people interested in technology, who (in an ideal world) should have stayed far from it.
At any rate, all of this sums up at the end to the ‘supply and demand’ factor.
The interview process big-bang boils down to this: If there is a mutual benefit for both the employer and the potential employee to work together, then it all sorts out nicely. If there is no benefit, then it is much harder to get to a common place.
Tip and trick #3: word-of-mouth is worth a thousand words
Here I would just mention that the best thing a job candidate can get during the interview process is access to future team members or other employees of the new company.
Nowadays the world has become quite small and everyone knows everyone. Look at LinkedIn, look at other professional networks and you will realize how small the world really is.
Knowing people is a good way to become more approachable and to approach them.
Tip and trick #4: Be confident.
It is true that for some people confidence is as natural as breathing and others have to work hard to express it.
Confidence is, however, a key factor in convincing the other side (potential employer or employee) that there is a great chance for success by working together.
But it cannot get you very far if it’s not backed up by talent, curiosity and knowledge.
Tip and trick #5: The right reasons
What really bothers me in Sweden (and I am sure that there are similar situations in other countries) is that there is a tendency to fill quotas and to filter out candidates by criteria different from their skill and knowledge.
In job ads I see quite often the phrases ‘positive thinker’, ‘team player’ and many similar hints about personality features.
So my guess here is that discrimination has evolved to a new level.
Let me clear up the definition of discrimination: ‘unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice’. And prejudice is the ‘partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation’.
In other words, there is not much difference whether a job candidate is filtered out by race, gender or by personality features – it is all a bad habit.
And in reality, there is no proven correlation between the technology knowledge paired with skills and the personal features (gender, race, age, optimism).
It is true that a significantly greater number of Darwin awards were given to men than to women, but I am sure that somewhere there is a paper or theory explaining the genetics behind this. J
This topic actually brings to mind one of my favorite work related stories.
A while back I was working for a big company with many teams involved in their processes. One of the teams was occupying 2 rooms – one had the team members and was full of light, colorful posters, chit-chats and giggles, whereas the other room was dark, lighted only by a single monitor with a quiet person in front of it.
Later on I realized that the ‘dark room’ person was the guru and the ultimate problem-solving-brain who did not like the chats and giggles and hence was in a separate room.
In reality, all severe problems which the chatty and cheerful team members could not solve and all emergencies were directed to ‘the dark room’. And thus all worked out well.
The moral of the story: Personality has nothing to do with technology knowledge and skills. End of story.
I’d like to stress the fact that there is no ultimately perfect candidate for a job, and there is no such thing as ‘best-of-the-best’.
From my personal experience, the main criteria by which I measure people (co-workers and bosses) is the curiosity factor; I know from experience that the more curious and inventive a person is, the better chances there are for great achievements in their field.
Related stories: (for extra credit)
1) Get your priorities straight.
A while back as a consultant I was working for a few days at a time at different offices and for different clients, and so I was able to compare and analyze the work environments.
There were two different places which I compared and recently I asked a friend of mine the following question: “Which one would you prefer as a work environment: a noisy office full of people, or a quiet office full of faulty smells because the office is rarely cleaned?”
My friend was puzzled for a while, thought about it and said: “Hmm, you are talking about two different kinds of pollution… I will probably choose the second, since I can clean the workplace myself a bit…”
2) The interview is a two-way street.
One time, during a job interview, I met a potential boss that had a hard time phrasing a question. At that particular time it was clear to me that I would not have liked to work under this person.
According to my work religion, the properly asked question contains at least half of the answer. And if I work with someone who cannot ask a question… then I’d be doing double or triple work.
At another interview, after the technical part with the team leader of the department, I was introduced to one of the team members and we were left alone for 5 minutes.
I immediately jumped on the occasion and asked the blunt question: ‘What have you learned here for the past year and how do you like your job?’
The team member looked at me and said ‘Nothing really. I like playing with my cats at home, so I am out of here at 5pm and I don’t have time for much.’
I was disappointed at the time and I did not take the job offer. I wasn’t that shocked a few months later when the company went bankrupt.
3) The right reasons to take a job: personality check.
A while back I was asked to serve as a job reference for a coworker. I agreed, and after some weeks I got a phone call from the company where my colleague was applying for a job.
The conversation started with the manager’s question about my colleague’s personality and about their social skills. (You can probably guess what my internal reaction was… J )
So, after 30 minutes of pouring common sense into the interviewer’s head, we finally agreed on the fact that a shy or quiet personality has nothing to do with work skills and knowledge.
Some years down the road my former colleague is taking the manager’s position as the manager is demoted to a different department.