Please read the Introductory Post before continue reading interview question and answers.
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. He has written following guest blog post to keep alive the spirit of Interview Questions and Answers Series.
About a month ago I wrote a post Job interviewing – the right way and for the right reasons in which I explored the factors involved in a productive job search and the proper points of view involved in the process. This blog post can be considered as part 2 of the series, which in its turn extends the topic to a broader level: incentives and motives leading to mutual compromises during a job interview.
In short, the job interview is like an enchanted dance between a potential employee and a potential employer which plays a defining role in their entire collaboration. Of course, both sides have sometimes contrasting motivations, different priorities and are moved by different incentives, but in the end, the interviewing process is the host of all unlimited possibilities.
I do consider the incentives to be one of the most powerful energy sources in human history and as examples of incentives I would point to monetary (good salary or bonus), psychological (a good pat on the back), self-appreciation (the perception of self-overachievement) and so on. (Fear is also an incentive, but I sincerely hope that no company runs on this kind of evil fuel!)
I will mention motivation again later on, but for now, let’s look at some essential aspects of quality points of view during the interviewing and hiring process.
‘Absolute ends meet in the middle’ – some proverb, I think…
I am not really certain if this is a real ancient proverb or some colorful phrase I just came up with, but in either case it seems true.
During the interviewing process the main goal boils down to ‘defining the absolute qualities wanted, absolute qualities not wanted and all the gray areas in-between’. And this is valid, of course for both sides – the interviewer and the interviewee. (I should be really calling both sides ‘interviewers’, since both sides are interviewing each other on equal grounds, unless one of them is really desperate.)
So, what are the absolute qualities wanted? Let’s say, in the specific case of interviewing a DBA for a developer position: the understanding of the Query Optimizer and the techniques of T-SQL development are essential. From the point of view of the potential employee an absolute quality expected would be most likely the proper pay.
How do the absolute ends meet in the middle? Let’s say that the job candidate in the example above has great understanding of the QO, great T-SQL development skills, but has never worked with VLDBs and is consciously willing to improve in the area, simultaneously wanting to get as close as possible to his own ‘absolute end’ – the proper pay.
Here we enter a gray area where the two absolute ends would (hopefully) meet: the potential employer will suggest that the new experience would be of great value, the potential employee will acknowledge the fact, but will point out that it is in a way a long-term investment, and eventually the absolute ends will meet due to mutual compromise.
This is a simplified example, but in general the mechanics of negotiation flow by these rules.
How is hiring an employee similar to buying a car
A while back we decided to buy a car and we started looking at the dealerships around the city. It really amazed me how similar the process is to interviewing.
The simple truth about all cars we saw is that ‘all of them will take you from point A to point B’, however, the different cars…
- … could take shorter or longer time
- … can or cannot go off-roading (sometimes even the ones looking like they were designed for off-roading are not meant for that!)
- … are more or less expensive on average per kilometer (a fast sports car can get me faster to point B, but dividing the price of the speeding tickets to the kilometers travelled would be an additional cost)
- … and so on
During interviewing it is also very important for each side to note and calculate the capabilities, costs and timing of the other side and decide whether the ROI (time and effort nowadays are serious investment considerations!) is valuable enough.
And, of course, the potential employee has to have a potential to fit the team in a way which does not disrupt the morale or the rhythm.
For a moment I would like to get back to my previous article on Interviewing (http://blog.sqlauthority.com/2011/06/20/sqlauthority-news-job-interviewing-the-right-way-and-for-the-right-reasons-guest-post-by-feodor-georgiev/). In that article I made a point that the most valuable quality in a potential employee is the level of curiosity.
Curiosity indeed is a base quality, which – if mixed well with the proper incentives – can bring great results.
Again, this is valid for both employees and employers since, as I mentioned above, the absolute ends meet somewhere in the gray area, and eventually the gray area will have to get re-evaluated after some time. In this aspect curiosity is a very well paying investment.
Take this example: as I mentioned above, the DBA who has great database developer skills landed a great job despite their lack of experience with VLDBs and the agreement with the employer was that the initial pay would be a bit below the standard for the industry, but both parties agreed that re-evaluation will be performed in 6 months and adjustments will be made accordingly.
The employee is expected to invest time and effort in feeding their curiosity and, if the results are good, a shifting of incentives will happen at the end of the 6 month period.
Incentives vs. motivation
As I mentioned above, incentives have many implementations and are generally a very powerful force. The problem with incentives is though that they are always projected onto the individual person’s self-motivation and tend to manipulate it.
People (hence, employees) always have the free will to prioritize, according to the incentives.
The point is that a quality interview should cover the most important aspects of incentives-motivation relation.
So, to recap:
To wrap everything up and to make sense of what I have said so far I would like to do two things:
- give a quick summary of the theoretical points and
- write a list of suggestions to both sides of the interview table
Here are the points:
- Incentives are the fuel of the interviewing, hiring and work processes;
- The (accurate) relative evaluation of the weight of incentives vs. motivations determines the long-term relationship between both sides;
- The curiosity is the investment, fed by the incentives;
- The motivation is the final result of the mix between incentives and curiosity;
And hopefully the results are corresponding to the investments made during the interviewing process.
List of suggestions: (most of them are valid for both sides)
- Remember, that the other side needs you as much as you need them, otherwise you would not be sitting there talking;
- The interview is not a ‘one-way’ street, i.e. each side should be interviewing the other
- A job interview is simply a negotiation of potential collaboration based on mutual incentives
- There are no wrong questions, there are just questions asked at the wrong time and in the wrong way (well, except the illegal questions)
- Money is just one form of incentive; try to negotiate with your potential employer / employee other incentives as well, for example: unlimited access to books on the work-related topic, funds for training, funds for certifications, conferences. The best part of other incentives besides money is that the employer will write it off taxes and the employee will not pay taxes on it (unlike when you pay / get money)
- There is nothing wrong with saying ‘No’
- There is nothing wrong with rejection (unless it is based on inadequate terms, i.e. racist, age, gender and other forms of discrimination);
- Do not apply for jobs which are far below your level of expertise, unless you know that both sides are really desperate and there is no other choice
- Do not hire employees which are far too qualified, unless you know that both sides are really desperate and there is no other choice
- Promote yourself – add your achievements to your resume: blogging, public speaking, answering questions on forums; potential employers tend to appreciate any public activities and will tend to pick a candidate over another based on public value (given that both candidates have the same experience, same education, same skills etc. )
- Promote your company and its current employees – create a company blog space and ask your employees to blog or express opinions freely; potential employees tend to see this as a positive sign
- Don’t lose sleep over interviews; nervousness and your own imagination is your worst enemy
- Never accept a job which is not clearly defined; ask questions about the role until it is completely clear or run as fast as you can (unless you are desperate)
- Try to find out the reasons why the position is available (check professional social network sites for previous employees and do a quick trending of the employee flow through the position / department: how long do the employees stay in the position, what are their backgrounds, where are they working now and so on )
- Don’t count on references; people tend to cheat on those. Instead, try to socialize or, if possible, try to get introduced to a current employee which can put a good word for you at the company. Most companies (the smarter ones) have company events, where employees are allowed to bring guests; there is no better opportunity than this to headhunt or to be headhunted
- Try to find out what kind of people you will be working with: how many of them are experienced, curious and motivated, and how many of them are there ‘just for the ride’. I have noticed that the latter kind will just drain your energy with their repetitive questions, whereas the former kind of coworkers will most likely stimulate your professional advancement
Reference: Rick A. Morelan, Pinal Dave (http://blog.SQLAuthority.com)