SQL SERVER – Interview Questions and Answers – Perspectives of an Author

Today is the first day of year 2012 – Happy New Year!. This blog post is written by my co-author of SQL Server Interview Questions and Answers book Vinod Kumar M.

When Pinal Dave and I started our new book – I thought this whole series is very important even if you are not planning to give interviews. The links, resources and subjects mentioned can surely be used as 101 for even learning SQL Server no matter what role you are into – even as students. Though technology is one of the important dimensions we get interviewed, I think the philosophy to look is just beyond the technical competencies in my opinion. So I thought to pen down some of my views – please read with an open mind and these might not exactly reflect to what happens in your region/cultures. But the important thing to read between the lines are the concepts and thinking behind them. This is not a guide nor will assure you to crack any interviews – but will surely set you on the right mindset.

Are Interviews plenty?

Let us look – when or how often do people switch jobs? I am of the views there have to be compelling need to why you might want to switch a job”. But sometimes this is beyond normal comprehension – as most of the time boils down to personal preferences. But looking at the market – Is there a right time or such decisions?

Was just checking on the US Department of Labor whitepaper and this very much sums the theory of how often we look out for jobs. Clearly in the age group of 18-27 there is close to 4-6 job switches on an average, Wow. That is quite alarming stats by any standards and these numbers in my opinion is very much what I see too. Moving up the age group, the number of job hops decreases while people are more inclined towards job security and stability in their career. I have had the opportunity to talk to tons of young kids in my interactions with Academia and even from professional networks for job security – many have even asked me how I landed into Databases as a full-time. There is choice and opportunity in every role and it is up to us to make the best of what we have – and what we are good at.

Note: Just to give you my personal example – I am on my 3rd company in my ~12+ years of career and that by all means beats most of the stats mentioned above. As I said, what is the inner drive to take these decisions? I am ready to talk if you catch me at any event in the future.

I was doing my own search on where is the money, moving into management hierarchy is something most of the youth always admire – Salary Survey for Country: India is a testimony to the reason. And seeing this industry through the recession times, well the cuts from the middle management were also high during that time. The stats are mind boggling and it should have been really bad – tough times never last, tough people do. So let us get back to the positive side of story and let us concentrate on “us” rather than boil the ocean here.

Getting a job offer is one challenge, but finding out about the company and the people you are going to work for is just as important as cracking the interview process. The first step is to market yourself and this is the most critical step.

Positioning yourself

We need to understand the basics – the best jobs are not the ones that you will land by having a great word template resume with tons of marketing buzz words to attract more attention. The ones that get advertised on the online / newspapers are mere eye washes and if you are experienced, these will land you nowhere IMHO.

  • The best jobs inside an organization are not vehemently publicized but are more known to the insiders.
  • If you plan to take the Job fair or the Ad related job postings, you are in a big pile of job seekers resumes dump yard and you must be even lucky to even get an interview call. Most of the times these are random picks and there are interesting software algorithms that companies build ingeniously to do the pick – all the more reasons why you are lucky if you have got the interview call.

“Companies don’t hire you, you get hired!!!”

Understand, in booming times like now you might get away in applying for jobs etc – but employers are looking not for the herd of sheep but real solution makers. Your resume must stand out even in times of tough economy and make the employer feel – you must be hired. Now your question is – How do I project and show I am that one person you are looking out for?

Companies even during recession times don’t freeze up and choke out. Yes, they will surely be selective on whom and why they are hiring even when the cash is low. Once the cycle of recession hits, companies take time to get back to self and old ways – but they are always cognizant of the past and are lesser risk takers after bitter experiences. End of the day – you must call out activities that are result-oriented to get picked rather than just being one not ready to go that extra mile. Be a decision maker, result oriented and a difference maker – these attributes are surely going to get you a step on the door if not the final job. If you get this far and make a mess – well admit it and move ahead.

Note: This is a small industry and there are connections all over, be careful what you project. Overdoing will get you into bad spot of no-return.

Overdoing at this stage can be a downfall for you. I have had the opportunity to see resumes spanning 18-20 pages. Well, you are not sending the right vibes: trust me, you are not sending an essay competition paper. The last thing you want to avoid is being Over-Qualified.

Over-Qualified – Really?

The last thing you want to hear from any employer is this statement of being over-qualified – though this can be a great compliment for you there is still some point of concerns. You still are not getting hired and your EMI has to paid rightJ. So let us see what this sugar coated over-qualified term really means –

  • If your resume speaks heavy and there is always a feeling inside employers that you are more likely to leave the job because you will get bored easily given all the things you have done. One of the questions you will be asked during interviews revolve around –“why are you leaving?” Be careful as this is one bait you are not going to fall into. If you say –“you are bored blah blah” and the job you seek is on the same lines. Well, you get the drift why now.
  • Second category will involve prevention by employers. If things didn’t go the way it had to for the organization – employers get a feeling you are now more difficult to get rid off. Now that will also be based on how we went about projecting ourselves.
  • Last category you don’t want to fall under is – you might be an expensive hire given the experience. I personally have seen peers evading when someone less experienced getting paid more when you have been loyal with the organization for a longer time. To avoid peer-parity HR issues – organizations are avoiding you. One other reason HR’s avoid is because in the next appraisal cycles you are more likely to get dissatisfied not getting the same compensations or hikes you have got in the past given the higher slab you were hired at.

So now that we have this covered, it is great we will be extra cautious moving forward. Let me rehash on some other attributes that need to keep in mind again when facing interviews.

Hard worker Vs Smart Worker

Positioning yourself is close to marketing yourself in this industry. Productivity is one of the assets which management always loves to hear. Look at areas where you have made process improvements and you are using the tools to the maximum (Developer tools or Office productivity tools). This will sell at any level – from developer productivity to operational productivity: you surely are increasing your chances in getting qualified for the next interview cycle.

I was trying to close on how the working patterns are and what are the things people are looking forward. I know from colleagues in the services industry that they need to clock ~9 hrs per day at a minimum and these are tracked. These paradigm shifts happened during the recession time and see it continue so even now – sad but still true.

Was scanning the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics page on – “Why Do BLS Hours Series Tell Different Stories About Trends in Hours Worked?” And these show CES indicate that hours fell from 36.9 to 33.8 hours per week between 1973 and 2007. Interesting right, these stats do show us one dimension we cannot ignore and personally I think we get smarter at work as we get better in understanding the software we work with and the people we do work with.

This must be your unique value addition and don’t forget to bring this attribute of yours to the table of how you are productive and get job done quicker using the right tools.

It is a mind game!!!

As much as all interviews have a technical requirement it also critical to have the right communication skills and right choice of words to send better impact. Some of these are 101 basics on communication -

  • Your first impression in first 5 mins is the main thing that is going to make or break the deal. Concentrate on that given some of the discussions we made above. Be genuine in who you are as an individual and be genuinely interested in the job that you are applying. These have to be apparent in that first conversation in every round of interview.
  • The last 5 mins is your time to make an intelligent choice of closing the deal yourself or letting the job go out of hand.

As I said before, choice of words are critical. If you are getting into a team – using we is more important than just calling out as I did it. You can later sub-classify in mentioning what your role was and which parts were your contributions. Showing the big picture always makes interviews interesting as you are aware of the whole product needs.

If you consider yourself a master of subject, then better be prepared for the barrage of questions from unknown directions on the very subject. Even if it means reading on current trends, market movements, competition, whitepapers, mergers, new products etc – this is critical. You need to show the love for the subject and more importantly you are genuinely interested outside the scope of what you even don’t work. So ignorance is inexcusable.

Say “Thank you” – no matter what the outcome, you surely want to create a positive impression when you leave. Express your gratitude; don’t wait for opportunities– create them.

Mannerism Basics is – Treat others the way you would want to be treated. It is very simple and easy to implement – yet tough to follow. Some other manners that come to mind are:

  • Dress Professionally – A casual dress might send bad signals and the interviewer might feel you are just having fun kidding around to check. Show your serious intentions.
  • Make an impression that lasts. The start of the interview is critical – the first 15-20 seconds when you settle can make the impact too. You don’t get a second chance here.
  • Watch your body language – The way eye contact has been made. Make sure to communicate openly with intensity.
  • Don’t talk too much – It takes practice, give clear and concise explanations.
  • On the given day, Focus on the interview process and not on the outcome or results. You don’t need to be worried about your offer if you take care of the process.
  • Being aggressive is not wrong – just don’t overdo it. It is also possible to get cornered and saying “No” diplomatically is the key. State you are guessing and articulate your hypothesis to arrive to that conclusion.

“You don’t have anything until you have your offer, play your cards carefully”

Social Media – Be-aware and Beware

Has it ever occurred to you – what you do today might be affecting your FUTURE? Well, social media is one such thing. These days the HR also keep track on your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles to see what type of person you are – whiner or an optimist. There are many lessons one needs to learn either the hard way or atleast beware since you landed here in this blog post.

  • Be careful about what you speak-out over social media. Simple, but hugely important. It is not actually what you write; it is about how others will perceive it.
  • Be careful on the setting to whom you share what. There are group settings you need to exercise to specifically bifurcate personal and business contacts. Take a moment to make these groups over FB, Twitter etc.
    • Be careful on how you group people too. You don’t want to shoot at your own foot here. A typical scenario would be – they are a friend now, they might become a peer later, become a vendor in the organization that you work for etc. So these can also become delicate situations you don’t want to get into.
    • Make sure the pictures, links, messages are chosen with care. The moment you move from face-to-face to phone to hand written to social shout-outs. The more layers of interactions abstracted, more the layers of misunderstanding possible.

Say what you mean, mean what you say but be lest assured that you don’t quite control what others hear, interpret and use it later pointing back at you.

Asking the right questions

Tough there are enough and more running on your mind as you start preparing for your interviews. Let me take a step back and ask you tons of questions. Answer them for yourself, noone else – this will prepare you mentally.

  • What is the reason I need to change the job?
  • How can I affect the issues that are forcing me to look for a job?
  • Is my need to look for a job caused by others or me?
  • Realistically, how long will it take me to land a new job?
  • How am I going to work around my job and interviewing schedules?

What are your emotions?

  • Are you frustrated with the present employer? What did you do to express this?
  • Did you lose your self-respect in any interaction?
  • Were you shocked of being fired or forced to look out?
  • Were you isolated and forced to look out?
  • Do you feel hostility against anyone? Do they deserve it, can you change this?

Open questions on strengths -

  • What are your professional and personal strengths?
  • How can you clearly articulate the strengths have benefited your team, company?
  • What are the factors, data points that need explanation to a potential employer? Any breaks or other reasons.
  • What makes you unique?
  • What are the 3-4 traits that employer needs to know when compared to your competitors getting interviewed?

Now before the interview -

  • What do I know of the company I sent resume to?
  • Have you done enough research on the company?
  • Do you know anyone from the company?
  • Do you have the JD before the interview?
  • What makes this company so good – will this be your dream company?
  • Do you have a good question ready to ask based on your research?

On telephonic interviews -

  • Ask who is interviewing you that day. This tells how much authority this person might have on the final call.
  • Who is an ideal candidate for this position?
  • Is this a new role or a replacement? When would you like to fill the position?
  • Especially over phone, try to seal the interview in the first 20 mins else the conversation is getting stale.

Get more info of company culture by asking the right questions -

  • What makes this a good company to work for?
  • What is your background before you got here? People like to boast always
  • How long have you been looking for a person?
  • How many candidates have you interviewed?
  • What is the most difficult part of the job?

“The most qualified do not always get a job. But that doesn’t mean only the unqualified get oneJ”

Finally some tips

I can keep going on this topic, but thought to wrap up quickly so that you get some final tips and resources for use.

  • Get your resume straight – the smallest mistake can cost you a job now. Resume writing is one of the great resources over the internet. Will try to refrain from rehashing the wonderful content out there.
  • Choosing a career path is critical. If you don’t quite know where you are going, no map will help. Career Planning site has a good read.
  • If you are an online person, build a strong brand for yourself and be unique. Good read on “10 ways to build your brand reputation”. Simple yet powerful concepts.
  • In most of the companies the employee’s success depends largely on the Manager they get. Choose your manager as you use as your job – is a blog I wrote sometime back.
  • Your Passion and energy is what drives you to get a job. “What does it take to be successful?” is a blog post I thought that comes to my mind.

Conclusion

If you reached far, hope there were some interesting tips that were useful to you. Attending interviews is only one part of the equation, being mentally prepared with the right answers to some of the questions is what I think this blog called out.

Have fun and all the best if you are getting prepared for any interviews. Feel free to drop a line to me if you have any comments.

Reference: Pinal Dave (http://blog.SQLAuthority.com)

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60 thoughts on “SQL SERVER – Interview Questions and Answers – Perspectives of an Author

  1. Very well written Vinod. I have interviewed with and interview lot of people particularly in DBA profession. Some tips want to add generally to what you have said, in particular for indians –
    1 Keep resume’ short. Employer does not want to know your life history. Keep it down to 3 pages maximum. Highlight major projects – not necessarily all. Get a spell and grammar check done, at very minimum use word. Do not send out a resume with spelling and grammatical mistakes.
    2 If you are letting a headhunter sell your resume – make sure he/she has not doctored it. Ask her or him for a copy of what has been presented to the prospective employer BEFORE you interview. I have interviewed candidates who were developers and mis represented as DBAs or vice versa. Some were aware of it, many were not.
    3 If you are presenting links to websites or stuff you have written – make sure it is entirely your own, not cut and paste or cleverly modified from a celebrity.Plagiarism is cheating, plain and simple.
    4 A common question asked of late is what are websites and authors you rely on in case you have to research a problem. Keep a few websites and authors handy (such as this one :)
    5 Show interest in the area of interview that goes beyond your job. In the technical field particularly that helps and shows you are interested in what you do. Read websites, watch webcasts or educational podcasts and books on the subject you are working on and learn to say what they are without hesitation.
    6 Again especially for H1B or visa holders – avoid cheating and mis representation, such as getting someone else to do your phone interview, doctoring resumes and so on. These are just plain bad practices and you will get found out sooner or later if you engage in such things. If you are out of work consider returning home and coming back by ethical means if you need to. An ethical individual is always respected and treated well. Believe in yourself, hard work and sincerity, those virtues always pay off.

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  4. Thank you Vinod for providing your experience in this matter. I wish you a happy New Year. Best regards from Belgium.

  5. It’s really nice article as you said in your first paragraph it’s change our mind set and i feel that after reading. Thanks for good article i am looking for job and giving Interviews so it is very useful for me and may be change my future.

  6. This is a very nice post.Not only this I like every post he writes on twitter.I always wait for his very first morning post ,which gives very good start to a day with some inspirations words.
    Thanks this is very useful post.Thanks for sharing your valuable experience as advice.Thanks to pinal dave .He is role model for most of sql folks.
    Happy new year.

  7. Thanks to Vinod for penning down a great article. I found almost everything written in this article to be true because I myself was in job search process last couple of months, this makes me happy that I was on right track.

    One question to Vinod, You wrote in your post, you are working in the same company for the past 12 years, then how come you have very sound knowledge on interview process ?

    Its one more year, I still have the same question, I ask every year to Pinal, How is possible for Pinal to do blogging every day ? When I see this article especially, the time it takes to type all this content and then do editing and coloring, putting reference weblinks links, inserting pictures, I guess it took almost 4 hours or more than that…

    Pinal, I would request you to share your daily/ monthly time table how you spent your time on activities only if you are comfortable sharing it, how you manage your time, it might help others, it will definitely help me plan my day.

    Thanks,
    ~IM.

    • Imran,

      Great to see you active again on the blog. I will for sure adhere your request.

      I will let Vinod answer the profound question you asked :)

      Once again great to see you active!

      • Imran,

        To Quote from the article –

        “I am in my 3rd company in my ~12+ years of career and that by all means beats most of the stats mentioned above. ”

        So to demystify, this was not the ONLY company in 12 yrs. What I didnt mention in this blog post is, I have actually done close to 8+ different roles in my stints with different companies. So the exploration has always been there – both attending interviews and experiecing different interviewers :).

        Now to answer your question, I have been fortunate enough to take 100’s of interviews too in the past. So I have seen candidates, tons of resumes, interesting characters, interesting answers etc.

        This article did take more than 4+ hrs for me personally. But I also know it would have taken easily 4+ hrs just to format into this blog from Pinal. Thanks Pinal for taking time in formatting the same to your blog style :) …

        • Thanks Vinod for correcting me. I truly appreciate the time and effort you have put in writing this article.

          I truly admire your knowledge on this topic.

          Thanks for sharing this info.

          ~IM.

  8. Thanks Hossam for the kind words over your blog too :).

    Thanks Wim, wishing you a great year ahead from India :).

    Kuldip – glad to hear that this will be a pointer as you make an informed decision. Wishing you all the best buddy.

    Prathyusha – I am so happy to see your note too. I am motivated to write my morning quotes even more now :) …

    Vinod Kumar (@vinodk_sql)

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  10. It will be great if I can get the printed copy of the book! Your articles are always very good and helpful too. Thanks a lot Mr. Vinod and Mr. Dave for this wonderful post.

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