You want to hire a fantastic DBA or database developer.
You want someone who can hit the ground running, who you can trust to maintain your current system and tune it like a pro. Plus you want someone who can see key improvements, communicate effectively, and drive change in your system.
You want it all.
It’s incredibly hard to find this candidate. First of all, you’re not the only one looking.
But guess what? You’re probably looking for the wrong person. And you’re almost certainly asking the wrong questions.
Newsflash: You’re Not Looking To Hire an IT Pro Who’s Done the Same Job Before
I’ve talked to many hiring managers about what they’re looking for and how they look for it– I’ve asked these questions both as a candidate and as someone who’s helping them find the right person. I typically hear this:
I’m looking for an IT pro who has five or more years of experience with our technology, is an expert in several of those areas, and who can communicate effectively.
This limits your field too much right from the start.
Managing and developing data environments is interesting because of the variety of work available. There are common patterns and practices, but environments are highly unique and technology varies widely.
Say you want someone who’s worked with highly available internet applications. Is the person who’s already worked with a website just like yours and happens to be looking for a job now necessarily the best person?
Instead, consider this:
I’m looking for an IT pro who adapts quickly and has five years or more of experience managing or developing data environments. Strong production change experience is absolutely necessary.
There are small changes here, but it makes a huge difference. You’re open to many more people, but you’ve specified if there are any particular types of experience that are absolutely required.
Maybe you’ll find someone who hasn’t worked on Windows in several years, but has an interest in your company. Maybe they’ve worked on related technology, but different components than the ones you use. Don’t shut them out. Instead, open your mind.
Break Out of the Recruiter Room: Ask the Right People “Who Is A Great Candidate?”
Your recruiting staff is overworked. They use common tools for hiring for different departments– they probably have one or two websites they post to regularly and some established channels for finding candidates.
You want more. You need to use smart alternatives to find great candidates. Here’s how you do that:
- Write a good job description. The job description says a lot about your business and you as the hiring manager. Write it like you care. Think about the person you’re looking for, not just the position you’re trying to fill. Be clear if the job entails on-call duties. Mention if you have a flexible working option, and if relocation is available. Please– if you list requirements for “X years with Y product”, make sure you get the product name right and that someone can realistically have been working with it for that number of years. (I don’t have 10 years of experience with SQL Server 2003, and I never will.)
- Throw your net wisely. Find out where your recruiters are listing, and supplement with other sites if you can. Not all recruiters post on StackOverflow.
- Use your network. Let your network on LinkedIn, FaceBook, and Twitter know that you’re hiring. Send emails to former colleagues who may have leads.
- Reach out to community leaders. Drop a line to community leaders in the area you’re searching. Include the job description. Ask if they know anyone great who’s looking, and ask them for feedback on the job description. You can find these leaders on Twitter and in blogs. (We’re happy to help.)
You Won’t Hire a Great DBA or Developer By Asking Boring Interview Questions
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked about the difference between a clustered and non clustered index, I’d be blogging from a private island. Questions like this imply you’ve phoned it in and you don’t really care about your candidate.
Don’t try to find experts with nit-picky questions, either. If you have Senior SQL Server DBAs ons staff, they probably think your next Senior SQL Server DBA should be able to wax poetic on how to change collation or write a dissertation on the nuances between data types. Once you work with a product for a while and you do certain things you get this mindset– everyone should know that. But this knowledge is typically based on how your own applications are developed.
These questions also turn off great people. Your best candidate may or may not be able to answer these immediately in extreme detail– but if they couldn’t, they could find the answer and test it out in a matter of minutes. So why not find that out?
Screen candidates by asking about their experience, not about your own experience. Become good at asking probing questions, and drive through the experience questions to find out what knowledge they have about the technology they were working on.
If you don’t have a big support team and you need someone to come up to speed immediately, don’t panic. Ask questions about times when the candidate needed to learn new skills quickly. Spend time on it– find out how much they remember and what they found difficult. You want someone who can learn, and who can describe hurdles they’ve overcome in learning in the past. Your great candidate is someone who knows that not everything comes easily, and they’ll tell you about that.
Use Timed Labs in an IT Job Interview
If it’s critical that your new hire already have certain skills, don’t try to determine that with Q&A.
Set up a VM with an environment job candidates to work in. Build questions, or have someone build them for you. If you really need those skills immediately, they should be able to fix broken things in that environment, and do it under a time limit with someone sitting in the room with them.
If they’ll have the internet available to them while they work, make it available in the lab environment, along with any standard tools.
Call in an Interviewing Professional
What if you’re in a small company and you need to hire an expert in an area where you don’t already have an expert? How do you know to ask the right questions or set up the right lab?
In this case, build the parts of your interview that cover team fit and interaction with related teams on your own. For the specialty area, rent an expert.
Be Consistent Across Job Interviews
This is a trick. Because guess what? In order to be consistent, you have to be prepared.
It’s good to be consistent for HR reasons, but it’s even better to be prepared with a set of good questions. And make sure that all your interviewers across different sessions know what they’re asking about, and have a set of prepared questions to ask as well.
You won’t end up having the same conversation over and over again because good questions start conversations where you use good follow up questions, or probing questions.
Never forget: top candidates are interviewing you, too. They have choices and they’re judging on multiple criteria, including team dynamics, manager effectiveness, and whether you appear to have your SharePoint together.
Prepare your questions and be a little serious, but also be human and have some fun. Share interesting things about your business and your team. Show that you listen. Listening makes you interesting. Top talent often will pick the team that’s fun and interesting over the boring team that pays a little better.
Make sure that you do your research and read the candidate’s blog. Make a place in your interview structure where you ask the candidate about specific blog posts they’ve written. Ask why they did something a certain way, or what they might do differently now.
Are Your Change Management Styles Compatible?
There are cowgirls and there are bean counters, and there’s everything in between. Allow a little time before you start asking about the candidate’s change management process and style– because this candidate should be asking you about that.
Make sure that you cover this in the interview process at some point. You want to find out how the candidate handles change and if they can fit well with your process. If you have a really heavy process, it may drive them nuts, and cause you endless trouble. The opposite can also be true.
This is also a good place to find out how your candidate has handled errors in the past. If you’re looking with someone with experience handling critical downtimes smoothly and calmly, devote a lot of time to asking them about past situations and how they handled it. You may also include several hypothetical questions in a time limit, in either a written or verbal format.
Ask Candidates for Feedback
Let every candidate know at the end of their interview loop that you welcome feedback about the interview experience at any time. Make sure they have your card with your email address. If they send you feedback at any time, read it, keep it, and review it later. You may see patterns you want to change.
You Can Hire a Top DBA or a Superstar Database Developer
You can hire great talent. When you do, you’ll find they aren’t what you picture ahead of time.
They have a varied work history, possibly. They may be significantly older or younger than you would expect. They may not have the degree you’d assume. But they have a passion for data, an enjoyment for learning, a love of technology, and a level head on their shoulders when everything goes down— and that’s all that matters.