This post is a follow up to a thread (“How do you conduct technical interviews?”) that carried on for quite a while on the Oracle-L mailing list (you should consider joining if you aren’t already on the list). Here is my contribution to the discussion that started with the eternal question “How do you find the person with the right attitude, not just technical skills?”
As has been said often, there are no silver bullets and your “gut” feeling has to play at least some part. Here are some of my thoughts (in no particular order) on how I typically conduct interviews (I interview consultant candidates, but IT candidates wouldn’t be much different):
- My mindset in the interview is about determining whether this person has a high capacity to learn new things quickly and apply/adapt them. This is almost always more important than the knowledge they have in their head now, because at least some significant part of the detail they know will be obsolete or changed in the coming months/years.
- I don’t care if they can recite syntax or quote intricate details (as was mentioned–that’s what reference books and docs are for). If they can explain HOW things work (things like the process of a commit, how data is read into the buffer cache, how read consistency is achieved), that’s more important than whether the command to switch a logfile is alter system or alter database (I always have to stop and think about that one). If possible, in a face-to-face interview, I like to have them draw pictures to illustrate the process. If they can’t communicate something to me in a way that makes me understand it, they may have some communication issues–that’s at least an orange flag for me when hiring consultants where communication skills are absolutely critical.
- While past experiences are important and things like “tell me about the worst project experience ever…”, I recognize that people change as fast or faster than technology does sometimes. So, I’m more interested in very recent history. My questions include “What did you do at your current job in the last week?”, “What did you learn in the last week?”, and/or “What did you teach someone else last week?”.
- Every interview candidate has to answer “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” at least once (for a technical question). I follow up with “Ok, how would you find the answer?”. See my point #1 above. No one knows all this stuff and if they think they do, then they probably don’t have the right attitude for my team.
- Again, not an absolute, but those that talk about the server they have at home or the VM images they maintain to play with new stuff often have a predisposition to learning new things without being told to. This is a Good Thing(tm).
- Recognize that employing the people with the “right” attitude and presenting them with routine, boring work will eventually lead to them being unhappy and leaving. There has to be a strong manager in place to ensure that the path of learning continues or these individuals will often become restless and look for a better place to work. Short version: employing the “good” ones is often hard as they require challenges to remain engaged. At least I do. And I am hard to employ…ask any of my current/past managers!
- On an interpersonal level, I like to hear a story about an encounter with someone that had a “difficult” personality and how the situation was handled. We all have them and while not a technical issue, we all know that the non-technical issues often hurt work environments worse than technical ones.
Of course, as I’ve published here previously, I always include my “signature” (technical) question: Can uncommitted data be written to Oracle data files? (Of course, I always like the follow up why (not)?)
And, starting from now on, I’ll be asking candidates that interview with me if they’ve read this post or not. I don’t necessarily like anyone to think I’m famous or anything, but I always Google the name of any person I interview with to see what they do/publish online. It’s always nice to know what the other person is thinking about before/after they talk to me.