Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many interviews, on both sides of the table. And regardless of where I’ve sat, I’ve found that my interviews have evolved to focus around one general theme:
I’ll be honest – pure technical interviews annoy the hell out of me. Anyone can memorize a book. I’ve encountered numerous candidates who have committed a slew of SQL Server trivia to memory, but do not know how to put that knowledge into action. And a purely technical interview does nothing to prove whether a data professional can succeed in a real business environment, where book answers are simply not enough to accomplish the task at hand.
The real business world demands that a successful candidate other skills outside of technical knowledge. Strong written and verbal communication skills is an example of one. And for me, resourcefulness is king.
What is resourcefulness?
For the sake of this dialogue, I define resourcefulness as those who may not have an answer to a challenge they are facing, but know what options are open and available to them to find that answer. Not only should they know their options, they should know when to use which options, and when to escalate properly and effectively.
H.R. Giger, the brilliant mind behind the “Alien” creature from one of my favorite film franchises, passed away earlier today. As a result, my favorite film of the series, Aliens, is on my mind and I find myself drawing some amusing parallels. Hope you’ve seen Aliens… and if you haven’t, please go watch it… I’ll wait.
Here’s one of my favorite exchanges between some Colonial Maries, as they are transported to their destination:
Ripley: How many drops is this for you, Lieutenant?
Gorman: Thirty eight… simulated.
Vasquez: How many COMBAT drops?
Gorman: Uh, two. Including this one.
Hudson: Oh, man…
Lieutenant Gorman had a good amount of training & book knowledge. But his lack of experience fails him. And instead of exhibiting resourcefulness, he locks up, which results in his team getting decimated. He did not exercise any of the options that were available to him, to properly react to the alien threat.
As data professionals, we too must prepare for events like disaster recovery scenarios. And when disaster strikes, disasters rarely go “by the book.” We get forced to think on the fly, make use of our wits, and call upon the help of our colleagues. To me, that is being resourceful.
So how does Resourcefulness manifest itself during an interview?
As an interviewer, I carefully choose questions that force a candidate to demonstrate resourcefulness. Some are anecdotal, such as asking about past challenging experiences. Others are hypothetical, such as presenting them with a scenario and walking through it together. I carefully analyze not only what they answer, but how they answer.
- Did they ask questions of other SQL Server colleagues?
- Did they researching known SQL Server blogs?
- Did they mention using #SQLHelp on Twitter?
All of these example options, are options that are available to all of us.
But Andy, not everyone knows about the wealth of resources that are freely available! That’s absolutely correct! There was a time when I was ignorant of the awesome SQL Server community & failed to make use of it. So then that begs the question, how do you react when you do learn of it?
I’ve come across candidates who were in the same boat, and no, I did not judge them for negatively for their ignorance. What I did do is take the opportunity to talk about the SQL Server community and how valuable of a resource it is. And I absolutely did judge candidates on their reactions. Were they excited? Did they ask to find out more? Or were they dismissive? Did they not care?
Resourcefulness isn’t only about knowing what options you have available, but about embracing new options when they become available to you!
So ask yourself, do you think you’re a resourceful individual? The next time you find yourself as an interviewee, think about how you can display your resourcefulness. Or if you find yourself as an interviewer, consider how assessing a candidate’s resourcefulness will help you make a better hiring decision.