Building an Interview: Find the right person for the job

In a prior CertMag article published June 2nd — How to train your assistant: Certification makes the minion — I was just starting the process of hiring a developer to act as my backup. The wheels have been turning slowly, but it has reached the point where I will be interviewing the prospects shortly. (Strictly speaking, as you are reading this, the interviews will have occurred in the past. Publishing an article about what I am looking for in a candidate before the interviews would be decidedly ill-advised.)

What's the best way to find your ideal job candidate?To date, I have carefully guided my Oracle career toward staying out of management positions and in technical ones. Despite that, I have been on the “employer” side of the interview table a number of times over the years. In all of the prior cases,  my involvement has been primarily to evaluate the technical expertise of the candidates. Since my present dilemma involves an entry-level position, the knowledge of all the candidates hovers around the “slim to none” mark on the scale. A good bit of time over the past few weeks has been spent deciding exactly what to look for during these interviews in lieu of Oracle knowledge.

Considering the level of anxiety many people have about job interviews, I thought that some and Certification Magazine readers might be interested in what I will be looking for. Keep in mind that every interviewer is different. Not everyone will have the same priorities that I do. Also, this particular position is unusual: Most interviews will revolve around the candidate’s knowledge of the skills required to perform the job.

In order to create a set of interview questions, it was necessary to define who my ideal candidate would be. Normally this would involve outlining a laundry list of skills.  For this position, however, the best I could come up with was a set of personality traits. The list I came up with follows:

Intelligent — Information technology professionals as a whole need to be smarter than your average bear on a unicycle, of course.  For this job, though, I really need someone who is going to be able to absorb a great deal of information in a short period of time. There is no single question, however, that will entirely reveal the IQ of the person across the table. Neither is it practical to hand them a MENSA test and leave the room for a half hour. I will just have to make an educated estimation of their intelligence based on their behavior and responses.

Honest — I need someone who will tell me that the project they were supposed to have done next Tuesday is really going to take another three weeks. Unfortunately, the possibility that I will identify a habitual liar in a 60-minute interview is slim. If the job had a list of required skills, then I would ask questions relevant to the knowledge each interviewee claimed to have. It is normally fairly easy to figure out when someone has been exaggerating their skills. For this position, however, I will ask questions about gaps and weaknesses in their resumes, and see whether the candidates try to whitewash them.

Ambitious — This job is one of a small percentage of Oracle jobs that is really set on the ground floor. A common complaint on Oracle forums is that job listings for positions almost invariably ask for several years of experience. I want a candidate who recognizes that this is an unusual opportunity and is eager to use it to start a long and lucrative career as an Oracle professional. If they are eager to do that, then I am confident that they will put in the effort required to learn the skills I need them to have. I have created several questions that revolve around Oracle and their career goals in the hope that I can gain some insight into their motivations.

Interested — This is somewhat related to the above, but from a different angle.  I want the candidate to be excited about this job. Their interest should be based on something deeper than that it pays better than flipping burgers. I am a very good developer. In large part, that is because creating database applications provides me a great deal of satisfaction. My goal is to put someone into this position who has both the aptitude and the interest to be a really good Oracle developer. Any candidate with those traits is likely to become very good once they learn to use the available tools, and have constructed some real-world applications. A couple of questions in the list are designed to give me some insight into why each individual chose the major they did. I will also ask what direction they want their career to take and why, in order to determine if this job fits with their desired trajectory.

Committed — Many years ago when I worked for Oracle, the company had a real problem with new support employees at one location.  They were hiring inexperienced people and spending six-to-eight months putting them through an intense training program. Often, within a month or two after the program was over, the employee would leave for a different company. I have some concern that this could happen in my case. I think it would be a really stupid decision. It will take at least two years before a candidate starting from nothing has truly marketable Oracle skills. As was noted four traits back, however, there is no way to be certain of picking an intelligent candidate. I do not really have any questions for this trait, but part of the interview that provides details about the position points out the value of having several years of Oracle experience on a resume.

In the end, there is little to rely on except intuition. The interview candidate who provides the best answers may simply be the one who is the most skilled liar. Some of the best programmers I have worked with over the years are terrible in interviews. What I am hoping for is a candidate who will tell me truthfully what they know, what they do not know, and what they are willing to do if they get this job.

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Matthew Morris


Matthew Morris is an experienced DBA and developer. He holds Oracle DBA Certifications for releases 7, 8i, 9i, 10G and 11G; Expert Certifications for SQL, SQL Tuning, and Application Express; and is an Oracle Linux 6 Certified Implementation Specialist and an Oracle PL/SQL Developer Certified Professional. He is the author of several Oracle certification guides. His Web site, Oracle Certification Prep, is dedicated to providing links to resources for Oracle certification preparation.

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