When to Abandon a Technical Interview

Technical Interview - SeniorDBA

If you have talked to people about your history searching for jobs, they will usually ask about your worst job interview or even if there was anyone you interviewed with that you just wouldn’t take the job. Every company has their own issues, but some are clearly not as good as others. There are things that you like or dislike about a company based just on the brief interview process. You hope you asked the right questions during the interview to establish if this is a company you are going to enjoy working for, if the people you will be working with are going to annoy you, and if you will just have an enjoyable work experience.

There are a few items that are red flags for most people, and they are easy to find if you ask the correct questions, and actually listen to the answers.

Management Dysfunction

You don’t want to work for a company if they are operating under management that is confused, dysfunctional, or absent. When you are asked if you have any questions during the interview, ask the interviewer if the department has solid, written, widely-used documentation for external support, internal support, software development processes, system change control, and if they have recently updated management policies. If they seem confused by the question, change the subject, or maybe they just explain they don’t have those yet, you might need to apply the brakes and look for an exit from the interview (unless you are specifically looking for this type of opportunity).

While some very small shops can get by with a seat-of-your-pants approach to information technology processes, a shop of more than a couple of people needs written procedures and policies. A really strong manager can lead a small group without formal written procedures, but this is fairly rare.

Do you want to come into a department that is in chaos? A department without clear expectations, no written policies, and disorganized team procedures? What you are probably looking at is a deeply ineffective IT team. You shouldn’t be the one person hired to set the entire IT department on the road to written procedures, creating a solid development environment, creating a enhanced relationship with internal and external customers, and fixing everything that needs fixing while working with a management team that doesn’t have the knowledge, authority, or ability to do these things before you were hired.

No company is perfect. There will always be process improvements that can be made to get better results from any team. What we are talking about here is a really bad department with no formal processes or written documentation and a management team that doesn’t see an issue with that situation. An exception might be if you are specifically being hired to correct these known issues, but it is important to understand the exact status of the department.

Poor Interview

The art of the interview is something that you have to learn. Most interviews fall in the average range, but you have probably seen really bad interviews. You will be more impressed by the department leadership, and the entire company, if the interview goes well.

  • Are they excited about technology? Do they understand the technology being used by their company, why they use that technology, and what skills are required to maintain that technology?
  • Have they read your resume? If you can’t be bothered to read the candidates resume, are you really serious about the process and focused on finding the best candidate for the position? If you have ever been in an interview when the interviewer obviously hasn’t even looked at your resume, you know what I’m talking about.
  • The company can’t get the correct people into the interview, they are too busy and are using their phones during the process, or are confused about who you need to talk to next might be signs they ar not ready for your involvement.

Too Formal

A business is expected to be business-like, and that requires a certain amount of formal work-related items like standard work hours, dress code, cubicles, etc. You have to look around and ask questions to determine how strict are these basic business requirements. Some things are big turn-offs and you should really consider you options:

  • Strict 8-to-5 work hours – If they expect you to support the production systems 24×7, and still be present each morning at 8 am, that is a sign they are focusing on process over people. What is your acceptable work-to-life balance?
  • Community Involvement – If they don’t support time out of the office for local user group meetings and SQL Saturday’s, how hard will it be to get a week or two out of the office for training each year?
  • Old Technology – If they aren’t willing to try new technology, that could spell real long-term issues if you have to support aging technology because no one trusts or understands the new technology. Are they still running SQL Server 2000 and Windows XP?
  • Cubicle Hell – You ask about an office, but they tell you this position can’t have an office? If that isn’t something they are even willing to discuss, this could mean there are some fairly strict company policies that might be illogical or too formal and aren’t challenged by your team management. What else is out there that you will have to address after you take the job?
  • Suits and Ties – Are you willing to “dress up” for work each day, or are you more comfortable with a t-shirt? You have to consider the environment if you can’t compromise on dress code requirements. You also have to consider the extra cost of maintaining extra work-only outfits.

Ask Tough Questions

Other items that might set off your “bad company” radar are:

  • No computer, cell phone, or remote access definitions. Who supplies your technology? How often are you allowed to get a new laptop or cellphone?
  • They want to you to be on-call 24×7, but they don’t supply a cellphone?
  • Ask about vacation and sick days, Not just allowed vacation days. When was the last time someone on the team took a vacation? It might be a difficult subject to bring up in an interview, but if they haven’t been allowed vacation days in a long time, maybe you don’t want to work there either. You will have to think of a tactful way to bring up the subject, without making them worry about your intentions.
  • Who looks at new technology? If new projects are requests from other departments, is the analysis of new technology supported by IT management?

Sample questions you might want to ask during your interview:

  • Why is this position available?
  • What kind of turnover does this department/company have?
  • What happened to the person that held this position before? Was he promoted or fired?
  • What do you like the most/least about working for this company?
  • Can you describe the work environment?
  • Can you describe the opportunities for training and professional development?
  • What do you feel are the strengths/weaknesses of this company compared to the competition?
  • Who investigates new technology at this company?

Listen to the answers and don’t be afraid to pass on those jobs that don’t fit what you are looking for in a career. Can you think of additional questions you might ask to expose more about a company during the interview process?

I hope this helps you understand that the questions you ask during the interview are important.

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