T-SQL Tuesday #174 My favourite job interview question

Table of Contents

It's #TSQL2sday!!

T-SQL Tuesday is the brainchild of Adam Machanic (Blog | Twitter). December 2009 was the first T-SQL Tuesday invitation that went out by Adam. It is a monthly blog party on the second Tuesday of each month. Currently, Steve Jones (Blog | Twitter) organises the event and maintains a website with all previous posts which you can find here. Everyone is welcome to participate in this monthly blog post.

The Ask

This month's T-SQL Tuesday is hosted by Kevin Feasel (Blog | Twitter). Kevin invites us to write about our favourite job interview question. Thanks to Kevin for hosting this month's blog party!

Multiple hats

Over the years I have worn multiple hats in data team interviews. For a while I was a hiring manager for a Business Intelligence team, and so I have had to focus on both the standard interview questions as well as technical interview questions. I’ve also attended many interviews myself, and have seen a wide variety of questions. The majority of my time as a hiring manager, my interviews were competency based which I found to be a good way to ask people to discuss situational experiences, it does however mean that interview questions are quite standardised.

I am going to cheat a little and give you three favourite questions - one that I have found the most interesting to answer, one that I enjoyed putting together for a technical interview, and the one I haven’t yet asked, but would definitely use in the future.

The most interesting question

A former colleague of mine once said that a question he would often use in an interview is “how many lights are there on the [pick a familiar strip of road near you]”. I found this question to be quite interesting - it doesn’t really have a right or wrong answer, but it does give the interviewer an insight into how the interviewee thinks, and how they process a question without clear requirements and a need to make assumptions. It is a question that can be answered in a way that can be quite revealing about the interviewee’s thought process and ability to think logically.

The question I enjoyed putting together

One organisation I worked with in recent years wanted to put a case study together for a technical interview. The objective for the interviewee was to propose a simple data model given a set of reporting requirements, and a set of denormalised tables. The team I was working with were part of a larger agile delivery unit and each squad had a theme. Our theme was Star Wars and so naturally our sample data was based on Star Wars characters and planets. This gave some opportunity to have a bit of fun with the question, and settle the interviewee’s nerves a little (suitable fact table, you must find) which is a really important thing to do in an interview because ultimately you want to see the best of the person you are interviewing.

The question I haven’t yet asked

I was listening to a podcast episode by Deep Cover: The Nameless Man recently. The podcaster opened up the episode by explaining that as a journalist, they wrap up their interviews with the hail mary of questions, a last ditch effort to find anything they’ve missed. They ask the question what is the one question I should have asked you?. They go on to explain that most of the time, the interviewee will say “you’ve covered it all” but sometimes they will say “well there is one thing we didn’t talk about…” and that can lead to some super interesting information that they overlooked, or would have never unearthed.

Now whilst that’s journalism and this is recruiting, I think this is a great question to ask at the end of an interview, it gives the interviewee the opportunity to bring up something they feel is important to them, or that they are proud of, and it gives the interviewer the opportunity to ask a question that they may have missed. I would definitely consider using this one in the future…


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