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SQL Server DBA Phone Interview Questions

MSSQLTips author Jeremy Kadlec By:   |   Read Comments (10)   |   Related Tips: More > Interview Questions DBA
Problem

The phone interview. It has tales of bringing normally rationale people to a terrified state. I have even heard of a DBA that was so worried about a SQL Server phone interview that 'they just happened to be in the office park' where the company was located and actually wanted the interview face to face.  The reality is, just about all organizations that I work with, have a phone interview as a 'rite of first passage' in the process.  The employer wants to quickly determine if the DBA candidate could be qualified for the position from a technical perspective and if they could fit into the team.  As a DBA, what sorts of things should you be on the lookout for during a phone interview?  What do you think the employer is expecting?  Is this the technical interview or not?  Should you try to avoid the phone interview all together and just 'pop-in' for a face to face interview?

Solution

Let's address the last question first; that being should you just 'pop-in' to the office rather than having a phone interview?  Phone interviews are setup for a reason.  They are intended as a simple means to determine if someone is worth going through the entire interview process.  Some organizations have a fairly structured process and follow it closely while other organizations really conduct interviews over lunch or based on a personal network.  You need to be the judge and assess the situation for yourself and make the call.  In the story I was told about, the results were not positive from either the employer or DBA perspective.  So keep that in mind.

With that behind us, let's get into the employer and DBA views of the phone interview as well as some potential questions you should be ready to answer.

Employer's Perspective for a SQL Server DBA Phone Interview

In some respects, employers handle phone interviews in such a manner that they use the same questions to assess the skills of the candidates as a means to compare and contrast their skills to determine a 'candidate ranking'.  By this I mean candidates are ranked in terms of best to worst skill set as well as determine who should progress to the next step in the process, the on-site interview. 

From an employer's perspective, they are trying to determine a few different items during the phone interview:

  • Communication skills
  • Personality
  • Technical experience and background
  • Leadership qualities
  • How they could fit into the team

DBA Perspective for a Phone Interview

Here are some thoughts from a DBA perspective when it comes to a phone interview:

  • First, be ready for the phone interview and expect it as a portion of the interview process.
  • Prepare for the phone interview just like you would the on-site interview.  Remember if you do not make a good impression with the phone interview that the on-site interview may not be a reality.
  • Remember the phone interview is a rite of passage, so first impressions can mean a great deal.  Make sure your first impressions are what you want them to be.  Simple items like stuttering, stumbling over your words, smoking during the call, chewing gum, etc. may turn off the interviewer quickly.
  • Next, figure out your 30 second elevator pitch and make sure you outline your most important experience and skills as well as how you are going to help the organization.
  • Just like with your resume, be sure you do not lie.  If you do not know the answer to a question, just say you do not know.
  • Be prepared for technical questions from either a technical or non-technical interviewer.  Be sure to respond in a way that they can understand the response.  The interviewer may be looking for just buzz words or may be not.  A good technical interview, from a knowledgeable DBA, can really dig into the details to make sure you truly understand the technology.
  • As much as the interview process is about the employer selecting the right employee, also keep in mind that the candidate should select the right organization for themselves.  As such, use the phone interview as a means to learn about the organization.  If you are give the opportunity, ask the questions you have prepared.
  • The topic of salary and compensation may be discussed.  Be prepared for the question.  Historically, the response has been to push off the salary figures to as late in the process as possible.  As an employer and employee, I disagree.  I think it only makes sense to state a range to make sure one party does not have different expectations than the other.  If the figures are not even close, it might make sense for either party to stop the process rather than spending a significant amount of time only to be disappointed at the end.  Just something to consider.

SQL Server DBA Phone Interview Questions

Although no two phone interviews are the same, below outlines some potential questions to keep in mind as you prepare for a SQL Server DBA phone interview:

  • Can you explain your skill set?
    • Employers look for the following:
      • DBA (Maintenance, Security, Upgrades, Performance Tuning, etc.)
      • Database developer (T-SQL, SSIS, Analysis Services, Reporting Services, Crystal Reports, Service Broker, etc.)
      • Communication skills (oral and written)
    • DBA's opportunity
      • This is your 30 second elevator pitch outlining your technical expertise and how you can benefit the organization

 

  • Can you explain the environments you have worked in related to the following items:
    • SQL Server versions
    • SQL Server technologies
      • Relational engine, Reporting Services, Analysis Services, Integration Services
    • Number of SQL Servers
    • Number of instances
    • Number of databases
    • Range of size of databases
    • Number of DBAs
    • Number of Developers
    • Hardware specs (CPU's, memory, 64 bit, SANs)

 

  • What are the tasks that you perform on a daily basis and how have you automated them?
    • For example, daily checks could include:
      • Check for failed processes
      • Research errors
      • Validate disk space is not low
      • Validate none of the databases are offline or corrupt
      • Perform database maintenance as available to do so
    • For example, automation could include:
      • Setup custom scripts to query for particular issues and email the team
      • Write error messages centrally in the application and review that data
      • Setup Operators and Alerts on SQL Server Agent Jobs for automated job notification

 

  • How do you re-architect a process?
    • Review the current process to understand what is occurring
    • Backup the current code for rollback purposes
    • Determine what the business and technical problems are with the process
    • Document the requirements for the new process
    • Research options to address the overall business and technology needs
      • For example, these could include:
        • Views
        • Synonyms
        • Service Broker
        • SSIS
        • Migrate to a new platform
        • Upgrade in place
    • Design and develop a new solution
    • Conduct testing (functional, load, regression, unit, etc.)
    • Run the systems in parallel
    • Sunset the existing system
    • Promote the new system
    • Additional information - Checklist to Re-Architect a SQL Server Database

 

  • What is your experience with third party applications and why would you use them?
    • Experience
      • Backup tools
      • Performance tools
      • Code or data synchronization
      • Disaster recovery\high availability
    • Why
      • Need to improve upon the functionality that SQL Server offers natively
      • Save time, save money, better information or notification

 

  • How do you identify and correct a SQL Server performance issue?
    • Identification - Use native tools like Profiler, Perfmon, system stored procedures, dynamic management views, custom stored procedures or third party tools
    • Analysis - Analyze the data to determine the core problems
    • Testing - Test the various options to ensure they perform better and do not cause worse performance in other portions of the application
    • Knowledge sharing - Share your experience with the team to ensure they understand the problem and solution, so the issue does not occur again
    • Additional information - MSSQLTips.com Category: Performance Tuning and Query Optimization

 

 

  • What is the process to upgrade from DTS to SSIS packages?
    • You can follow the steps of the migration wizard but you may need to manually upgrade portions of the package that were not upgraded by the wizard
    • For script related tasks, these should be upgraded to new native components or VB.NET code

 

  • What are some of the features of SQL Server 2012 that you are looking into and why are they of interest?
    • AlwaysON
    • Contained Databases
    • User Defined Server Roles
    • New date and time functions
    • New FORMAT and CONCAT functions
    • New IIF and CHOOSE functions
    • New paging features with OFFSET and FETCH
    • NOTE - Many more new features do exist, this is an abbreviated list.

Keep in mind that these questions are primarily related to the relational engine, so a BI DBA would have a whole different set of questions.  In addition, the more you know about the organization and role should guide you down a path for the types of questions you should be prepared for during the phone interview.

Next Steps
  • As you prepare for your interviews, make sure you are prepared technically and have a good sense of what is going to be asked of you.  In my opinion, the candidates that are nervous or stumble have not prepared, although that is not always the case.  Some people are genuinely nervous about the job hunting process and are in fact great DBAs.
  • Check out these technical SQL Server interview question as you prepare for your interviews.
  • Special thanks to John from the MSSQLTips.com community for recommending this tip.
  • If you have your own phone interview tales or would like to add your two cents to this tip, please do so in the comments section for this tip.


Last Update: 2/12/2012


About the author
MSSQLTips author Jeremy Kadlec
Jeremy Kadlec is the CTO @ Edgewood Solutions, co-founder of MSSQLTips.com, Baltimore SSUG co-leader and SQL Server MVP since 2009.

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Comments and Feedback:
Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 11:49:38 PM - sqlnaresh@gmail.com Read The Tip

Few more very common questions are 'How will you recover from a SUSPECT database?' or 'What to do if log file of your database is lost or currupt?' or 'How to restore only headers of the database?'

 Regards,


Friday, October 17, 2008 - 9:34:23 AM - aprato Read The Tip

I always ask SQL architecture questions.  If someone knows how SQL stores data under the hood, chances are they're intelligent enough to write efficient queries.

Here are common questions I ask candidates 

On a whiteboard, draw what the leaf level of a non-clustered index page looks like for a table with a clustered index (I give a small example table and indexes)

My SQL Server starts to run low on memory... what would you use to diagnose its cause?

I have a table that has multiple queries with different ORDER BY requirements.  SQL Server only supports a single clustered index.  How can I mimic additional "clustered" indexes on the table that can help the additional ORDER BY requirements?

Explain the UPDLOCK lock hint and how it can benefit a transaction

Explain the differences between a table variable and a temp table.  When wouldn't I want to use a table variable?

I also show some sample code with simple errors (i.e. a large table is being scanned though we have an index on the SARG column) in them and I ask the candidate what he/she thinks is causing the issue

 


Sunday, March 06, 2011 - 5:29:43 PM - grammarpolice Read The Tip

This is not related to the technical aspect of this article, but I couldn't help but to notice that you kept spelling 'rite of passage' as 'right of passage'. Just a though.


Monday, March 07, 2011 - 9:40:50 AM - Jeremy Kadlec Read The Tip

GrammarPolice,

Thank you for the comment.

Thank you,
Jeremy Kadlec


Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 7:49:33 AM - D, Amartha Read The Tip

Can someone please explain how to recover a SUSPECT database? I think I know but not sure how it is done in the live production / live system?


Monday, October 15, 2012 - 2:50:51 PM - Subhakar Read The Tip

Please explain how recover the suspect DB when there is no primary\secondary servers (Only one server in producation) in producation environment.Thanks


Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 8:43:02 AM - Dhamendran Read The Tip

 

Can you explain the great achievements in sql2005 and sql 2008r2


Sunday, August 04, 2013 - 1:05:38 PM - AMIT ROY Read The Tip

I want to prepare for 70-432 DB Implementation and Maintenance. Please tell me how to start for preparation, which book or online education site   I will follow for examination. From which web site I will get sample questions.


Monday, August 12, 2013 - 4:27:00 AM - femi Read The Tip

please can you add some situational or competency based questions here


Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 4:51:02 PM - RCS Read The Tip

The responses here just go to show how random a DBA interview could be. As one chapter (24) of SQL Server MVP Deep Dives Vol 1 "What does it mean to be a DBA?" put it the job description is so varied and constantly changing it is hard to even list all the DBA specialties on which to focus. When you do a phone interview often you have no clue as to the real DBA job being sought after. Realizing this one should not focus too much on specialties or specific facts. While one person may believe knowledge about joins is essential, a production DBA managing 100+ instances may never get a chance to write a join statement. And so in that case it is irrelevant. Or as one put it, knowledge off the top of your head about how to recover a suspect database, well of course always have a recovery plan for your database, but on the other hand the last time i saw a suspect database was quite a few years ago and so it is not the most relevant specific information in an interview in my opinion.

In short, DBA interviews are a random and chaotic experience. As a DBA since SQL Server 4.21 I have gone through many different 'specialties' and there is no way I could remember in detail all the exect facts about each one. As a DBA we are somehow expected to step up and handle whatever SQL Server issue there is. Reporting Services, Analysis Services, performance, very large databases, ERP systems, Clustering, Infrastructure, Virtualization of SQL Server, oh and nowadays, the Cloud to name a few.

When I have assisted in interviewing i tried to keep it fair and with the knowledge in mind that the DBA job is likely somewhat different wherever you are and basic intelligence, projects survived, basic knowledge and communication and people skills are what i focus on. If someone doesn't know the answer, then saying so and intellgent discussing what it may be or might mean may be what is looked for.



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