Hiring a SQL Server DBA

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Whether you are a Team Leader or Department Manager in a large multi-national organisation or from a small IT business, the principles and approach to hiring a SQL Server DBA (or in fact any DBA) should not change. Having worked as a permanent employee and also as a contractor I have been through a wide range of interviewing techniques. I would like to share with you my thoughts and views on this wonderful never ending process of recruiting a DBA.

No doubt some of you have been through many an interview since your professional career started. This may have been from trying to get your first job, or more recently in the tough times of the Global Financial Crisis that has seen a lot of people lose their jobs and have to compete with the over abundance of candidates for the ever shortening number of positions on offer. Hopefully you will be sitting there nodding your head thinking ‘ Yes been there, heard that!’. Is there a magic bullet for the interview process? I am not going to try and sell you on ‘These are the steps you need to follow’ but hopefully I will share some of my insights from my experiences in this arena.

Where does the process start for hiring a DBA?

The requirement may come about from an existing employee moving on in their career, an increased workload needing extra staff or coming to the realisation that ‘Yes we need the skills of a DBA as you have never had that skill set in your companies armory. Regardless of the reasons I have just stated or the ones you are thinking of which I have not, the starting point is the same ‘know your requirements’.

Defining your requirements for your DBA, for some will be very simple, as this has been an ongoing process for quite some time. For others this may seem quite daunting when you sit down and start to work through it all. Do not let this phase you, the correct candidate with the required skill sets will give you more benefits than not going through the process. Here are some tips to guide you when considering what requirements are needed:

  • What level of DBA do I need? Junior, Intermediate or Senior
  • What skills does the position require? BI, Warehousing, Development DBA, Production DBA, Project DBA
  • What is our budget?
  • What qualifications does the candidate need? Bachelor, Certification
  • How many years of experience does the candidate need?
  • Hours of work – Business hours, 24 * 7 On call Support
  • What version/versions does the candidate need knowledge of? (SQL 2000, SQL 2005, SQL 2008)
  • What tool sets does your candidate need? (DTS, SSIS, SSRS, SSAS, SSSB, Replication, Database Administration, Database Development)
  • Are there any Vendor Tools which you use that you would like the candidate to have skills in? (Backup, Monitoring, Development, Deployment)
  • What size is the organisation?
  • Permanent or Contract/temp?
  • Work location?

Once you are happy with your requirements for the DBA role, your advertisement has nearly written itself. At this point there are many different avenues available to you when you go to market to find prospective candidates:

  • Advertising yourself
  • Advertising with an agency
  • Word of mouth through professional contacts
  • Professional networking sites to name but a few.

Are you ready for the fun to begin?

Selecting candidates for interviews from the multitude of applications received you need to be careful with your choices as there are plenty of cowboys out there. Like any industry, they look great on paper but cause you more grief in the long run. Your selection of candidates should be based on your requirements. You may receive some applications that look fantastic and give you more than what you are looking for, however, what is it going to cost you? A greater expense than you are prepared to pay, are they only looking for a position to use as a stepping stone for a short period of time until something better comes along?

Interview time, do you know how you are going to approach this? I have had a wide range of interviews styles from:

  • ‘Meet & Greets’ in the pub
  • Initial telephone interviews
  • Formal review board interviews
  • Full technical interviews
  • Online technical exams
  • Casual interviews (no technical questions)
  • Job offer with no interview at all

Now those of you who read the first one do not get overly excited! This is dependent on the culture you are working in. Sometimes this is how business is done (Not that often in IT). Having said that, first impressions are everything and this can give a good indication as to the candidate’s ability to carry themselves in a professional manner in such a social environment. The process you choose comes down to your needs and requirements for the position on offer.

For example, you are looking for a Junior DBA to join your existing team of DBA’s, you’ve probably got this covered already and don’t need to follow any of the suggestions made so far, however, personally I do not see the need to put a candidate for a Junior role through the process of a extensive technical interview and asking questions which would test a seasoned Senior DBA. Getting the candidates to undertake an online technical exam will enable you to compare your candidates to help in your decision making process on which candidates you would like to get in for a face to face interview to get a feel on how they are going to fit in with your company/team dynamics.

If you are looking for an Intermediate or Senior DBA to join your existing team or maybe this is your first DBA the type of questions are going to vary and are based on the tasks you are requiring your new DBA to perform. As I said right at the start I am not going to say to you, “here is a list of questions that I feel you should or should not be asking”. You can for instance do a Google search for ‘DBA Interview questions’, this will give you a wide variety of results. If you look at enough of them you will notice a reoccurring theme, however, this is a good place to start so you can formulate your own set of questions to meet your requirements.

Hopefully now you are able to determine the candidates you would like to interview so you can make your decision on which candidate you would like to offer the role to. This should be the least painful step of the entire process and you come away with the right candidate for the DBA role.

I hope that you have found some interesting points in my Blog and find these helpful in determining how you hire a DBA. I have intentionally not given any technical questions to ask as I feel this is truly dependent on each and everyone of your own requirements. Maybe this could be another Blog down the track, who knows, good luck with your hiring!

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I am a Microsoft Data Platform MVP as well as a Microsoft Certified Master working as the Principal Consultant here at SQL Masters Consulting. When I am not working with the SQL Server Stack I like to get away to the Snow and spend time Snowboarding.