Main image of article SQL Server Database Admins: Interview Questions
Senior SQL Server Database Administrators, are you ready to launch a job search? I spoke with two recruiters experienced in the area about the kinds of interview questions employers are currently asking. Some of these may seem general, but even they need skill-specific answers. And, you should always be prepared for softball questions that could signal potential problems to an employer, as well as help them gauge your real level of interest. David Knapp, a San Francisco based, regional vice president at Robert Half Technology, starts with these deceptively simple queries:

Why are you looking for a new opportunity?

As an employer, I’m looking for the candidate to provide an answer that substantiates his or her long-term career goals. I’m also looking for red flags that may signal instability, a potential job-hopper or someone who's not flourishing in their current job.

What excites you about the opportunity with our company?

Employers want to know that the candidate has done his or her homework on our company. It's also important that he or she can envision themselves working here, is a good fit with the corporate culture, and is confident in what they can bring to the table. Experience with database management and size are obviously job requirements . So, we'll definitely ask about that about during an interview. Mark Steenstra, recruiting director at Modis, says he leads with these questions:

Tell me about the size technical environment you previously worked in, and how many databases you managed simultaneously.

In this case, the hiring manager wants to identify your previous experience to see if it's comparable enough to handle this position's technical environment. For instance, the manager will want to know if you've worked in different SQL server environments including SQL 6.5, SQL6.0, SQL200, SQL2005, SQL2008 and SQL 2008R2, and whether you handled multiple databases at a time. For example, have you backed up five different databases on five different servers simultaneously, or simply backed up all user databases in a single server?

What is the largest database you have administered?

This gives the employer with a snapshot of the size and scope of databases you've managed and how it compares to that of the available position. It also sheds light on how fast-paced your environment was and the complexity of the data you were working with. A database that's 20TB or larger is the standard for an enterprise company. Of course, your experience may vary based on whether you’ve worked in small database environments or large. If you’ve worked in a large environment, tout the length of time required to complete and maintain databases, especially if you've experienced a failover and recovery of the database. The most important thing is to clearly demonstrate that you understand the basics of managing databases, regardless of the environment size. When Knapp moves into tech territory below, the answers allow a behavioral consideration of the applicant. You'd be wise to personalize your responses, even when answering questions aimed at your skill set.

What third party database tools are your favorites?

Employers want to know whether you've invested in your craft. This type of question allows them to get a sense of whether you take initiative in a number of areas: Do you stay current with new technology? Are you the type of person who'll look for innovative ways to solve complex problems? Can you think outside the box? "We're looking for answers such as data modeling, database backups, performance tuning and alerting," he says.

What has been your biggest success or accomplishment as an SQL Database Administrator? 

With this type of question, employers are looking to see if you've been in challenging situations where you've taken charge and developed solutions. This type of question can go a long way to determining just how experienced an SQL Database Administrator you are, and how you navigate complex situations. Steenstra finishes his top questions with some that speak to proof of an advanced skill set. This is where you can prove yourself worthy by telling true life tales of riding to the rescue.

Where have you done backup/recovery of a database? How many times?

The hiring manager will be looking for hands on work experience and specific examples of when and where you've performed backup /recovery. So you could discuss how you previously performed a database refresh (backup and restore), or point-in-time recovery  (restoring the backup) in the event of a backup maintenance job failure. You could also highlight experience you have in moving the database from one server to another by restoring the backups.

Tell me about your experience with optimization and performance tuning and utilities used.

Here's another instance of the hiring manager looking for specific hands on experience with optimization, tuning and utilities, and how they relate to the position you're interviewing for. You might highlight an instance where a query took one minute to execute. You'd discuss how you assessed why it was taking so long and how you optimized the query if it was poorly written. Be prepared to talk about the specific troubleshooting tools you’ve used such as Red Gate, Trace, PerfMon, etc.

Tell me about your previous migration experience.

Managers will be looking for your specific experience between different versions, how much migration experience you've had, any issues you faced during the migration and how you resolved them. Discuss how you managed the migration process by following company change management guidelines as well as adhering to the Microsoft checklist. Walk through each of the steps, starting with a basic configuration check on the machine (hard disk, RAM, CPU), installing the SQL on the server, moving the databases over, and applying the hotfix firmware and service pack, depending on the SQL version. Are there other questions we should find out about? Let us know by posting a comment below. Graphic: Wikimedia