T-SQL Tuesday 174 – Job interview questions

T-SQL Tuesday 174 – Job interview questions

T-SQL Tuesday logoFor edition 174 T-SQL Tuesday, Kevin Feasel asks us to write about our favorite job interview questions.

I don’t like job interviewing. Never have, never will. And while the process changed a lot once I shifted to contracting, my dislike for the interview process has remained.

I am not hiring

So I decided not to write about my favorite job interview questions as an interviewee, because I don’t like any of those questions. And I also could not really write a lot about my favorite questions as an interviewer, because I have never been in that role.

But, thinking about the topic did get me thinking: What if?

What if I were to hire additional staff for my company? (And just to be clear, this is a purely theoretical what if … I have no plans at all to hire anyone at this time!)

But what if I were? What would I ask?

Technical knowledge

You now probably expect me to showcase some incredibly deep questions about execution plans. And that makes sense. My brand is knowing virtually everything about execution plans and hence being great at query performance tuning. If I hire someone to send instead of myself to my customers, I would want them to be at a high enough skill level to be a good representative of my company, and of my brand.

So yes. I would include questions about execution plans. And also about database design and normalization, because that is still my secondary skill, and simply very important knowledge for every database professional to have.

But those are not the questions I will write about today.


Somewhere during the interview, I would ask these, or similar questions:

  • What is the last technical conference you visited, and name a few things you learned.
  • Which is your favorite technical conference to attend, and why?
  • Have you ever been a speaker at a technical conference, user group, or in-house learning session? If so, tell me about the experience. If not, why not?

The answers to the first two questions tell me a lot about the interviewee’s attitude towards learning. Is visiting conferences part of their routine? Do they expect all learning to be in work time, or are they willing to put in their own time too? What kind of conferences do they pick, and why?

And the last question tells me a lot about their willingness to take the stage before a group of people and speak up. But also about their willingness, and hopefully abilities, to explain technical difficult things to people who might be at a different level of understanding, and hence need things explained in a different way. I consider that very important in the way I work. I don’t just tune queries and indexes for my customers, I explain to them why their current system is slow, and why the changes I propose have effect. I would want my employee to do the same. In a way that is appropriate to the level of understanding of the recipient.

It is not necessarily a red flag if they do not like public speaking. That would depend on their reasons. There can be hundreds possible reasons why they have never considered speaking, and most of those reasons would not disqualify them in any way from being hired by a company such as mine.


I don’t like job interviews. It is a necessary evil, and I dislike the process. I also do not plan to interview people for a job, since I am not hiring. But if I were to hire staff, then I would not only ask questions about execution plans and database design, but also ask about their experiences as an attendee at technical conferences, and perhaps even as a speaker.

Thanks, Kevin, for making me think about something that will most likely never happen, but that was an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi, Hugo. Thanks for your contribution and the thought experiment. I like the focus on conferences as an avenue of technical learning and developing skills. And if the role is for a standard company (versus a consultancy like in your hypothetical) and the candidate does talk about those positive conference-going experiences, it naturally leads into a benefit that the company hopefully has made available: time and expenses to attend certain conferences. If a person already goes to PASS Summit on a regular basis, having the company cover that is a pretty strong in-kind benefit. It’s also a chance to build goodwill greater than or equal to the monetary value: the company shells out, say, $3000 to have an employee attend PASS Summit or some other major conference, plus the week of paid leave not coming out of vacation, so maybe another $2000 or so. The employee may see that benefit and explicit investment in the employee’s skills as worth more than the $5000 the company pays for the effort.

  • I like these questions, but sometimes they make people feel less welcome if they haven’t been to conferences. I expect if you were hiring, you would want someone who indeed did spend a lot of time and energy learning, especially going to conferences.

    I am always interested to see where they learn, so I will try to naturally get there, but for a lot of people, they do something that people like you and I rarely do… they work on this stuff 40 hours and then do other stuff. And that has to be okay if they can do the job they are hired for.

  • Hugo Kornelis
    May 16, 2024 21:06

    @Kevin: You add some very valid thoughts. Yes, there absolutely is a win-win there. And not just for a standard company, but for consulting companies just as well. Perhaps even more so. If I would actually hire staff, I would absolutely make sure to enable them to attend conferences, whether through funding, paid time off, or even practical help like arranging someone to watch their children while they are away.
    For larger companies, I can also imagine that staff, after attending, presents an internal knowledge sharing session to share what they learned at the conference. (Which will also help them feel more comfortable explaining difficult topics to customers, a very important skill in my opinion).

    @Louis: Your critical feedback is spot on. I never claimed that my question is actually the smartest one to ask. And for the record, if I would actually interview people, and if I would ask these questions, then that still does not imply that attending conferences, or even speaking, is a requirement. If you never went to a conference, or a long time ago, I’d ask other follow-up questions. Why not? What other things do you do to keep your knowledge up to date? There are other ways to learn. Reading blogs, keeping up to date with certification, watching YouTube video’s, etc.
    However, if it turns out that a candidate just shuts SQL Server out of their head the second the clock hits five, and expects all learning to be during their working hours … well, it still would not be an instant no, especially because their personal life might simply be too taxing, or because of other reasons. But that would be a red flag. If I were to hire staff, I would definitely be looking for people who share my passion for this work. And shutting everything work-related off after five does not sound passionate to me.

  • […] Hugo Kornelis has ascended beyond your mortal plane and has no need for the interview. I did enjoy Hugo going through the thought experiment even with no desire to interview for a job or hire people. […]


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