How To Recruit and Hire A Rockstar DBA

In celebration of Labor Day in North America, I’ve decided to write a blog post that will help you find your next team member should you be looking to grow your team or replacing the one that just left

If you’re a database administrator (DBA) reading this blog post, you might be thinking, “why would I find my replacement?” Instead of asking that question, why not, “how can I find an excellent assistant so I can finally take that long awaited vacation?” If you’re a manager or in a leadership position, you can refer to these notes to find the next star player in your team.

In my previous role, I have had the wonderful opportunity to interview candidates for technical roles, ranging from junior to more senior ones. I’ve also sat down as an observer while doing interviews for Oracle DBAs, Windows engineers, SQL Server DBAs and even team managers. When I’m merely providing insights and not asking the questions during the interview, I ask the interviewer about his or her feedback about my comments. Often times, I would ask, “why did you include me in the interview panel?” The common response I get is this: “you have a totally different perspective.

When I’m brought in as either an interviewer or part of the panel, I try my best to not be a technical person even though I am. I listen (if on the phone) or look for non-verbal cues and tie them back to their answers to questions. I avoid asking technical questions because I know that I will be biased with the responses, especially when I’m the one who created the questions.

The main reason why I try not to be a technical person during interviews is because I look at the long term goals of the team and the entire organization. In order to find the right fit, the values and goals of the candidate should match that of the organization. Otherwise, I doubt that the candidate would stay long. And, that would contribute to the high turnover rate overall.

Here are some of the things that I do when I’m invited either as the interviewer or included in the panel. This is not a formula for hiring a rockstar DBA (or team mate) because what constitutes a rockstar for one organization may not be the same for others. But by following these guidelines, you will be on your way to building a great team:

  1. Research the candidate. In today’s internet-crazed age, there is no more excuse not to research for the candidate online whether they are fresh out of college/university or have been in the industry for a while. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. are just some of the ways you can find information about them on social media. I gather as much information as I can about the candidate with regards to
    • Educational background. Does the candidate have a degree in computer science or anything related? Did the candidate pursue higher education? Some recruiters are biased about candidates with the “appropriate” educational background without realizing that there are a ton of great candidates out there who didn’t even have a degree. I, myself, do not have a computer-related degree which was probably the reason why Microsoft, IBM and Accenture turned me away when i was applying for a job immediately after college. What you’re looking for here is commitment to continuous personal development, not a title or degree.
    • Employment history. Some candidates keep their LinkedIn profile up-to-date but some don’t. Others will update their profiles when they decide to look for another job. Social media profiles can tell you not just a potential candidate’s employment track record but also how long they’ve stayed in a company. What you’re looking for here is consistency, not longevity in an organization. You can then align your interview questions with the candidate’s employment history to know more about their background.
    • Social media posts. Social media has given everyone a platform to tell the world what they think and feel. You’ll see posts on Facebook about someone’s political, religious, social, etc views. If they belong to social media groups, do they ask a lot of questions without helping others in the process or are they generous about answering questions? Do they blog, write articles, post video tutorials, etc.? What you’re looking for here is character, not popularity. If the candidate posts offensive comments about somebody online, what are the chances that they would do the same with your team and/or your customers? Similarly, if they are generous with their talents by writing articles, blog posts and answers to questions online, would they not do the same with the people in your team?
    • Age. The only reason I look for age is because I want to understand their “world view.” Baby boomers are different from Generation X, millennials (Generation Y) and Generation Z. This can help explain their educational background, their employment history and their social media posts.
  2. Ask non-employment-related questions. It’s unusual to ask a potential candidate questions that have nothing to do with work. But it sets them up to be natural and, therefore, be honest about themselves. They can rehearse answers to questions about employment history, recent projects, skills, etc. But ask them what they do during the weekends or what their most memorable experience was. Do they play sports, engage in music or art, spend time with their kids, etc.? They can’t fake these since they matter so much to the candidate. What you are looking for here is authenticity. One of my favorite questions to ask is this: “what was your very recent failure?” Not a lot of people would want to talk about their failures more than their successes. That’s probably because I like talking about my failures and how I learned from them.
  3. Involve team members. You might find it ironic that the title of this blog post pertains to rockstars but am now talking about teams. From my experience, the real rockstars are the ones who are not full of themselves. They are the ones who will put the team’s agenda above their own and are generous to others. Because other members of the team will have their own definition of who might be a team player, getting them involved in the interview, recruitment and hiring will give them an idea of whether or not somebody is a team player. Let them ask the questions or even just observe the candidate during the interview process. If the team members had a part in the recruitment process, they will feel responsible for the success of the new team member.

Finding, recruiting and hiring rockstars is not just about finding the best of the best. It’s about finding the best candidate that will fit your team dynamics, culture and environment. And because they will be spending an average of 40 hours a week with your team, you might as well make them feel at home and be a part of the family.  Sometimes, a rockstar is just waiting for the right environment and culture where he can truly perform at his best. Finding and recruiting them is just the beginning. Making them the rockstars that they truly are is every team members’ responsibility.

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