One of the biggest problems in hiring techs has always been validating their skills. It seems that no matter how many questions you ask them or how many certs they have, you still manage to get people who can't actually do the job. I've seen this a lot in DBs because it's really easy to memorize facts about a product without really having to do the work; DBAs tend to be really unreliable when it comes to matching their testing ability with their skill.
However, I've started getting around that in my last couple of interviews and the solution came from somewhere I didn't expect. Mind you, it seems like I would've thought of this before, but somehow I didn't.
Anyway, a short time ago I got my new ReadyTalk account and started using it. For those who don't know, ReadyTalk is an online conferencing provider similar to WebEx and LiveMeeting. However, the reason I chose ReadyTalk over the others is because of a small handful of factors.
First of all, with my account I get the ability to record both audio and video for the conference. I don't need to have an external audioconference bridge; ReadyTalk provides one.
Second, there's nothing to download. With the other providers, I have to download plug-ins and so does everyone I invite to a meeting. It can be problematic getting a meeting started on time.
ReadyTalk is also very easy to use. I've always gotten confused using WebEx and LiveMeeting because they haven't really put a lot of effort into layout, so some of the features seem hidden and I have to keep searching for how to do things. And while I'm a DBA and pretty good with Windows and other IT-related stuff, I prefer to remain an end-user in some things. I don't want to have to take a full-blown training course just to start an online conference and record it.
So anyway, that's ReadyTalk. I've been using it for a couple months now and I love it. And it has one more feature that the others don't: You can have it automatically create your session as a podcast and update iTunes.
So how am I using ReadyTalk to interview DBAs? I've set up a few situations on my local box or on a virtual server somewhere, and I share my desktop. I then give the candidate control over my desktop and ask him to perform certain tasks while I watch. This way I can actually see if he knows what he's doing, and we can talk about a solution, discuss alternates, and so on. Some of these solutions can be anything from fixing a piece of broken code to improving an SP or even troubleshooting a server. It really depends on the skills you're testing, but I've put guys through everything from the obvious to the obscure. You can test their ability to fix a corrupt DB, work out deadlocks, or remove cursors from code. You can even put a small load on a server and have them look at perfmon and tell you how they think the server's doing.
There's really no end to what you can do. You can pull as many servers into the mix as you like and make it as easy or hard as you see fit. And you can record the entire session so that you can go back and compare different candidates at your leisure. Or show them to your boss or a co-worker if you're having a hard time making a decision.
I do find that complicated situations often take a lot longer and you'll be on the call a needless amount of time. In the beginning, I'd stick with specific tasks that are fairly obvious to the level of person you're trying to hire.
If done right, this could be a new wave in interviewing techs. You can actually get past that barrier of question and answer and see for yourself what you're getting.
I've loved my experience with it and I hope you do too.
And really, give ReadyTalk a chance if you don't already have an online conference provider. They're cheap and easy to use, and all their support is U.S.-based.