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.