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Interviews as Learning Experiences (T-SQL Tuesday #54)

T-SQL TuesdayT-SQL Tuesday #54 is hosted by Boris Hristov (@brshristov) and is all about interviews and hiring.

I have a confession to make: Once in a while I say yes to interviews, not because I’m actually looking for new opportunities, but because they’re both fun and challenging.

For me, it’s a great way to learn and grow. I haven’t walked out of a single interview without having learned something new about myself, a technology or the industry I work in.

Going to interviews forces me out of my comfort zone and makes me feel stressed, nervous and a little scared. Sometimes I get questions that I don’t immediately know the answer to and I get flustered. Sometimes I knock over water glasses or burn my hands on hot coffee and make a complete fool of myself. But every time I go to interviews I get a little better at small talk, calming my nerves, thinking on my feet, handling unexpected situations, structuring my thoughts and formulating answers.

It’s a great opportunity to reflect upon my own situation and where I want to be in a year or two. It gives me a peek into what skills are needed and wanted right now, and if it’s a technical interview I quickly find out which skills I need to improve.

My best interview happened early in my career, it was just supposed to be a first introduction interview for a junior developer position. Halfway through the interview I mentioned that I like to challenge myself to learn from the experience, and the interviewer promptly decided to follow up on that statement: “What would you do if we gave you a challenge right now?” (I couldn’t really say no, could I?)

The challenge was to skip right into the second, technical interview without preparing. I had to look at a screen capture of a website and explain the HTML and CSS I would use to replicate it, I had to draw data models and SQL queries on a whiteboard, and I had to guess my way through some JavaScript – and it was fun. I left the interview feeling proud, not because I did well (I forgot important things and made mistakes), but because I was thrown into a new situation and handled it better than I had feared.

The opposite experience was when I was still a student and had a series of speed interviews in one day. They lasted ten minutes and you had three minutes to introduce yourself, three minutes to listen to the company introduction, and the rest of the time to ask questions. The first speed interviews went really well. I grew more confident and didn’t feel like a complete nervous wreck anymore, but as I approached the next table and saw three very serious men in suits stare at me I could feel my palms getting sweaty again. Thankfully they never noticed that, because none of them even wanted to shake my hand. They told me to sit down, grabbed their pens and stared at me in silence. I took that as my cue to introduce myself and spent the next three minutes telling them about my background and why I had applied. When my three minutes were up they looked at each other, looked at me, looked at each other and finally said: “You know that there are mostly men working in this industry, right? How are you going to handle that?”

My jaw dropped to the floor. Inexperienced and flustered, I answered as best as I could that I was used to working and studying with guys and that it had never even been an issue before. They looked at each other again, sighed, looked at me and said: “Well, we don’t have any more questions, so you can just go.” What? I looked at my watch and saw that we still had more than five minutes left, but it was so uncomfortable to sit there that it was better to leave early. So I got up, utterly embarrassed, and zigzagged my way out of the room trying to ignore the stares from everyone still in the middle of their speed interviews.

It is by far the worst “interview” I have ever been to. I felt small and ashamed, but it was also when I promised myself that I would look at each interview as a learning experience. It also made me bring my “I’ll show them!” attitude to the next interview – and that next interview got me my first job :)

Who is Cathrine Wilhelmsen?

Cathrine is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP, BimlHero, Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert, author, speaker, blogger and chronic volunteer who loves teaching and sharing knowledge. She works as a Senior Business Intelligence Consultant in Inmeta, focusing on Azure and the Microsoft Data Platform. She loves sci-fi, chocolate, coffee, craft beers, ciders, cat gifs and smilies :)

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Hi! This is Cathrine. Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I'd love to hear your thoughts, but please keep in mind that I'm not technical support for any products mentioned in this post :) Off-topic questions, comments and discussions may be moderated. Thanks!

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