This week’s question from a reader: “How do I deal with interview questions asking about real-world scenarios when I’ve faked three years of experience on my resume?”
Hear my answer in this 14 minute video.
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Transcript of this episode
Please forgive errors in grammar and punctuation: robots helped create this transcript.
Welcome to Dear SQL DBA, a podcast and YouTube Show for SQL Server developers and database administrators. I’m Kendra Little from SQLWorkbooks.com.
I’ve done the last couple episodes on interviewing and helpful tips for landing that SQL Server DBA job, and I got a related question this week.
This question from a reader goes like this…
Dear SQL DBA, I’ve taken courses on becoming a SQL Server DBA recently, but I wasn’t getting any calls for interviews. It seems that there just aren’t opportunities out there for people who don’t have experience. So I added three years of fake experience to my resume saying I had worked as a DBA. Now I’m getting calls to screen me, but interviewers are asking me questions about real work scenarios. I’m very good at DBA work, but how do I prepare for these work scenario questions in interviews?
Well, this is an honest question. Sort of. I mean, it’s an honest question about being dishonest, right?
Once you start lying on your resume, it’s hard to stop
There are a lot of people out there who lie on their resumes. We know this from the news: there are executives who get caught late in their careers having faked degrees. If you think about this, you’re like, “wow, how could this person who went so far be so dumb as to lie about this in the modern age?” Once you lie about something, you’re stuck with that lie because your resume is out there, or your LinkedIn profile that used to contain the lie is cached, or there is some evidence out there. Or someone in your network knows that you once said that you had an experience, or you had a degree, or you had a certification… and it will catch up with you!
In the modern world, once you start on this path of being dishonest, it is very hard to change it. People who do this often have it follow them for a very long time.
Lots of people looking for DBA jobs have fake experience, and they get caught
There are a lot of people out there who look for DBA jobs and who lie about their experience. Or lie about their certifications, or have even cheated to get those certifications. When folks ask, “will a certification help with my career?” a big part of the reason that certifications don’t hold that much weight when it comes to hiring managers anymore is there is a history of a lot of people cheating on certifications. While it might become part of an overall successful package when you go through interviews, people are really going to want to make sure that you do have experience, and you do really know things. That’s the reason that just saying you have a certification isn’t good enough.
For our questioner, and for for anyone else who’s in this boat — because there are other people who do this! I know, because I’ve done a lot of phone screens: there are a lot of people who fake experience, and it becomes pretty obvious in the interview process. There are a couple things that you should know about the DBA job.
1. Faking your resume means you’re not a good DBA
In fact you are NOT good at being a DBA. Our questioner said, “I am good at this SQL DBA stuff.” Actually you’re not, and it is the wrong job for you.
I’m not saying this out of moral outrage, I’m saying this practically because the essence of the DBA job, in fact the most important core thing about being a DBA is about being accountable when things go wrong.
As a SQL Server DBA, this isn’t just about knowledge of what page size the SQL Server uses, or SQL Server internals. The core job of the DBA is to be the person who’s answering questions like: “Why were we offline?” “Why is the data wrong?” “Why does this customer say we lost data?” “Why didn’t this change go as planned?” “You said it would be like X but it didn’t go that way, why?” “What happened to those indexes?” “Why do we have corruption?” “Why didn’t we find this earlier?”
A core — in fact I think really THE most important thing about being a DBA — is to be honest and accountable about what happened, and what we should do in the future. As a DBA, if when things get hot and when things get under pressure, if your impulse is to make something up in the moment — to say something to get the heat off you — it’s going to go really really badly for you. It’s going to be a time where you lose your job, where you have a hard time getting another job, and you get really really burnt in terms of being able to succeed.
As a DBA you need to be able to tell the truth even when it’s really unpleasant, and doesn’t work in your favor. In the long run that always works better for you as a DBA, but in the short term it is really really hard, and if your inclination is to lie on your resume about your experience that shows that you’re not suited to the most core, important things about being a DBA.
2. It usually takes a long time to land a DBA job
The second thing you should know, is that yes, it does take a long time to get a DBA job. There are actually a lot of good reasons for that. This isn’t a new thing that it’s hard to get a job as a DBA. It’s it’s been hard to get a job as a DBA for a long time.
When you think about data, usually data is one of a company’s most valuable assets. If they lose data, or the data is massively incorrect, or even just if a database is offline for a long time, this often can be a business ending event. Not just expensive, but so expensive that the company can’t proceed.
This is so critical that they want people managing the data who have not only knowledge about how to keep the data online, but also experience at handling things when they go wrong, and experience at planning successful changes, and preventing things from going wrong. Experience in a lot of processes. They also someone who has experience being accountable.
I had a lot of education, I had a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree, and my path to becoming a DBA took more than five years. When I was in graduate school, I discovered that I loved working with data. I had a work-study job where I got to work with Access databases, and I found it fascinating. After I got my degree, I wanted to do it full-time, but I had to move through so many different jobs because no one would hire me as a DBA. I didn’t have the experience, and frankly I didn’t have the accountability. So I worked through all sorts of different jobs and I would always look for jobs where I could work with data, where I could get a little more experience: understanding processes, understanding how different teams work together. Finally I got a job at a software company, but I still wasn’t a DBA.
I had to very carefully work myself to a place where I had enough experience that I could get a job as a DBA, and I still had to go from a relatively secure full-time job to a contracting job as an DBA. but it was worth it to me because as I progressed through that, it was still what I enjoyed the most. It was still what I wanted to do. But for a lot of people, there might be places along this journey where along the way you find out you actually like doing something else better. That’s totally valid.
But I needed all of the experience that I got on this five year journey to finally getting to be DBA. How software development works in different situations; how you can make it work the best for your data; how you can manage changes with different types of software development: these are things I learned. How I could design changes and minimize risk; how to react when things go wrong — and that is not a simple thing to learn about, how to react when things go wrong. Over these five years, I saw a lot of different things go wrong, and I got to see different teams reacted to that, how they started the approach, how flexible they were, how they communicated during it, how they followed it up on it, what went well, what should change in the future. I mean it was all stuff that when I finally did get that DBA job I used it all.
And right now, for our questioner: when things are wrong your reaction is to fake it.
It takes a while to change something like this
Now, it’s it’s possible that you could learn something different, right? I mean it’s not like if you lie once in your life and you’re doomed forever, and you’re never going to be able to be a DBA. I’m not saying that.
But right now, your reaction is to fake it and to be a successful DBA you’re really gonna have to train that out of you, because that will backfire on you, and it will just burn you over and over. Eventually it will just get you out of this career.
But to change things, and to get the experience needed and really move away from that, so when things go wrong you think of multiple viable options that you can do that have nothing to do with faking it — that’s going to take possibly longer than five years. You’re likely to get derailed before you get there. Honesty is just an essential essential business skill for DBA. If you’re starting out at a place where you’re not in the honesty range and you lack this essential skill, I would honestly look elsewhere just because of efficiency. Getting to the point where you can be creative and be honest all the time is going to be a really big leap in addition to learning everything else that you need to learn you can get there. It may just take a very very long time, and I would focus on driving all of that impulse to fake it out of all of your responses to life, because that is just gonna truly poison your career as a DBA.
What about exaggeration?
For some folks, you may be like, “Well, what about exaggeration?” A lot of people do exaggerate on their resumes. When you are building your resume, if you know that you’re exaggerating about something don’t do it. Don’t inflate numbers, don’t put things on your resume that aren’t true. For other people, it can be a little trickier: some people have a hard time writing their resume because even just stating the truth feels like bragging to them. But a lot of times if you’re one of those people and you’re self-conscious, and you’re just trying to even state your accomplishments, and you’re like, “oh but I’m worried that I’m being dishonest,” find someone to work with on your resume. Someone honest– you’re not hiring someone to fake things for you– but but find someone who to help you translate your experience into resume versions of that statement, which may at first feel like bragging to you.
But bragging is fine. Dishonesty is NOT fine. On a resume, bragging is what really it’s all about. You want to keep it real, you don’t want to brag about things that didn’t happen, but you do want to — on a resume you’re saying, “Hey, here’s the cool stuff that I did,” and you want to be upfront and you want to be clear about that. Finding someone to work with you on your resume who you can talk things out with, and get a short phrasing of things that is still accurate, other people can help you with that. Maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s a professional resume writer, maybe it’s a past colleague or a mentor. Other folks can help you with that as well. I do want to distinguish that feeling like you’re bragging is absolutely not the same thing necessarily as being dishonest.
The truth is we all know when we’re lying, and that’s the trait that just won’t serve you as a DBA.
Thanks for the question
I would like to thank my questioner for an honest question. I hope you take this feedback that I really I really don’t think this is the career for you– I hope you take that to heart, and I do wish you the best in your career, wherever it takes you. But yeah as a DBA really that accountability is just such a critical, critical business skill.
Thanks for joining me this week for Dear SQL DBA. I’m Kendra Little, and I’ll see you again next week.