Interview Tip: Do Some Basic Research

A lot of job candidates out there are wondering how they can set themselves apart from the crowd and increase the odds of landing the job they want.  Well here’s a really easy way…

Do your basic research and due diligence on the prospective employer before your first interview.  This is good practice whether you’re looking for full-time employment or just a little contract work.  Show the interviewer that you are at least interested enough in the work to hit a search engine or two.

I have conducted numerous interviews for application and database developers over the past year, and one of the questions that I always ask is, “How do you stay up-to-date on the latest developments in technology or programming?”  Now this is a fairly easy question as there is no exact right answer, I’m just trying to learn more about what type of person you are; asking about your habits and willingness to invest even a little energy in your own professional growth.  Typical answers I would expect to receive are, “I read blogs on my lunch break (or on my own time).” or “I just picked up this book on query tuning” or “I read the ________ newsletter/magazine” or “I go to SQLSaturdays and the PASS Community Summit.”.  You don’t have to be pursuing a college degree or Master’s certification, although those are both noble goals; I’m just looking to see if you are doing anything on your own to stay current, or do you just drift along like a dead fish floating downstream waiting to get dumped out at the lowest point.

But it’s also a test to get a feel for how much effort you put into researching this job.  You see, I’m on LinkedIn, and you can find my profile easily by entering my name and the name of my company into any of the big search engines; and I know you have at least that much information when we have scheduled that first phone interview and you are waiting for my call.  And if you were to go to my LinkedIn profile, you would find a link to my blog here.  Now I don’t expect you to claim to have read everything I wrote and that it changed your life (although it could).  Hey, you could even say, “I read what you wrote and I disagree with you on these three main points…”  That is fine.  In fact that is probably even better because it shows me that you have an opinion and are willing to discuss it.  But what really surprises me is that nobody in the last year has even said to me, “hey, I saw your profile on LinkedIn and noticed that you have a blog.” much less commented on any of its content, or even lack thereof.

Believe me, it makes a huge positive impression if you can throw something into the conversation that shows me you did a little research on your own.  It shows initiative, creativity, and an interest in the job; all of which are attractive attributes to an employer.  And all the more so, given how rare this seems to be.  So here you go…a really easy way to stand out from the crowd.

Regaining SysAdmin Access after a Lockout

Today I had to find a way to regain SysAdmin access to an instance of SQL Server when I technically had no permissions.  Here is how I did that.

Every developer on my team is setup to be able to work 100% stand-alone.  That is, they have everything on their local machine, including a recent copy of the database, to do all their work even if the network goes down, which it used to do on occasion.  For SQL Server development, each has a copy of SQL Server 2008 R2 Developer Edition installed, and it was one of these that I had to regain access to.  Fortunately this did not happen to a production instance, but in a pinch, these techniques would work there, too.  Normally, I am setup with SysAdmin privileges on each of my team’s SQL Server instances so that if anything goes sideways, I can help them recover or pick up work-in-progress.  They are also SysAdmins on their own instances so they have full capability to do anything they might need to in order to get their job done.  But recently, one of my team members left the company, and as I was reviewing his machine to determine whether it needed a complete rebuild before the next developer could use it, or just a little cleanup, I discovered that I no longer had any access to the SQL instance.  And because this was SQL 2008, we had, as a matter of normal installation technique, left out the Built-In/Administrators group, so even though I was also a member of the local Administrators group, that did not get me anywhere by default.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a faint recollection of having heard or read about a technique where you could regain full control of a server even if you didn’t have normal access to it.  I was thinking that maybe it was related to the Dedicated Administrator Connection, but couldn’t remember and was pressed for time so I was not inclined to spend a bunch of time searching online.  So, I went for a very handy shortcut…the #sqlhelp hashtag on Twitter.  I quickly described my scenario and within just a few minutes I had multiple responses back with instructions about how to do it and links to this blog entry by Raul Garcia and this one by Argenis Fernandez that describe two different approaches to getting yourself back in the SysAdmin role.  Since this was a local developer edition and it is easy to stop and restart, I went with the first approach which involves putting the SQL Server into Single-User mode and then as a member of the local Administrators group, I was able to use SQLCMD to add myself back into the SysAdmin role.  I suggest that you read both articles to be aware of the features and risks associated with them, including the potential security risk that #2 reveals is inherent in the normal, and recommended-by-Microsoft configuration.

And an extra thanks to the awesome SQL Server community that is active on Twitter as well as blogs and forums, and truly helps one another.  You guys really helped me today when I was in a crunch.  You’re the best!