I Hate Interviews – TSQL2sDay

tsql2sday

This month’s T-SQL Tuesday is hosted by Kendra Little and is on the topic of interviews 

I hate interviews as an interviewee. I have had many memorable experiences with them. Even writing this blog post has been challenging as I relive some of them. I haven’t shared a lot of the worst ones!

When I was a lad

My first interview was for a waiter/washer up at a local country pub aged 15 or so. I stumbled and stammered and stuttered my way through and I think it was only because they needed someone that evening that I got the job.

When I was 17 I wanted a car and whilst doing my A-Levels I got a job at a local private school to achieve this. It was about a 10 minute cycle from my college to the school and I was so nervous that about half-way I was incapable of riding my bike and had to walk. I then was faced with two people interviewing me which I was not expecting or prepared for. I remember nothing of the interview other than leaving it soaking in sweat.

Nerves

As a young man I interviewed for numerous jobs and things got progressively worse for me. I would get so incredibly nervous. I could not sleep or eat before an interview. This meant I often was feeling very nauseous and tired during an interview. I would arrive incredibly early and have to waste time wandering around, giving me more time to think about how nervous I was and, of course, making it worse. Obviously I wouldn’t give a good impression and didn’t get the jobs which meant more interviews and more nerves.

I tried many things, I sought advice and information from many sources and approached the situation in a number of different ways without much change to my internal responses.

Preparation, Practice, Knowledge and Distraction

To this day I hate interviews even after 20 years of having to do them. I can still get so overcome by nerves that I forget even the simplest and most obvious things such as what the N in DNS stands for or what the question is that I should be answering.

To minimise this, I try my best to prepare as well as I possibly can. I learn and revise the things I think I will need to show that I know by reading the job descriptions and adverts carefully.

I also split the whole process into separate boxes. Revising and researching a company and a job was one part. Getting ready and travelling and arriving was another and the actual interview was then just the last part consisting of talking to some people. This definitely reduced the overall stress and improved my performance in interviews.

A previous shop provided interviewer training and needed volunteers to be interviewed for those courses. I volunteered as often as I was able to and treated them as realistically as was feasible. This helped me a lot and also enabled me (sometimes) to view an interview as just a chat. If you suffer with nerves and this is available I would recommend doing so. If not, ask someone who interviews for some practice interviews and treat them as realistically as you feel is necessary.

A wise person told me to remember that interviewers are people too and also that good interviewers will recognise nerves and assist the interviewee. After all, they are trying to find the right person to fulfil their needs and want to know if you meet their requirements for that position.

Another wise person told me, during an interview, that it was ok to ask for clarification about a question. A decade or more of interviews before I knew that. It enables me to pull back from a spiral of nerves making me gabble and to be able to return to the question required. When I find that I am rambling in my answer or that the answer has disappeared from my mind I ask the interviewer for clarification and get some much needed breathing space.

To reduce the impact of nervousness before the interview I learnt to distract myself in the couple of hours prior to an interview. I have been known to go and see a film if a cinema is close to the interview or do the weekly shopping. Anything that can occupy my mind without risking me being late. This may be of no use to many people but it works for me.

The other side of the table

As an interviewer, I hope that I recognise when people are nervous and am able to assist them and also coax out the information that I need to be able to make the best decision about the candidate for the position.

Interviewing is tiring.

When I worked in secure units we would sometimes spend 2 continuous days interviewing. It is hard work. You need to look after yourself in these situations. It is important to drink plenty of water, to ensure that you eat and at least get up and stretch in between interviews. The very last person you interview might be the perfect candidate don’t miss that because you have switched off.

You are being interviewed too

The person that you are interviewing is also interviewing you. They are considering if they want to come and work for your company with the people they meet. That might only be the people in the interview so it is important I think to ensure that you make a good impression as well. During a day of interviewing many candidates try to reset before each person.

Being courteous, attentive and professional is important during the interview even if the interviewers recognise that the person is not suitable for that role within 2 minutes. They may be ideal for another position or you may come across them later in your career. Leave a good impression.

Preparation

A shop I worked at employed a new DBA who had impressed the manager in interview with their knowledge as they had passed a lot of exams. The manager was very pleased and looking forward to the new arrival. This changed quite quickly when it became obvious that the new DBA was missing some basic knowledge about installing SQL Server and creating new databases which was a significant part of their role. A lot of time was wasted by the other DBAs in the team re-doing and re-checking the work that this person had done and team dynamics went downhill very quickly (although I did learn a lot about Policy Based Management from this experience!)

When I was working in secure units focusing on people with Autism we knew that communication skills both verbal and none-verbal were vital to all members of our team. We had an excellent set of questions and scenarios early in the interview to establish peoples capabilities in these areas and this allowed us to close off interviews early when we could see that the candidate did not meet our requirements as well as ensuring we employed people with the right skills for a very challenging workplace.

Before the interviews for a replacement DBA the manager asked how to avoid a repeat of that situation. I described the situation above and as a team we identified the basic skills, knowledge and approaches that we wanted in our future team members and designed a set of questions and scenarios so that candidates could demonstrate them. This was excellent for ensuring the entire team felt that they had some input into the recruiting process and also added confidence in the new team member. I think it was an excellent piece of team management as well.

The biggest take away from this post, I hope, is preparation. For both sides of the table preparation is a vital part of any interview process. Also if you see me all dressed up and in the queue for a film I am probably very nervous and won’t want to chat!!

Make sure that you go and visit the round-up post that Kendra posts on her blog to read further posts on the interviewing process from others in the SQL Community. You can also find all the archives at http://tsqltuesday.com/

 

 

 

Any resemblance to any living people in this post apart from myself is complete co-incidence

 

 

 

 

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Presentation Nerves

My previous post on interviews and a number of conversations this year inspired me to write this post. I am lucky enough to have been selected to speak at numerous events over the past few years and I am really lucky because I thoroughly enjoy doing them. The feedback I receive from those sessions has been wonderful and it seems that in general most people really enjoy them.

This leads to some misconceptions though. Recently people have said to me “Oh I am not like you, I get far to nervous to do a session” and also “I am so glad that you get just as nervous as me before presenting I thought it was just me” even though I have blogged about this before. I think it is important for newer speakers as well as more established ones to know that more presenters than you realise get very nervous before they speak.

Many don’t publicise this (which is fine) but I will. I get nervous before I speak. I know that it doesn’t show when I start my presentation but it is there. My stomach does back flips, my hands shake, I forget to bring things to the room. I worry that I will make a catastrophic mistake or that I’ll open my mouth and nothing will come out.

It’s ok. It doesn’t last very long, it’s gone at the moment I start speaking. Other speakers need a few moments into their session before they stop really feeling those nerves but it goes.

Whenever I am involved in a conversation about nerves and presentations on twitter I respond in the same way

I love this quote by Joan Jett (young people link) To me it means that you should be nervous before speaking because that energy will ensure that you give a good presentation. If you get up to do a presentation and you are blasé or complacent about it this will be obvious to your audience and not in a good way.

So what to do?

Practice

You can’t just approach a presentation knowing that you will be nervous and expect it to be ok. You need to have a background of confidence that your presentation will turn out ok.

You need to practice.

You need to practice your presentation.

You need to practice your presentation out loud.

You need to practice your presentation out loud more than once.

You have to get used to hearing your own voice when presenting. It can be off-putting hearing yourself blathering on and you don’t want that to surprise you or interrupt your flow. This will also help with projecting away from your screen and into the room if you practice correctly. Imagine all the people in the room and try to speak in their direction with your head up and not pointing down at the screen.

You also need to practice your timings, so that you know that your session will fit in the allocated time. Make notes of your timings at certain points in your presentation so that when you are presenting your session you can be aware of whether you are still on your expected time. Some people will speak faster in their actual session than the practice and some slower. As you practice and learn you will understand your own rhythm and cadence and be able to alter it if required. This will help you to build that confidence that your presentation will be ok.

More Practice

You need to practice.

You need to practice your demos.

You need to practice your demos more than once.

Being able to reset your demos and run them through will teach you more skills. Using Pester to make sure your environment is in place correctly will help.

Run your demos with your machine set up as it will be for the presentation. If you need to have PowerPoint, SSMS, Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code and three SQL instances running then practice with them all running. You should do this so that your timings when running your demos are the same as when you actual present your session. This is even more important if you are doing a webinar as that software will require some of your machines resources which may slow your demo down.

Knowing that your demos are consistently repeatable and how long they will take will also help to give you the confidence that your presentation will be ok.

Deal with them

If we accept that you will have nerves and that’s not a bad thing you have to be able to deal with them, to use them to make your presentation rock.

This is a distinctly personal thing and I have no idea what will work for you. You will have to try some things and see if they work or not. Recently I found a new way for myself

Normally I like to be in the room I will be presenting in before I do my session as this gives me something that I can listen to, I can see and feel the layout of the room and also usually prepare my laptop with the correct programmes and run Pester to make sure all is as it should be for my demos. In Portugal I was chatting with someone and missed the start of the session and because of the room layout I did not want to disturb the presenter before me. Slava Oks was giving a presentation which I started to watch and it was so mind-melting I completely forgot that I was presenting in the next time slot! Surprisingly, I had almost no time to be nervous and for this time that was a good thing. The fact that I had already opened my presentation and run my Pester tests also helped.

Some speakers like to be amongst the hustle and bustle of a common area. Some like the peace and quiet of a speaker room or work area. Some put their headphones on. Some go outside. Some pace up and down. Some sit quietly. Many sit in a session in the room. Find the one that works for you.

A few deep breaths

Then just before you are giving your presentation take a few deep breathes, reassure yourself that it’s all good and go and be amazing.

Deep breaths will also be useful if you start to feel nervousness overtaking you during your session. Stop, take a deep breath and carry on.

Incidentally, during a presentation in Exeter at my first SQL Saturday I felt decidedly light-headed and as if I was going to pass out. I had literally forgotten to breathe!

What about…… ?

Don’t forget to leave time for questions at the end. Don’t practice to fill all of the allotted time with your presentation. You will need some time for the audience to ask you questions about your presentations.

Having people ask you questions is a good thing. It means that people are engaged in your presentation and interested in what you have shared. Well done, you have achieved what you set out to do and this is some validation

Repeat the question

Repeating the question that you are asked is recommended best practice for presentations but it has another advantage to you. It allows you a little thinking time to organise your thoughts and calm your nerves if needed.

I don’t know

It’s ok to answer a question with I don’t know. Follow up by asking if anyone in the audience can add some value or say I will research that and find out for you come and give me your contact details afterwards.

Feedback

Some events will provide you with feedback from your attendees. You can also ask your friends or other friendly community members for feedback on your session. Use this to improve. Don’t take all the feedback to heart. Look for trends in the data. Don’t let the poor feedback get you down and don’t let the good feedback go to your head (Remember the complacent quote at the top of this post!)

On a side note, whilst providing a score for feedback is useful, what is more useful is some reasoning behind the score. Remember also that the speaker is a human being with feelings. Be kind whilst being constructive.

Your knowledge

Don’t let worry about nerves prevent us from hearing the great knowledge and experience that you have to share. You wont be alone in feeling nervous and you can help yourself to overcome those nerves and get as much out of speaking as I do.

You will find members of the SQL community wiling to help you if you visit the SQL Community Slack you can ask questions in #presentingorspeaking