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The Art of the Interview

Over the last few years, RDX has been growing at a rapid pace.   During this time, we have hired literally dozens of database, operating system and Oracle Applications support professionals.   One of our key value propositions is the talent and experience of our support teams.  The quality of the service we provide to our customers depends on our ability to attract, hire and retain the most talented individuals possible.   Our customers have “turned over the keys” to their most critical data assets for safekeeping.  This is a responsibility that we do not take lightly.

Repetition is the foundation for a high quality support environment. As technicians, we recognize the benefits of documented repeatable processes. Repeatable processes improve the output of a given set of activities by reducing variation. If the scripts and administrative processes worked correctly the first time, chances are they will continue to work correctly in the future.   At RDX, all DBAs are required to document processes that are repeated. This has resulted in an entire library of customer-specific repeatable processes.

RDX has applied the same principle to our hiring process.   We treat the candidate evaluation activities just like we do any other repeatable activity.   We have created a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that covers the entire life-cycle of the hiring process.   From justification to on-going new hire evaluations, each step in the process is documented and the final outcome evaluated regularly.

I won’t provide you with the details on our justification process, let’s just say that it is fairly scientific and includes current staffing level evaluations, sales estimates and closure percentages, and advanced workload forecasting. The process we want to focus on is the evaluation of potential candidates and the employee onboarding process.

Recruiting
RDX does not rely upon third-party recruiters to pre-screen and submit candidates.  We feel that external recruiters do not fully understand the value proposition we provide to our customers and the quality of the support professionals we require to accomplish those objectives.   We have an internal recruiting team that works out of our service delivery center.   Having them work with the service delivery personnel allows them to understand what we do on a daily basis.  Each of them have shadowed the support teams and interviewed selected technicians which results in our recruiters having a thorough understanding of the support activities each team provides.

In order to understand the exact requirements for each job opening, the recruiting team is responsible for meeting with the service delivery unit that is looking for candidates.   After this meeting, the recruiting team creates a job posting and sends it to the service delivery product manager for final review.

Evaluating Soft Skills
Once RDX begins receiving responses from the job posting, the documented candidate evaluation process begins.    The quality of each candidate’s written e-mail responses and resume are evaluated for readability, grammar and spelling.   The intention is to begin determining how well each candidate communicates in written form.   Since we are a remote services provider, much of our communication with our customers involves e-mail, tickets and documentation.

RDX executes phone screens for all candidates.   As stated previously, we want to evaluate the candidate’s soft skills including phone presence, professionalism and communication quality.  We have standardized evaluation criteria for soft skill assessments.  Did the candidate communicate effectively over the phone?   Is the candidate easy to understand?   Did the candidate communicate using correct grammar or did he/she use slang expressions, excessive use of analogies, poor grammar or lengthy pauses using the traditional “ahhs”, and “ummms” as fillers?

The Candidate’s Resume and Documentation
Each candidate’s resume is reviewed thoroughly starting with overall presentation, grammar, punctuation, spelling and ease of reading.  Proper punctuation and spelling may not be a good indication of the candidate’s ability to recover a database, but it is a good indication of the candidate’s attention to detail and interest in becoming a member of the RDX team.

We then review each candidate’s background looking for education (traditional education providers like colleges and universities as well as product vendor courses), GPA, QPA, certifications, skill sets, experience, accomplishments, projects, products, toolsets, database features and releases.   Every paragraph, every sentence, every bullet is reviewed by both the recruiting and service delivery teams.  If it is on the candidate’s resume, he/she is going to be asked a question on it.

We note all of these questions and address each one during the onsite interview.   We also look for gaps in employment and how many different jobs they have had over the years.  If we see a new employer every six months, we ask additional questions on the circumstances.

RDX also evaluates candidates on additional documentation and communication.  Sending cover letters, reference letters, following up with thank you e-mails and any additional information on their past work efforts is a plus.   We ask that each candidate provide references. This is a documented process and we follow up on each one of them.

Choosing the On-Site Interview Team
Not only do we evaluate potential candidates, but we also evaluate members of our organization on their interview skills.   Each member of the interview team is evaluated based on their professionalism during the interview process, the thoroughness of their questions and the quality of the candidates they recommend.   Does the interviewer follow up on vague answers or are they content with generalized responses?   Do they “peel back the candidate’s layers” in a professional manner so that they fully understand each candidate’s qualifications for the position?  Are their questions crystal clear and articulate?    Like any other activity, some personnel have the talent and experience that allow them to excel at the interview process.   Each RDX service delivery team selects dedicated interviewers to ensure the highest quality interview process possible.

The Onsite Interview
When the candidate arrives, we have documented evaluation criteria that we use during the initial stages of the interview process.  All of the more traditional criteria are evaluated.  We note how the candidate presents him or herself.  Did he/she dress appropriately? Did each member of the interview team receive a handshake with a proper introduction?   Does the candidate make eye contact?  Are his/her answers clear, concise and articulate?  Did he/she ask questions during the interview?  How much did he/she learn about what RDX does?  Did he/she visit our website?  Is he/she enthusiastic about joining our team?  What is the quality of his/her posture and body language?  How well did he/she handle the stress of the interview?  The list goes on…

Evaluating Technical Skills
All service delivery teams have created standardized technical questionnaires.   They are used as a template and additional criteria are added for each, individual interview.  During our analysis of the candidate’s resume and supporting documentation we add questions on each and every item that we noted.

We ask questions on every product, every feature, and every release they identified as having experience with on their resume.  We generate questions on all of them.     Nothing personal, but we don’t trust any candidate’s resume.   If it is on their resume, we will ask a question about it.  We have seen too many shenanigans pulled over the years.   I actually received resumes from two candidates who worked at the same firm that were exact duplicates of each other.  The only difference was the name and address at the top.    I understand that you may not be an expert in all of your qualifications, product features, etc. listed on your resume, but I am going to have a definite issue if you don’t even have a clue at what they do.

Hands On-Tests
Candidates are required to complete a hands-on test.  RDX provides a testing environment that candidates can remotely log in to and administer.  The test is timed.  Candidates know that they have exceeded their time limit when the automated process runs to shut down their test environment.  We warn them ahead of time, so they are fully aware of the time constraints.

Hands-on tests quickly rule out any candidate that can “talk the talk” but can’t execute.  We have had candidates know all of the buzzwords, yet fail miserably at performing the test’s basic administration tasks.  The candidate completes a list of administrative activities and documents the results.     The tasks start out simple enough but quickly become more complex.   After the test is complete, members of our testing team analyze the database environment and their documentation.  They also review the appropriate logs to determine how many times the candidate had to correct, and reissue a command.

Final Evaluation and Background Checks
All members of the recruiting and interviewing team meet to discuss each candidate’s performance.   Competing candidates are compared and contrasted using the documented evaluation criteria.   All participants vote and give the reasoning why they voted for a particular candidate.   Once the candidate is selected, standard criminal background and credit checks are performed.   Our interview process is rigorous and weeds out so many candidates that it is more cost effective for us to perform the checks after the candidate has been selected.

Employee Integration
Once the candidate has been selected, a standardized on-boarding process begins to transition the new employee into the RDX support organization.   New hires are trained in the “RDX Way.”    We focus not only on the products and processes used by RDX, but also integrating the employee into the RDX Family.    The person needs to feel that they are part of the team.  Every product, every process, every procedure, all key documentation – from the employee handbook to customer Wiki information – is a line item on our standard employee integration checklist.

On-Going Evaluation
The output of any repeatable process can be measured.  We also know that effective measurements are required to judge the success of any activity.   RDX has applied the same measurement process to our hiring and employee integration repeatable processes.   All new-hires are evaluated very closely during the initial stages of their employment.  Although we perform a perpetual analysis of all employees’ performance during their careers, RDX pays close attention to each new employee.    All deviations are analyzed and modifications are made to the repeatable process.  Since we have been using this repeatable process for some time now, the process has withstood constant evaluations with little to no modifications required.  The repeatable process works.

Wrap-up
This article is not intended to convince readers into using the RDX interview process verbatim but to emphasize the importance of a structured, documented approach.   I have only provided brief examples to describe each process to reinforce the main points being discussed.

Thanks for Reading,

Chris Foot
Oracle Aceace_2
Director Of Service Delivery

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