Tip: Don’t plagiarize when answering technical interview questions

I’ve been trying to find a SQL programmer/DBA to hire for nearly two months. Each qualified resume I receive gets the same technical screening email with four SQL-related questions. They are not difficult, and most mid-level candidates would be able to answer them in their own words.

“Using someone else’s words isn’t going to get you a job, or help you keep a job if you get it.”

The tip here is to always respond to a technical screening email in your own words. We all know that there are answers to every question on the internet, and we all use the internet as a resource to help solve our problems. This is fine. But when someone sends you an email with technical questions, they want to hear the responses in your own words. It’s OK to provide references to web sites, or quotes/snippets — this shows you know how to do research. But don’t pass off the whole response as your own.

In other words: don’t plagiarize.

Recently, I received a response to one of these emails which had inconsistent use of language, fonts, and font sizes. This raised my copy/paste alarm. So, I did, apparently, the same thing the prospective candidate did: I used Google.

One of the questions is related to identifying performance bottlenecks. The response from the candidate included this paragraph.

Performance Bottlenecks can be detected by using monitors. These monitors might be application server monitors, web server monitors, database server monitors and network monitors. They help in finding out the troubled area in our scenario which causes increased response time. The measurements made are usually performance response time, throughput, hits/sec, network delay graphs, etc.

I searched Google for the first sentence: “Performance Bottlenecks can be detected by using monitors.” The first hit was for a page on the web site GlobalGuideLine. The entire paragraph was copied from that page.

A second question in my screening email is related to storing BLOBs in the database. Part of the response I received read like something out of a technical manual:

In SQL Server, BLOBs can be standard FILESTREAM varbinary(max) data  that store the data in the file system. The size and use of the data determines whether you should use database storage or file system storage. If the following conditions are true, you should consider using FILESTREAM.

Googling the first phrase, “In SQL Server, BLOBs can be standard FILESTREAM”, proved my suspicion: the text is copied verbatim from the Microsoft TechNet article on the SQL FILESTREAM feature.

Needless to say, this candidate isn’t getting the job. Using someone else’s words isn’t going to get you a job, or help you keep a job if you get it. If you’re not qualified, don’t apply. If you can’t answer a question, say you can’t. Don’t pretend. Someone will find out, and it’ll only be worse when they do.

For more resume and interview tips (and experiences), read my blog post Interview and resume tips (and horror stories).

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