How to get an Oracle DBA job

Despite the steepest downturn in the history of IT, there are jobs to be had by Oracle certified professionals and DBAs. To get them, insiders say, IT pros need to remember some of the rules they learned long ago and apply some new strategies as well.

In just 48 hours, 120 resumes fromOracle DBAs landed on the desk of Debbie Reames, a senior technical recruiter for Los Angeles-based staffing company Commercial Programming Systems. So Reames did what a lot of recruiters do. She wiped out half the pile in a three-step process. Need an H-1B visa? Gone. Need to relocate? Not for this job. Only worked at small companies? This job might be too big for you.

Despite the steepest downturn in the history of IT, there are jobs to be had by Oracle certified professionals and DBAs, according to many surveys. Of course, there are also longer lists of qualified candidates. When it comes to searching for a job in this market, even the most experienced IT pros need to remember some of the rules they learned long ago and apply some new strategies as well.



In many ways, the DBA market can be divided into two groups – juniors and seniors.

The junior DBAs, those with less than three years of experience, are the ones facing layoffs and a meaner job market, according to Don Burleson, owner of Kittrell, N.C.-based BEI Oracle Consulting. Burleson is the author of 17 books related to Oracle technology and careers, including Conducting the Oracle Job Interview, a guide for IT managers who have to assess Oracle job candidates.

"Many companies will not hire beginners, period," Burleson said.

However, Burleson said, there is hope for junior DBAs. Companies that are not willing to spend $120,000 annually for a seasoned professional will sometimes take rookies and train them. Burleson suggested the health care industry and universities as two places that new DBAs should look for that critical first job.

Government security clearance key for veterans

Then there are the veterans. DBAs who have more than 10 years of experience, who hold advanced degrees and who have specialized skills are still in strong demand.

Knowledge of Oracle financials, SAP, PeopleSoft, 9i RAC, 9iAS and Unix are qualities that carry weight, Burleson said. Also, government security clearance is something that gets many Oracle DBAs past the first round of resume cuts. In addition, development skills such as Java, Windows, J2EE and portals lend candidates a competitive advantage.

More important, Reames said, a candidate's skill set has to match a company's needs. "They really need to have every skill," Reames said.

"If the job calls for someone with data modeling," she said, "and I don't see any specific data modeling experience, I'll discount it."

In addition to specific technical skills, Burleson says, many companies are looking at educational backgrounds, preferring to hire candidates who have graduate degrees or MBAs. Companies value DBAs who have an understanding of finance or accounting, the business processes that DBAs support.

Follow-up calls, first-round interviews

For both groups, there are some basic ground rules to getting through the critical first round of interviews.

Simply getting the resume in as early as possible can help. With 120 to read, Reames might not see each of them before she finds enough qualified candidates to interview.

Candidates should call recruiters too see whether their resume was received, she said. "Don't be afraid to call to follow up," Reames said. "It may give you an advantage, and we may not have looked at the resume otherwise."

Applicants who make the first cut are usually interviewed on the telephone. It's important to remember that the person conducting the interview may not have a technical background, Burleson said. At this point, candidates are being judged on their non-technical qualities. Communication skills are crucial here, experts say.

Because communication skills are so critical on the job, Burleson recommended that candidates provide potential employers with writing samples, preferably ones that have been published. Several online sites, including this one, accept submissions of technical tips, he pointed out.

Real techie talk

The handful of applicants who survive the telephone interview can expect an interview at the job site and what Burleson calls the "teching" of the candidate. He advises interviewers to ask specific questions, such as "What is the default password for the sys user in Oracle?"

There's no faking answers to those questions, and an interviewer can easily judge the technical skills of the candidates. "Only a practicing DBA knows the answer is 'change_on_install,'" Burleson said. "A seasoned DBA can spot a faker instantly."

Then comes the last stage, on-site meetings with a company's IT staff. These meetings typically last about half a day, and this is where the potential hires will really be tested. Sometimes there are open-ended questions, such as "What would be the first thing you would do if an end user complains that performance is poor?" The answers to these questions can be very revealing, Burleson said, because they don't have one right answer, and they show how candidates can think on their feet, or how innovative a DBA is.

Perhaps more important, this final interaction is where the intangibles, like interpersonal skills, are judged. Having a DBA who is a team player is a priority for most, if not all, companies. In many cases, the intangibles make the difference.

"I've seen companies reject the most technically qualified candidate. It happens all the time," Burleson points out. "DBAs have to be able to play well with others."

Finally, Burleson said, forget casual Fridays.

"It's the kiss of death to underdress for an interview," he said.

"Appearance does count."


More on Don Burleson's book Conducting the Oracle Job Interview

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