In just 48 hours, 120 resumes from Oracle 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
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 BC 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
"Many companies will not hire beginners, period,"
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Finally, Burleson said, forget casual Fridays.
"It's the kiss of death to underdress for an
interview," he said.
"Appearance does count."