How to interview and employ a great database manager
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How to interview and employ a great database manager

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This book is intended for people who work for charities who need to employ a database manager. You could be an existing Database Manager looking for an assistant, a Fundraising or Membership Manager ...

This book is intended for people who work for charities who need to employ a database manager. You could be an existing Database Manager looking for an assistant, a Fundraising or Membership Manager who needs someone to look after their database, or an Operations Manager who needs a new Database Manager and so on.

You do not need to be a technical person to apply many of the ideas in the book, although there is no point in denying that it might well be difficult for you to fully decide if someone is a good Database Manager if you cannot understand some of their slightly more technical responses to your interview questions. In which case, having someone on hand who can offer advise on that can be a great help; very often, the outgoing incumbent can be an option or someone from your IT staff; and I know other charities who have used trustees, other technical staff from their charity, or a manager from another charity even; and of course consultants like myself can help with the whole process.

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How to interview and employ a great database manager How to interview and employ a great database manager Document Transcript

  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager Cont e nt s1. Introduction 32. The Basics: My Definition of a Database Manager 43. What Makes a Great Database Manager 64. Questions to Ask at an Interview 125. Tests and Presentations 156. Can you Train a Database Manager? 19Appendix A: About the Author 20© Ivan Wainewright 2011All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recordingor otherwise without the permission of Ivan Wainewright.Contact details: ivan@itforcharities.co.ukFirst Edition: April 2011 DisclaimerAll the information found in this book is provided in good faith, but we do not provide anywarranties whatsoever, nor assume any legal liability or responsibility whatsoever, for theaccuracy, completeness or usefulness of any of the information supplied. We do not endorseand are not in any way responsible, and have no legal liability, in respect of the URLs, titlesand/or contents of any other site referenced in this book.All trade marks, service marks and other protected names and marks mentioned in this bookare acknowledged as the property of their owners. 2
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager 1 . I nt r oduct ionI have helped a number of charities interview and employ new Database Managers.The first time I did it, two things hit me: first, I was quite surprised at how I, as a“database person”, really could tell if someone else was also a “database person”. Ifound that if I asked the right questions, dug a bit deeper where necessary and gavean interviewee a chance to express themselves, then I could soon tell if someone didhave the experience or the potential to be a Database Manager.The second thing I learned straight away was that just because someone has theskills to be a Database Manager, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily fit in with yourteam or your organisation. In fact, the very first time I helped a charity with theirinterviews, after the first candidate which I liked, the Development Director told methat it didn’t matter how good that individual was, they simply wouldn’t work well withhis team.So, everything I discuss in this book has that significant caveat to it: I will try to showyou what a great Database Manager looks like and how you might be able to employone, but everything else which you would normally do when interviewing anyone forany post – from sifting through resumes and CVs through to agreeing a salary whichyour charity can afford - still holds just as true as ever!W ho t his Book is I n t e n de d ForThis book is intended for people who work for charities who need to employ adatabase manager. You could be an existing Database Manager looking for anassistant, a Fundraising or Membership Manager who needs someone to look aftertheir database, or an Operations Manager who needs a new Database Manager andso on.You do not need to be a technical person to apply many of the ideas in the book,although there is no point in denying that it might well be difficult for you to fullydecide if someone is a good Database Manager if you cannot understand some oftheir slightly more technical responses to your interview questions. In which case,having someone on hand who can offer advise on that can be a great help; veryoften, the outgoing incumbent can be an option or someone from your IT staff; and Iknow other charities who have used trustees, other technical staff from their charity,or a manager from another charity even; and of course consultants like myself canhelp with the whole process.Because I am writing it for charities and nonprofit organisations, there is a slant insome parts of the book towards fundraising and membership because such areasare so central to nonprofit organisations. But you should be able to use it just assuccessfully for any Database Manager you want to employ in your charity. 3
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager 2 . The Ba sics: M y D e finit ion of a D a t a ba se M a na gerThe job role of “Database Manager” can mean a number of different thingsdepending on the type of database, size of organisation and database team, thespecific tasks they are expected to do and so on. So I thought I should define herewhat I mean by Database Manager within the context of this book. This is not to try toenforce a structure on you or your charity, but to give you an idea of the sort ofperson I am considering when I am writing this book about employing a databasemanager.The following points therefore show the sort of individual I am considering:x I am presuming – for the purpose of this book – that the role is not purely for a “techie” who would only look after the “back end” of the database and who would rarely come into contact with end-users, application users, business users et al. This sort of role would often be known as a “DBA” or “Database Administrator”. If that is who you want to employ, then some of this book will still be useful, but much of it is written with the presumption that they should have more “business knowledge” and not just want to spend hours fine tuning the database “under the bonnet/hood”. The reason I am saying that is because if you have a database which does need such work on it, then either you are large enough to have an IT department who would manage that or you need a very special person who can do a multitude of things! As such, I am saying that for the sort of Database Manager I am considering, it shouldn’t matter too much if your database uses SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, Access or whatever. The caveat to this last statement is that, if your database requires someone to understand SQL or a specific query tool/language (e.g. Access’s query tool) on order to product lists, extract data etc, and you expect your database manager to do that work or at least support the users doing it, then clearly it is an important technical consideration that they do have specific knowledge of the specific database you use.x They are someone who is more likely to be working with the “application” than the back-end; e.g. they would know (or could learn) The Raisers Edge, an IRIS system, Salesforce, DonorPerfect etc. (Again, with the above caveat about doing queries).x They would be someone who would (usually) have “supervisor” or “administrator” rights at an “application level” within the database. i.e. they could and should be able to do pretty much anything the system allows, from adding users and assigning security rights, deleting records and updating look-up/code tables, through to setting up forms, processes and financial structures.x They are a dedicated Database Manager. i.e. They are not also the network manager, volunteer co-ordinator etc. If that is the case at your organisation, then you might not need to consider all the other issues I raise in this book. (I know some arts organisations who have someone who’s job is 50% Database Manager for their development database, and whilst I don’t think that is the best idea, they 4
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager do get by, but the other 50% tends to be something such as Research as opposed to an IT role).x They are therefore highly likely to be someone who would have regular interaction with end-users and business users, so they need more than just technical skills. They need some technical skills, but how much depends on each specific organisation. As such, I sometimes wonder if the job title, “Database Manager” is always the most relevant. Some charities I work with do indeed use different job titles, such as “Database Development Manager”, “Database Business Manager”, even “Data Manager”.x It is highly likely that they would not be part of the IT department in a charity – although that isn’t critical. As already discussed, as they are more oriented towards the business (e.g. fundraising, marketing, services, client management etc) and not someone who just makes sure the database is working, then in most charities where I have worked they are often in the Fundraising and Marketing directorate, maybe part of the fundraising or membership team itself or supporter services; or maybe in operations, even finance (although I am personally not a fan of that!); and in larger organisations, there may even be a “data management” department of some sort. Of course, there are always exceptions and I would be far more concerned initially about getting the right person than where they sit.x I do recognise that when it comes to a Database Manager, the size of an organisation can have a significant impact on their role and responsibilities. For smaller charities, they could well be looking after the fundraising database package, trying to write a temporary Access system and do the daily backups, whereas in a larger organisation there might even be a team of people who “manage” the database, which could mean that each individual could have different roles (e.g. data loading, support desk) and the head of that team might be far more of a “classic manager” than simply a database person.I’m absolutely sure that for every person who agrees with one of my statementsabove, there will be someone else who disagrees! And that’s fine! As I said, thereason I have detailed all the above is not to try to enforce a structure on you or yourcharity, but to give you an idea of the sort of person I am considering when I amwriting this book about employing a database manager. 5
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager 3 . W ha t M a k e s a Gr e a t D a t abase M a na ger ?So how do we know a great Database Manager when we see someone?! Here’s mythoughts on that:Ex pe r ie n ceOkay, let’s start with the most obvious of statements but one which we should neverignore: experience is great! You can read lots of books, go on a training course andeven get a degree but experience and learning and using software every day andworking with end-users of all sorts and presenting to Trustees and doing things rightand making huge mistakes… is all the sort of stuff which really means someone canbecome a great Database Manager.Of course, having experience alone does not make someone a great DatabaseManager. If someone has 10 years of experience in one product but can’t hold aconversation with a business manager then they may not be right for you.But let’s not forget how important experience is throughout every topic I list below.Te ch nica l Sk illsClearly, a Database Manager would have some technical skills. (I detail below what Imean by technical). To what degree does depend on the system, the users, the sizeof the database team, even the type of fundraising etc. I know quite a few artsorganisations who have a part-time database manager for their developmentdatabase, and whilst I don’t think that is the best idea, they do get by, and in manysuch instances I am sure that the database manager does not describe themselvesas technical!x Application skills. If your organisation uses The Raisers Edge, Salesforce, DonorPerfect etc, then your Database Manager should have a solid understanding of that system. And if they are the sole individual looking after that system then they will need to know or be able to learn in-depth knowledge. My only caveat is where the Database Manager is actually a manager of other people in their team, in which case, if such people are the “do-ers” then as long as the Database Manager knows what is possible, understands the implications, can discuss it at a good level and so on, then even if they can’t do it themselves that may not be so critical.x Other technical skills. All the following could come in useful: o Excel and Access. For the sole Database Manager who might have to import data, clean data, extract data for mailing houses, review data outside their database, present data differently for managers etc etc, Excel and Access are great tools. o SQL. Whilst many packages do not require a Database Manager to have SQL skills, there are increasingly more systems where if they do have SQL skills, it can add an extra dimension to their data extraction/reporting capabilities. And for some systems which don’t have built-in query tools (or weak query tools), it is almost essential. o PC/Windows skills, Network-savvy. It’s always useful to for a Database Manager to have at least a fundamental knowledge of Windows and at least the benefits of what a network brings (!) as they will no doubt get 6
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager involved at some time with installation issues, security rights etc. I wouldn’t expect them to be able to resolve such problems but to understand the implications is a good thing. o “Web skills”. As above, most Database Managers wouldn’t be expected to have to program in HTML or JavaScript, but again a solid appreciation of web knowledge, database/web connectivity issues and so on can help. o Report Writer skills; e.g. Crystal Reports, SQL Server Reporting Services, Access report writer. Important if your database system uses such packages to create reports and you are expecting the Database Manager to be able to design or upkeep reports.x You don’t need a degree in IT. It will give you a good base of understanding but I would never worry about employing anyone because they didn’t have one!D a t a Sk illsI have separated Data Skills from Technical Skills, but some data skills are no doubta sub-set of Technical skills.x Data Quality. It’s vital that a Database Manager understands and appreciates Data Quality needs and issues and why it is so important: data accuracy and data integrity (and everything that infers), data cleanliness and consistency, up-to-date data and trust in the data; how to encourage and improve data quality, what can be achieved and what can’t be enforced, business issues and requirements, legal implications, financial implications and so on and so on.x The specific ability to consider and understand impact and dependency. It is quite a skill when someone can consider and understand what the impact would be if a user asks for a change or addition to a database. How would it impact existing data? Could it affect reports? Would other users find it useful as well? Could it be ambiguous? Are there security issues? And so on. It’s a key thing for a great Database Manager.x Data Models/Data Structure. I think it is important that a Database Manager understands the basics of data models and definitely “gets” data structures. For example, they must know why different data types are important and relevant (i.e. free text, look-up tables, currency fields etc) and the difference, relevance and importance of “one to one” and “one to many” data structures, even if they don’t think of them in those terms. i.e. a “one to one” data item is something like a First Name or Date of Birth, where each person only has one of each, whereas a “one to many” are entities such as donations, communication records, hobbies and interests, where each supporter could have multiple such records.x Entity Relationship (ER) Diagrams. Going a step further, should a Database Manager understand ER diagrams? Possibly if they are using a database where they will be regularly running SQL queries or if they are going to be involved in designing a system.x Data transfer skills. If your Database Manager is going to be involved with transferring data into, and to a slightly lesser extent, out of the database, then having good knowledge of Data Transfer issues can be a real benefit. Not just on a pure technical level but understanding how data files “link together” when importing them, the issues and implications of updating one-to-one and one-to- many fields, auditing, why URNs (Unique Reference Numbers) are so important, 7
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager data integrity (again!), testing… and more. Larger organisations may have a dedicated resource to do this, but if you just have one person managing your database then they need to understand Data transfer – there’s no easier way to ruin your data than import thousands of records incorrectly!Su bj e ct ( Bu sin e ss) k now le dgeThe best Database Managers I have worked with are those who (if necessary, learnto) understand the charity’s business requirements (almost?) as well as the databasesystem they manage. End of story. They are the people who know that the bestbenefits you will get from the database will be those which match and enhance theorganisation’s requirements.For example:x Fundraising/Membership/Services knowledge (etc): I realise this can be very broad but if a Database Manager can talk at least to a certain level about major giving, direct marketing, alumni management, membership and so on, then that is going to help so much. They will then learn and understand what the Fundraising Managers (et al) want and can interpret that and apply it to the database. It’s quite a skill but it’s what makes a great Database Manager. Managers and end-users have often told me “I don’t know what I want because I don’t know what a database can do…”, so if your Database Manager does know what a database can do and can they can learn the charity’s business then you are on to a winner. Two specific areas within this topic are: For UK charities, Gift Aid knowledge - if your Database Manager will be working on a database which manages gift aid, then if they have knowledge of gift aid itself then that will help enormously. And Web 2.0 in terms of being up-to-date and savvy about how all the latest social networking and web 2.0 possibilities could be applied to fundraising et al.x Data Protection (DP) knowledge and Awareness of legal issues. It’s incorrect for a Database Manager to be ultimately responsible for DP and legal issues, but it’s pretty important that they can at least discuss the issues with some knowledge of the subject.x Finance knowledge. If your database records income then it will help enormously if your Database Manager understands or can learn the nuances of your financial requirements, coding and systems. This means on the one hand appreciating that fundraising and marketing might require one set of codes but on the other, realising that reconciling income with the charity’s finance system might need a different approach.x Knowledge of Statistical Analysis/BI-savvy (Business Intelligence): For some organisations, especially those with larger data sets, for the Database Manager to have some knowledge of statistical analysis is quite a bonus. Hopefully, they will be able to work with your other staff in determining what statistics are required, how to get them and what they mean etc, but the more input a Database Manager can give to any such discussions because of their knowledge of statistical analysis is a bonus. 8
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Managerx Project Management skills. Many aspects of database development are project based, and whilst some will be small or simple, others might be more involved or run over some months. In which case, having some Project Management skills is a great thing for a Database Manager to have. I wouldn’t expect them to be PRINCE2 trained but if they can show they have the sort of skills which fundamental project management needs then that’s a great thing to have. What are those skills? How about: communicating to their team and others what is expected of them; maintaining a project plan; co-ordination and centralisation; monitoring resources; understanding task dependencies; risk assessment and issues management; supplier liaison. And potentially much more of course. Okay, this is a heck of a lot to ask for a Database Manager to do, but if you find someone who can then snap them up!Sof t sk illsObviously, soft skills are not just specific to a database manager but here are somewhich I think great Database Managers have:x Building relationships, especially with other departments. The database is almost by definition going to be used by multiple teams and possibly different departments. So if your Database Manager can build those relationships well then that will help.x Diplomacy, empathy. Absolutely!x Communication: verbal and written. If there was a sub-context running throughout this book, then communication would be it. I have highlighted the need for good verbal communication constantly, but it is also important that a Database Manager has good written communication skills. It is likely they will be writing emails, reports and specifications which others will have to validate, so they need to be able to do so clearly, non-ambiguously, without over-using or un- necessarily using technical jargon and in a structured and readable way. This may sound an extremely obvious statement but you wouldn’t believe how many examples of bad reports and specifications I have seen (or maybe you would!).x Pro-active. I think this is a really key skill that great Database Managers have. And on two levels: one, at a pure database level, i.e. ensuring data accuracy, reviewing security rights etc; and secondly, at a “business” level in terms of potentially understanding fundraising (or other) opportunities. This is a real bonus if your Database Manager can do the latter – sure, your fundraisers/staff should be able to ask for information and work with the Database Manager, but very often, database people are far closer to the data than other staff, so if they see something which might be of interest and can communicate that effectively to other users then that’s great.x Time Management. As for all jobs.x Managerial and delegatory abilities (where they are managing a team)x Planning: A good Database Manager plans (and loves to plan!). They don’t jump in with two feet without considering all aspects, without testing, without asking just why someone want to do something! 9
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Managerx Obsessive about accuracy! Great Database Managers love accuracy! They are almost anal about it. And detail. Everything should be in its place, done in the right way. That said, great Database Managers also understand when such obsession is getting in the way of the business and when to let go of a particular instance of when something isn’t done quite to their preferred level of accuracy (if only for a while, until they can come back to it!).Th e X Fa ct orIf you can train someone in technical and business knowledge and hopefully softskills, then why are some individuals better than others? Do they have the X-factorwhich means they just get it a little bit better…To a degree, this sub-section is re-iterating some of the points I have already madein this book, but it also adds a few and brings them all together to show what such aperson might have.x Database and Business Understanding. As already discussed, when someone has great database skills and a great understanding of business requirements, and they can tie the two together, then they have all the makings of a great Database Manager.x Analysis and questioning skills. It is quite an art to be able to ask users about their needs, gather all such information, collate it well, translate it into language which everyone can understand and then implement it… but if at the heart of this, you haven’t done the analysis then the risk of not giving users what they really want is increased. Great Database Managers can do this. As I mentioned before, often users will say “I don’t know what I want because I don’t know what a database can do…”. So if your Database Manager does know what a database can do and can they can question a user well enough to learn what they really want, and match the two together, you are on to a winnerx Problem solving (and tenaciousness). Refusing to say no when a software supplier tells them that something isn’t possible in their database… Okay, they say, so how can we approach it differently, find an alternative, ask the question differently - how can we do it anyway?x The Ability to Perceive Patterns. This is just one of those things which some people have. As discussed before, Database Managers are closer to the data than most other people, and unless your organisation has specialist data analysts, then it might be your Database Manager who sees new issues and opportunities. Seeing patterns in their data, whether good or bad, is something which sets individuals apart.x Pro-active. Everything I said before.x They strive for automation. Database Managers much prefer automated routines to the risks which manual data entry, imports etc bring. 10
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Managerx They have gravitas across the Organisation. This is quite something and pretty hard for a Database Manager to achieve. To be someone which senior managers and influential users respect and go to, to create a culture whereby they are considered and consulted when a key decision which might just affect the database is discussed by another department. If you have that, then you’re a great Database Manager.x Slightly geeky…?! So, having said everything I have said in this section, I still like it when a Database Manager is just slightly geeky!! I don’t mean that they want to run everything on Linux or that they name their servers after planets on Star Trek, but I want my Database Managers to like databases! I want them to enjoy working with databases, to somehow find them aesthetically pleasing. That’s a certain style of geek which I love! 11
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager 4 . Que st ions To Ask a t a n I nt er viewI n t r odu ct ionThe following is a list of possible questions which I have used in the past which youcould ask an interviewee. You can of course use these questions verbatim, but Iwould encourage you not only to change and apply them to your particular needs butalso to use them more as a ‘basis’ for the sort of questions you could ask which canhelp identify good database managers.A few points on this:x The list is clearly not intended to be exhaustive and it is not intended that you should ask them all! In fact, you will see that some of the questions are quite similar to one another, so you should use the most appropriate questions for your needs.x I have also not included questions such as, “Do you know SQL?”, “Do you know how to use Crystal Reports?” etc – if you have key requirements for your position then you will either know this information from their CV/resume. If they do know such software then that’s good, but if they don’t, then as I say elsewhere in this book, this may or not matter to you, because a good database manager can learn such systems and the more important aspects to their role are the points I discussed in the previous chapter.x The questions are intended to complement any ‘test’ or ‘exercise’ you also include in your interview process. See the next chapter for my thoughts on that aspect.x One specific point: in quite a few questions, I ask, “Have you done…” and if they have then I ask the candidate to expand on their experience; but if they haven’t done that thing, then I often ask, “So, how would you approach it…” This allows individuals who may not have a specific area of expertise to still show how they would think about such issues, and that can really show you better database managers. 12
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database ManagerSpe cif ic Qu e st ion sGeneral/Introductory1. Describe your use of [Database X] in the past 2 years? (Database size/number of users plus number in team)2. If you got the job and sat down on day one, How would you find out about the current database? What would you do the first day/week/month?User Interaction3. A new department in our organisation wants to start using the database for the first time. You have been given this project to manage so how would you go about tackling this request?4. One of the tasks will be to manage requests from different users with different needs and wishes… one user will want a field to record one thing, and one another. Have you faced this before? Can you give us an example? OR: One of the tasks of the administrator here will be to manage requests from different users with different needs and wishes… Have you faced this before? Example?5. How would you encourage senior managers to use [Database X]?Strategy6. What would you do if you phoned the support desk of [Database X] with a question and they tell you that their software can’t do what you want?7. If a user/manager asks you to add a new data field/entity to the database, what do you consider? What questions would you ask them?8. Have you taken over the running of a database at another organisation – what were the most significant changes you made? OR: (If appropriate) Have you been involved before in implementing a new database? If so, then what did you learn?Processes9. How have you assisted with a business process using [Database X] functionality, which hadn’t been implemented before at your workplace? OR: Give me an example of something you have done to improve [Database X] or an associated process that no one had asked you to do?10. One problem with any database is that it can’t be everything to all men - Can you give us an example of where a database you’ve used hasn’t been able to do something and so you’ve had to find a work-around.11. Have you done mailing selections before? Describe the process you use. [Can prompt if necessary for, for example, defining segments, counts, matrix, suppressions etc]12. Have you been involved with reconciling your fundraising database with your finance system?13. Tell us how you have automated a process before which used to be manual.Data14. How would you ensure data quality? OR: What do you understand by Data Quality?15. Can you give an example of where you have found some data that has provided insight into fundraising that others in your organisation were not aware of.16. Have you ever had to design a new coding structure? (Look-up tables and so on.)17. Have you ever done a data audit before? If so: How? If not: how would you approach this? 13
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database ManagerReporting/Querying18. What advanced query functionality have you used and to what purpose?19. In your opinion what limitations do you think [Database X] has for reporting?20. Have you used [Crystal Reports/SSRS]? If so, when would you use it rather than standard reports?21. What process do you follow when you are asked to produce a new report?22. How have you produced reports before from a database? What software did you use?23. What do you do if you can’t produce a report you’re asked for?Data Imports24. If you were given a CSV file downloaded from your web site with a dozen fields including name, address and donation data what would you look out for before importing the data onto the database? What work would you need to do to the file?25. 500 donation records were imported incorrectly last month with the wrong appeal code. You need to do a mass change and add some kind of comment that the change has occurred. How would you make this change and what do you need to consider?26. Have you ever done exports/imports for data cleaning?27. Have you had to liaise with fulfilment houses et al?Other28. What do you think are the key trends in [fundraising]? How can the use of databases help these trends?29. How have you learned about an area of [fundraising] which you didn’t know about?30. When you write a business report – i.e. a document - how would you structure it? E.g. a scoping document, recommendations etc.31. What do you think a good internal User Guide should be like?32. Have you ever written a user guide/training manual?33. Data conversion. Have you been involved in a data conversion project between two databases? If so: What processes did you use? What lessons did you learn? If not: how would you approach this?34. Have you trained users before on a database/other applications?35. What web sites or blogs do you visit most for your professional needs? 14
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager 5 . Te st s a nd Pr e se nt a t ionsOv e r vie wI am personally quite a fan of tests and presentations as part of a recruitmentprocess. Although I should caveat this to say that the examples I provide here aresolely within the domain of specifically fining out about a candidate’s direct skills for aDatabase Manager role - i.e. as opposed to general personality tests, Myers Briggs,mathematical/statistical skills etc; they all have their place, but that’s not the scope ofthis book.I have therefore provided three different types of tests which you might want to use.Possibly the most important thing I believe about these scenarios is that they are notthere to catch out a candidate or to prove someone is “brighter” than someone else.Primarily they are there to enable you to dig down deeper into an individual’sknowledge, to act as a series of prompts for questions during the interview itself andof course to help you understand a candidate’s communication skills.Te st 1 : Th e 1 2 Ta sk sI really like this test when one is employing for a job in a small charity, or wherecandidates may come from a varied set of backgrounds, or where they may be beingemployed to support, say, a more senior existing Database Development Manager,or where it is early on in a candidate’s career.The concept is that you give each candidate a list of 12 tasks which they could beasked to do in the coming few days, and ask them to rank the most important 3 andthe least important 3; plus, if you wish, ask them to rank them all from 1 to 12 in orderof importance. I would give them, say, 20 minutes before the interview to go throughthe test and then, usually after a few standard questions at the start of the interview,move onto reviewing their responses. I deliberately don’t say that they can askquestions themselves about each task but if they do so in order to clarify any pointsthen that can often show a good approach. I also don’t ask them to write anythingdown although it can be interesting to see who has made notes during their 20minute preparation time and who has not.The idea is that there is no right or wrong answers in this test – it is all about how acandidate interprets each task and their reasoning as to why a task is more importantor not so important. And to stimulate discussion based on that. (That said, theremight well be some tasks which you would certainly consider more important thanothers and if the candidate does not pick them up then you could certainly considerasking them why they didn’t include those ones).So, for example, here are 12 tasks you could include: You are the Database Manager and you have to incorporate the following tasks into your ‘to do’ list for the week. Please decide which you think are your top three priorities, i.e. which are most important, and which are your lowest three priorities, i.e. the least important – and why. We will discuss this during the interview. x Your mailing house needs counts by tomorrow for all the segments for the next appeal mailing you’re planning. 15
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager x Two new temporary data input staff are starting work next Monday and the database users’ manual needs to be updated before you train them. x Due to hardware problems, you haven’t been able to print any acknowledgement letters for three days, but the printer has been fixed this morning. x The Head of Fundraising has asked you to produce a list of names and addresses of major donors for her meeting with the Development Director on Friday morning. x The Office Manager has just taken a telephone call from the son of a donor informing us that his father died last week. This needs to be recorded on the database. x A mailing house has recently completed a project for you which cleaned up the addresses of 5000 supporters and identified a list of supporters with a change of address/phone number. They need to be amended on the database so that they can be included in the next mailing. x The daily overnight back up of the database was not completed successfully. This is the second time it has happened. The problem requires investigation. x The Head of Fundraising is making a presentation to the Trustees next Monday and wants to know how many supporters have attended events and contributed to the Annual Fund in the last three years. x The Events Co-ordinator must send out invitations for a fundraising dinner by the end of the day, but is having difficulty producing address labels from the database and needs your help. x Several users of the database have reported that the database has been crashing intermittently but persistently since they received new PCs two weeks ago. x The next Gift Aid tax claim is due next week. x Your manager has asked you to get 3 quotes for one aspect of an online marketing campaign the charity are planning next year.Te st 2 : Pr e pa r in g f or a Ca m pa ignThis test also provides a candidate with a brief exercise to consider before theinterview and I would give them 20-30 minutes to work on this. Again, with the viewto discussing their thoughts during the interview. It is probably more oriented todatabase managers with some relevant, existing experience.In this test, I would certainly hope that the candidate would expand more on theirexperience and knowledge of a particular database and they could well be expectedto ask you questions as to particular aspects of the exercise. The charity is planning a new direct marketing campaign for [project X]. The data needs to be selected and extracted from [Database X] and sent to the fulfilment house. The data will be segmented into [n] different segments based on [criteria x, y, z]. Subsequent donations and associated data will be keyed manually into [Database X] by the charity’s staff. 16
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager Please review the following points and prepare your answers for a discussion in the interview. 1. What would you do before doing the selections? 2. How would you approach the actual segmentation process? What functions/tools would you use in the database? 3. How would you record the mailing on the database? 4. What functions/tools in [Database X] would you use to analyse the resulting data & donations?Te st 3 : A M or e Spe cific, Te ch nica l Te st Bu t w it h Busin e ssCon n ot a t ionsThere are times when you might want to really make sure a candidate has got thespecific technical knowledge to do something specific and at the same time to checkhow they would address such an issue for particular business requirements. I woulddo this where I would expect a candidate to be able to have sufficient skills to knowthe database, to understand a particular business process and to discuss with mesome of the issues.A useful test I devised for this was to ask candidates how they would do a dataimport/data loading exercise. I found this especially useful when interviewingcandidates at a second interview where you need to get down to the nitty-gritty onoccasions.For this test, I would simply write on a flipchart something along the lines of thefollowing:URN Donor Name Address PostCode Date Amount SourceX1234 John Smith 1 The Avenue, London N4 1EN 12/03/2011 £20 Web siteX544 Jane Jones 23 The Drive, Leeds 12/03/2011 £21 Web site J Smith 1 Applegate, Leeds LS1 2WD £100(You can add more or less data with more/less obvious issues with the data).I would then ask them quite simply: if this was a data file you had been given forimporting into the database, then how would you approach the import. I try to givethem as few prompts as possible unless they are really struggling to understand whatI am asking them.I’m a bit loathe to state too much here as to what I would expect a candidate to dowith this test just in case I use it again! However, there are some obvious data issueswhich I hope we would discuss. But more importantly, I would want to hear how theywould approach the whole process, what questions they ask me about the datasource and integrity, what else they might do to such a file, if they discuss the keyissue of matching duplicate records already in the database and so on. 17
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database ManagerTe st 4 : A Pr e se n t a t ion w it h Pr e - I n t e r vie w Pr e pa r a t ionPresentations can be a real test for some individuals – they aren’t easy for somepeople even when they are in employment, let alone during an interview! So, I woulduse this with caution for when I felt that it was important that a candidate could do adecent presentation; for instance, if I expected them to be presenting to, say, aFundraising Strategy group in the charity on a regular basis.For this, I would send the candidates the test some days/weeks before the interviewso they could prepare for it. I don’t specify if they should use PowerPoint, but if theyask then I provide a laptop and projector for it. But I am much more interested in theirpresentation style, the content and discussion around the presentation than I am intheir ability to make a bullet point fly in from stage left…You could take the exercise in test (2) above and ask them to prepare a presentationon that, or you could give them pretty much anything which would mean they couldconsider and prepare the presentation; e.g. an email campaign, merging a smalldatabase from another department into your main supporter database, preparing forand managing a wealth screening project or data cleaning exercise through afulfilment house and so on. You can have hours of fun creating these…! 18
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager 6 . Ca n you t r a in a D a t a ba se M a na ge r ?I suppose the short answer to this is yes – in some areas. The most obvious beingthe technical skills. So if you interview someone who is clearly a good databasemanager but doesn’t have experience in your particular database, then I wouldprobably prefer them to someone who had used our system before but hadn’t provedto be so capable (because we could of course train the former of those people on ourdatabase).This really is one of the key messages of this book in that although a specificdatabase may matter, it is the person who manages that database who mattersmore. Their experiences, their business knowledge, their soft skills, they are allthings which you can’t simply give to someone on a one day Excel course.So if you do want to train a new (or existing) database manager, then the followingmight give you some ideas:x Specific training on your database (i.e. Raiser’s Edge, Salesforce, DonorPerfect etc): This is the easiest to arrange and for someone to learn.x Access/Excel, other technical courses (e.g. SQL, VBA, Java etc): Again, if someone doesn’t have these skills, then as long as they show willing and aptitude there is no reason why they can’t be trained in them.x Fundraising knowledge, Marketing skills or other Business knowledge. This can be a bit harder because the number and type of specific training courses may be fewer. But there are professional bodies who do offer course and training (e.g. in the UK, the Institute of Fundraising, Institute of Direct Marketing). But there are other options too: The simplest thing you can do is send your new Database Manager to spend time with a bunch of your fundraisers and users. Get them to shadow them, talk to them, go on a few outings and events, get them involved. Not only will they learn the business knowledge but they will hopefully build good relationships with such users and even start to understand some of their frustrations or likes about the database. There are also various seminars, conferences, special interest groups, industry meetings and social events and a variety of other such activities which a new Database Manager could attend. I have employed individuals from outside the charity sector perfectly happily before and they have immersed themselves in the above ideas and more during their initial time with the charity.x Problem solving courses/lateral thinking course. Great idea if you can find any! Similarly, Business Analysis courses.x Finance for non-finance people 19
  • How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager Appe ndix A: Abou t t he Aut horI have been working in information technology (IT) for over 20 years in consultancy,project management, customer support, training and sales. I have been working withthe not-for-profit sector since 1994 (initially for a database supplier of fundraisingsoftware) and I set-up my consultancy business in 1998. I now offer database/ITadvice and consultancy solely to charities, the not-for-profit sector and membershiporganisations/professional bodies.The majority of my work revolves around database and CRM consultancy and projectmanagement. In particular: database procurement, database integration projects andproject management on database implementations and other ICT projects. And, ofcourse, I also help organisations interview prospective Database Managers!My time originally spent working for a software supplier, and then the time sincewhere I now work with charities, has meant I am fortunate to have gained aperspective on charity databases, working from both sides of the fence (and in someways almost as a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’). It has certainly helped my clientsand me when working closely with database suppliers as I am able to understandboth organisations’ wishes and positions.Prior to working with the not-for-profit sector, I worked in several software housesand network suppliers with various applications over a range of industry sectors.I also manage “The IT Resource Guide for UK Charities and Non-ProfitOrganisations”: a free internet service for charities, listing IT products & servicesespecially applicable to UK non-profit organisations. This can be found atwww.itforcharities.co.uk.I blog about databases for charities at http://blog.itforcharities.co.uk.Contact Details:Phone: + 44 (0)1959 522806Email: ivan@itforcharities.co.uk. 20