How To Interview an SQL Developer: A Complete Guide

By Cam Velasco

CEO & Co-Founder
Published: Feb 27, 2024
Hiring an SQL developer is crucial for managing and analyzing data effectively. This guide will help you understand the SQL developer role, prepare for the interview, assess technical and soft skills, and make the right hiring decision.
Overhead view of an open laptop with colorful abstract design elements and the word 'SQL' prominently displayed beneath, symbolizing the skills and digital tools associated with SQL development.

Learning how to interview an SQL developer is crucial for managing and analyzing data effectively. This guide will help you understand the SQL developer role, prepare for the interview, assess technical and soft skills, and make the right hiring decision.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Understanding the SQL Developer Role: They handle database queries, optimization, and security.
  • Preparing for the Interview: Set a welcoming stage and craft questions that cover technical skills, behavior, and cultural fit.
  • Assessing Technical Skills: Test their knowledge on database management, query writing, data modeling, performance optimization, and security best practices.
  • Evaluating Behaviors and Soft Skills: Discuss past projects, problem-solving abilities, communication skills, time management, and adaptability.
  • Conducting Assessments: Use coding tests and real-world projects to gauge their practical skills.
  • Identifying Red Flags: Watch out for gaps in knowledge, disorganization, overconfidence, poor communication, lack of interest, and resistance to change.
  • Making the Hiring Decision: Review assessments, interview responses, check references, and identify the top choice.

Remember, it’s not just about technical skills but also how well the candidate fits with your team and adapts to challenges.

How to Interview an SQL Developer: Understanding the role


SQL developers have a bunch of important jobs related to databases, such as:

  • Writing tricky SQL queries to pull and change data in databases
  • Making SQL code and queries run faster
  • Building and setting up new databases and how they’re organized
  • Finding and fixing problems with how databases are set up
  • Making sure data is correct, safe, and not messed with
  • Making reports, charts, and dashboards to show important data points
  • Keeping track of how they manage and work with databases

Their main job is to use their SQL skills to turn lots of data into useful information for the business.

Required Skills

To be good at this job, SQL developers need:

  • Really good knowledge of the SQL programming language
  • Know-how about relational databases and how to design them
  • The ability to look at data and spot trends
  • Problem-solving skills to figure out database problems
  • Being careful to make sure data is right
  • Being able to talk and work with other people

They should also be really good at using SQL commands like SELECT, JOIN, INSERT, etc., and know their way around a database management system like MySQL, SQL Server, or Oracle.

Helpful Attributes

Besides knowing their stuff technically, some extra skills help SQL developers do well:

  • Being able to pick up new database tech
  • Staying cool when things get tough
  • Working well with others
  • Managing time well when there’s a lot to do
  • Being creative in coming up with ways to handle data
  • Understanding business goals and how their work fits in

SQL developers who can adapt to changes and handle pressure usually do really well. Having the right technical skills along with these extra qualities leads to success.

Preparing to Interview an SQL Developer

Setting the Stage

When you’re getting ready for the interview, make sure the room is quiet and welcoming. Here’s what to do:

  • Pick a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Offer water and snacks to help the candidate relax.
  • Have the candidate’s resume and any examples of their work ready to look at.
  • Make sure any tech you need, like a projector, is working before you start.
  • Sit in a way that makes talking easy, without tables or other things in the way.

Creating a nice, organized space shows you respect the candidate and helps make the interview go smoothly.

Crafting Questions

Asking the right questions is crucial to understand if someone is a good fit. Here’s how to do it:

  • Technical Questions: Find out if they really know their stuff by discussing actual code. Ask them to explain complicated queries, how to make code run better, and spot errors.
  • Behavioral Questions: Get to know how they think and work by asking about past projects or tough situations. See how they deal with problems and if they’re good in a team.
  • Soft Skills/Cultural Fit: Check if they’ll get along in the workplace. Ask about how they like to work, handle feedback, and if they share your company’s values.

Make sure your questions cover the important skills for the job, like SQL knowledge and teamwork. Open questions that need more than a yes or no can show how they solve problems and if they’ll fit in.

Getting ready with the right questions can lead to meaningful talks with candidates. Focus on testing their technical skills, how they behave at work, and if they’d mesh well with your team.

Assessing Technical Skills to Interview an SQL Developer

In this part, we’ll cover questions that help you figure out how much the SQL developer candidate knows about key technical areas:

Database Management

This is about understanding the basics of databases, like:

  • The difference between relational (tables and rows) and non-relational databases (more flexible data storage)
  • Making databases efficient and organized (normalization)
  • Using indexes to speed up finding and combining data
  • Keeping data safe with access control and encryption

Questions you might ask:

  • Can you explain what database normalization is and why it matters? Describe how to normalize a simple database.
  • What’s the difference between SQL and NoSQL databases? When would you use each?
  • What are indexes, and how do you decide what to index?
Query Writing

Checks if they can pull data effectively using:

  • JOINs to link data from different tables
  • Subqueries and CTEs for breaking down tricky logic
  • Operators like UNION for combining data
  • Using functions to do math across many rows

Questions to consider:

  • How would you write a query to combine customer and order information?
  • When would you use a subquery instead of a join? What’s the impact on speed?
  • Can you show how to use a CTE to make a complex query easier?
Data Modeling

Looks at how they plan and design databases:

  • Making diagrams to show how data is related
  • Designing databases for analyzing data (like for sales reports)
  • Turning plans into efficient database layouts

Some questions:

  • Can you sketch an ERD for an online store including customers, orders, and products?
  • How would you set up a database for a dashboard that tracks sales?
  • What are some ways to make a database work well for analytics?
Performance Optimization

This is about making databases run faster and handle more data, such as:

  • Adding indexes where needed
  • Using caching to avoid repeating work
  • Splitting large databases to manage growth
  • Tweaking settings for better performance

Example questions:

  • How do you figure out why a query is slow and fix it?
  • When is it a good idea to use caching for a database?
  • What are some ways to help a database handle more data or users?
Security Best Practices

Covers keeping data safe, like:

  • Encrypting data so only authorized people can see it
  • Setting up roles and permissions for tight access control
  • Keeping an eye on who’s doing what with auditing tools
  • Protecting data from outside attacks with firewalls and secure connections

Questions to ask:

  • How do you protect sensitive data?
  • What methods do you use to control who can access data?
  • Can you explain how you keep a database safe from hackers?

Evaluating Behaviors to Interview an SQL Developer

When picking the right SQL developer, it’s not just about their tech skills. You also want to know if they’ll fit in with your team. Here’s how to ask about their behavior and soft skills during the interview:

Past Projects and Experience

Find out about their previous work to see their skills and how they approach tasks:

  • Tell me about a recent database project you worked on. What did you do, and what challenges did you face?
  • Have you ever made a database run faster? How did you do it?
  • Have you built a database from the ground up? What steps did you follow?

Listen for clear stories that show their role and focus, whether on tech or business outcomes.

Handling Problems

Learn how they solve tough issues:

  • Talk about a mistake you made with a database. What happened next?
  • What’s your approach when you hit a database error you’ve never seen before?
  • Ever dealt with messed-up data? How did you fix it?

Look for honesty about mistakes, calm problem-solving, and thorough troubleshooting.

Communication Ability

See how well they talk about database stuff with others:

  • How do you explain database needs and problems to people who aren’t tech-savvy?
  • If you disagree with someone on a database project, how do you handle it?
  • Ever had to break down a complex database topic for non-tech folks? How did you make sure they got it?

Good signs include patience, clear explanations, and understanding different viewpoints.

Time Management

Check how they manage lots of tasks:

  • With many database tasks on your plate, how do you decide what to tackle first?
  • Tell me about a time you had to rush a database job while juggling other work. What did you do?
  • How do you balance regular database upkeep with new projects?

You want someone who’s organized, can prioritize, and plans well.

Feedback and Growth

Find out how they improve and deal with feedback:

  • How do you respond to constructive criticism about your database work? Can you give an example?
  • How do you learn what’s needed for a new database project?
  • What database skills are you trying to get better at? How are you working on them?

Look for self-awareness, a willingness to take advice, and eagerness to learn.

Testing Soft Skills

When you’re looking for an SQL developer, it’s not just about how well they know their tech stuff. You also want to see if they have the soft skills to work well with others, solve problems, and adapt to new situations. Soft skills help them talk clearly, work as part of a team, and handle unexpected challenges.

Here are some simple questions to figure out if they have these important soft skills:

Communication Skills
  • How do you make complex database stuff easy to understand for people who aren’t tech experts? Can you share an example?
  • Can you tell me about a time you had to share bad news about a database problem? How did you make sure to be clear but also sensitive?
Relationship Building
  • How do you find out what different teams need from the databases you look after?
  • Can you talk about a time when you had to get different teams to agree on what’s important for a database? How did you make sure everyone was on the same page?
Time Management
  • How do you keep track of what you need to do, especially when you’re working with lots of databases?
  • Have you ever been behind on a big database project, like moving data from one place to another? What steps did you take to catch up?
  • Tell me about a time when what you needed to do for a database changed unexpectedly. How did you handle it?
  • Have you had to learn a new database technology quickly for a project? How did you get up to speed?
Problem Solving
  • Share an example of a tough database problem you solved. How did you figure out what was wrong?
  • Can you talk about a time you came up with a clever way to use a database to solve a tricky business issue?

Asking about soft skills like these helps you get a full picture of what an SQL developer can do. It’s not just about their technical skills. You also want to see how they react to challenges, manage their time, and work with others. This gives you a better idea of how they’ll fit into your team.

Conducting Assessments

Coding Tests

Coding tests help you see if SQL developers really know their stuff and how they solve problems. Here’s how to make these tests good:

  • Use real-life examples: Make your tests about things like looking at sales data, making reports, or moving data around. This helps you see how they’d do in a real job.
  • Check important skills: Make sure the tests cover key things like putting data together from different places, speeding up slow searches, and following the best ways to work with databases. You want to see that they really understand SQL, not just the basics.
  • Use an online platform: Tools like HackerRank let you set up SQL challenges easily and see how candidates think as they code. This saves you the trouble of setting things up yourself.
  • Grade automatically: These online tools can also check the tests for you, looking at things like if the answer is right, if they used good practices, and if the code runs fast. This makes it easier to compare how different people did.
  • Have them explain their code: Besides just writing code, ask them to talk through how they did it. This shows you they really get it.
  • Time the tests: Giving a time limit makes the test more like real life, where they have to work fast. But be fair with the time you give, especially for harder tests.
Real-World Projects

Real-world projects show you how developers use SQL in actual job tasks:

  • Data migration: Give them data and ask them to organize it for a new database. This tests how they keep data accurate.
  • Dashboard creation: Provide data and a business scenario, and have them make a dashboard that shows important info. This checks their analysis skills.
  • Report generation: Give them a report to make and a database, and see how they write the queries needed. This tests their query skills.
  • Data pipeline coding: Give them some data sets and ask them to put them together into a process that handles errors. This checks their automation skills.

Using project tests like these is great because they’re just like the work SQL developers do. You get to see how they think, the quality of their code, how they analyze things, and if they can meet project requirements. The downside is these tests take more time than simpler coding tests. Mixing both types of tests gives you a full picture of what someone can do.

Identifying Red Flags

When you’re talking to someone who wants to be your next SQL developer, watch out for certain things they say or do that might signal a problem. Paying attention to these warning signs can help you spot issues early on.

Gaps in Core Knowledge
  • Can’t explain basic database ideas like how to organize data, why speed matters, or how pieces of data relate to each other.
  • Confused about the difference between common database types like SQL and NoSQL.
  • Has trouble with simple SQL tasks like linking data from different places or using basic commands.
Disorganization and Messy Code
  • Their code samples are hard to read and messy.
  • Doesn’t make notes in their code or explain how their databases work.
  • Finds it hard to walk you through complex code they claim to have written.
Overconfidence or Exaggeration
  • Says they’re an expert in many databases but can’t back it up with deep knowledge.
  • Talks about leading big projects that don’t match up with their level of experience.
  • Becomes defensive or annoyed when you ask them to go into detail about technical stuff.
Poor Communication Skills
  • Uses too much tech talk when trying to explain things.
  • Can’t make complicated topics easy to understand.
  • Answers questions in a way that’s too broad or unclear.
Lack of Interest or Passion
  • Doesn’t seem curious about learning new things or following the latest in database technology.
  • Only does database work because it’s part of the job, not out of interest.
  • Can’t really say what they want to do next in their career.
Rigidity and Resistance to Change
  • Prefers old methods and is skeptical about new technologies.
  • Doesn’t want to learn new skills or try different ways of doing things.
  • Doesn’t adjust well when the company’s needs or goals change.

Keeping an eye out for these red flags during your interviews can help you avoid hiring someone who might not be a good fit or could cause problems later. Noticing these signs also gives you a chance to dig deeper into areas where a candidate might be lacking.

Making the Hiring Decision

After interviewing and testing your SQL developer candidates, it’s time to decide who’s the best fit for the job. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you make that decision:

Review and Compare Assessment Results
  • Go back and look at the notes and scores from the tests and other evaluations. Make a simple chart to compare how each candidate did in areas like:
    • Their technical knowledge and skills
    • How clean and organized their code is
    • Their ability to communicate and work with others
  • Point out the best parts for each candidate, like any smart solutions or really good explanations they gave
  • Also, keep an eye out for any big concerns or areas where they might not be as strong
Weigh Interview Responses
  • Look over your notes from the interviews again
  • Highlight key points that show what each person is good at and where they might struggle
  • Create another chart to compare how well they communicate, think through problems, fit in with the team, and how excited they are about the work
  • Check if they really know their stuff, can explain things clearly, and have a good approach to solving problems
Check References
  • Call up the references they gave and ask specific questions about:
    • Their technical strengths and areas for improvement
    • How they get along with teammates
    • Their dedication, reliability, and how they handle tough situations
  • Make sure what they said on their resume is true
  • Find out anything new that might help you decide if they’re a good fit
Identify Top Choice
  • Put all the information you’ve gathered together and go over it one more time
  • List the good and not-so-good points for the candidates you’re still considering
  • Pick the one who best matches what you’re looking for in terms of skills
  • Make sure they’ll get along with the team and share your company’s values
  • Check that their goals line up with what your department is trying to do

By carefully going through all the information from the hiring process, you can see who matches up best with what you need in terms of technical skills, ability to work with others, clear communication, taking feedback well, and solving problems. If you need to, talk it over with your team. Then, pick the person who ticks all the boxes. This way, you can be sure you’re making a smart choice.


When you’re looking to hire an SQL developer, it’s important to do your homework, ask the right questions, and really look at what they can do. This effort pays off by finding someone who’s not just good with databases but also fits well with your team.

Here are the main points to remember:

  • Know what you’re looking for – Be clear on the technical skills, job duties, and personal qualities that are important for the role.
  • Ask the right questions – Prepare questions that test their SQL skills in depth and ask about how they work day-to-day.
  • Give them a test – Use online challenges and project tasks to see their skills in action.
  • It’s not all about coding – Check how they communicate, manage their time, solve problems, and other important soft skills.
  • Be on the lookout for warning signs – A lack of basic knowledge, messy work, too much confidence, not wanting to learn, or not fitting in with the team are red flags.
  • Check references carefully – Make sure what they’ve told you matches up with what others say about them.
  • Compare and contrast – Look at all the information you’ve gathered to decide who’s the best fit.

By taking a careful and detailed approach to interviewing, you can confidently pick an SQL developer who’s ready to contribute to your success. Putting in the time to evaluate what really matters helps you find the right person for your team.

Related Questions

How to prepare for SQL Developer interview?

Getting ready for an SQL Developer interview means making sure you’re sharp on important SQL topics like:

  • The different types of SQL commands (DDL, DML, DCL, TCL) for managing databases
  • How to use joins to connect data from more than one table
  • Indexes to make finding data faster
  • Transactions to group SQL commands together

You should also practice writing SQL statements and queries to show off your skills. Look over typical interview questions and think of examples from your own work that show you know how to tackle real SQL development tasks.

How do you test SQL knowledge in an interview?

To check someone’s SQL knowledge in an interview, you can:

  • Ask about basic database concepts
  • Test understanding of different SQL commands
  • Give a database layout and ask for simple SELECT queries to be written
  • Use online platforms to see how well they code in SQL
  • Talk about their past projects involving SQL

Start with simple questions and then move to more complex tasks.

How do I prepare for a database developer interview?

To get ready for a database developer interview:

  • Gather examples of your work that highlight your database skills
  • Learn about the company’s database systems
  • Practice SQL exercises and coding challenges
  • Review database concepts like normalization and indexing
  • Be prepared to talk about your experience with different database systems (MySQL, Oracle, etc.)
  • Think about your past work on databases and be ready to discuss it

Practicing and being ready for technical questions is crucial.

How do you explain SQL in an interview?

SQL is a special language used for working with databases. It lets you do things like:

  • SELECT to find records that match certain conditions
  • INSERT to add new records
  • UPDATE to change existing records
  • DELETE to remove records

SQL is a standard way for programs and people to work with database data. It’s important for jobs that involve databases, like database developers and data analysts.

Talk about what SQL does and how it helps you manage and use data in databases. Give simple examples to explain the main ideas.

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Cam Velasco

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