The Pencil question – Great interview question

11 February,2014 by Tom Collins

Interviews can be ineffective in assessing DBA skills. But they are a necessary evil , which some interviewers use to pose creative questions. The Pencil question is a regular for some interviewers.

Interviewer: You get a call from someone at 4:30 pm on Friday who says “My pencil just broke, I have a deadline and cannot complete the deadline without my pencil”

How would you respond?

Interviewees usually respond by

a)     “Go to the stationery cupboard!”

b)    “I thought people stopped using pencils 20 years ago?”

c)     “Do you realise you’re calling the IT department?– the question is ridiculous”

d)    “What part of the pencil broke? What is the material composition of the pencil?”


Depending on the response , you can get an idea of the candidates approach to troubleshooting .

If they respond with :

a)     You’re dealing with someone who avoids problems not to do with the job

b)    Patronizing and dismissive

c)    Doesn’t handle stress or pressure

d)    Enjoys troubleshooting and has a good attitude towards solving  problems


As the sole  interview question – it isn’t job specific . As part of an interview process with the full range of technical , experience and communication questions, then it’s an interesting question.  

Maybe I’m biased – as I believe that no DBA knows everything – but any DBA who focused on developing troubleshooting methods has good potential


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Author: Tom Collins (


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