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Common Technical Interview Questions for a SQL/BI Professional Position

Because BI is such a wide and diverse area, its not only possible but likely that someone might be asked
to demonstrate knowledge in many different areas. But before I even get to the actual items, here are
some other issues to be aware of:

First, please, REVIEW all prior labs we did in class, review your projects and how you put them together,
and review any videos. For the SQL and MDX classes, review the code samples we covered all of them
relate to topics that you might be tested on. Also, go back and review your tests, as some test
questions are based on technical interview questions. I cannot stress these points enough.

Second, when I say demonstrate knowledge, Im not just talking about a short answer: Ive been on
both sides of the interview table, and I know that a candidate may be asked to demonstrate a concept
on a whiteboard. For instance, the interviewer might describe a specific scenario that calls for a type 2
Slowly Changing Dimension, and ask the candidate to map out a solution. The interviewer is evaluating
several things: the candidates thought process (including whether the candidate recognizes the
situation to begin with) and how the candidate goes about describing a possible solution.

If youre on-site, you might be asked to create a brief sample. This is to make sure you can play the
piano in addition to stating where the piano keys are located. You might be asked to create a simple
report, or create a basic SSIS package, or write a T-SQL code sample, with the person watching. Yes, it
can be unnerving, but the more youre prepared for it, the better your chances. I know of situations
where someone needed to demonstrate transaction isolation levels by opening up two query windows
and simulating a locking scenario with a User A and User B situation. And even if youre not asked
to do that, the preparation might still help in other areas.

Third, take these types of questions as an opportunity to showcase your experiences. Youre
auditioning - youre on center stage and you want them to feel comfortable with your ability to
communicate an answer/solution. Dont hesitate to cleverly pull in relevant details from other things
youve built and dont be shy about giving them too much relevant information. If the interviewer
feels youve nailed the question, he/she will simply stop you and say something like , Ok, fine.good,
next question

Fourth, and very important, try to be aware of the technical knowledge of the person interviewing you.
This might seem strange to say wont the person doing the technical interviewing be a technical
person themselves? Not necessarily! In some cases, when a company is using a recruiter, the technical
team will give a recruiter a list of questions to ask a candidate. This is done to avoid wasting a technical
managers time but it also means that a non-technical person is asking technical questions, and
therefore probably wont be able to interpret an answer. In this process, the recruiter is given a list of
questions and stock answers: this means you could provide an acceptable response that isnt exactly
the way the expected answer is written.

This is a tricky situationand while it might seem like an unfair situation, it is what it is. So you have to
really think about each question posed to you and how a generic answer might have been prepared.
Yes, it does sound like you have to read the mind of someone. Im not saying all technical interviews
are like this but in some cases, this can happen. If youre in this spot and youve given an answer that
you know is acceptable, but the recruiter reacts differently, see if you can quickly adjust.

Finally, before going into the specifics of each technology a final word to prepare everyone. For the
technologies youre interviewing for, make sure youre able to quote each major piece of functionality in
the tools, and what they do. For instance, the question might be, name the options (horizontal tabs)
from left to right in the SSAS cube editor, and what they do. So the answer would be cube structure
(and what it does), dimension usage, calculations, KPIs, Actions, Partitions, etc. Now imagine that same
question for the dimension editor.or in SSIS, for the control flow, etc. The interviewer might or might
not expect you to get EVERY one but someone who struggles immediately will not have good odds of
succeeding.

Some will remember that Ive often used the analogy that the BI MP is like Medical school. Well,
imagine a medical exam that asks you to name the bones and muscles in the leg and what they do.
Same concept!!!

OK, here are the categories and specific topics/questions you should prepare for (starting on the next
page). Ive listed ones that Ive seen, that friends/colleagues of mine have seen, that former students
have told me about, and ones that Ive read. That doesnt mean there arent other questions out there
you could Google on SSIS Interview questions and find some that are also on my list and some that
arent.
SQL Server 2005 /2008
o General database concepts and general SQL technology questions
What is a clustered index and why would you need one?
What is a primary key
What is an identity key
What is a UniqueIdentifier (and the differences between a GUID and an identity
key)
Why might you split a database into partitions and filegroups
What is a foreign key and how you do you create foreign key constraints
Whats the difference between a Char(50) and a Varchar(50)
Describe the common SQL Server 2005 Data Types ["what's the difference between
a smallint and int, or between a bigint and tinyint"]
Execution Plans
How do you view an execution plan
Name some tasks/items you might see in an execution plan (index seek,
index scan, Bookmark Lookup, etc.) and which ones are more efficient than
others
What steps might you take to optimize a query?
o SQL Server Agent (you can use agent to schedule packages, execute reports, or even run
different SQL jobs on a schedule)
o T-SQL questions
Basic T-SQL syntax:
Write a basic query to join two tables by a common key
Write a query to show all the customers in a customer table that dont have
an order in the orders table (where the orders table contains a customer
key)
Write a query that shows all the customers in a customer table who have
more than five orders in an order table.
More advanced questions on SQL/T-SQL (these often separate a true DB
professional from a non-professional)
Update/Insert Triggers (describe what do they do, what are the system
tables that are exposed during a trigger) [INSERTED/DELETED])
KNOW THE MERGE STATEMENT, INSIDE AND OUT!!! Ive
had people come back and tell me they really tripped on
this one
The different transaction isolation levels
o Read uncommitted, read committed [default], repeatable read,
serializable, and snapshot [new to 2005]).the differences between
tem, why youd use one, etc.
In some cases, you might be asked to write a code sample
with the classic User A, User B scenario
o Transactions (begin trans, rollback, etc.)
Related to that, they may ask about how you handle errors and exceptions
in T-SQL code (try.catch)
Know the difference between HAVING and WHERE
Know the differences between DELETE and TRUNCATE
In general, go back and study all the T-SQL notes from the first week!
SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services)
o Name 5 control flows tasks, and 5 data flow tasks, and what they do
o Be prepared to list the major functions in BIDS for a package (control flow, data flow, event
handler tabs..configurations..variablespackage logging) so remember all the major
BIDS options
o Whats the difference between precedence constraints on a CFT and a pipeline connector in
the DFT?
o Describe the different ways you can configure a precedence constraint between two tasks in
a control flow
o How would you go about adding data from other database (e.g. Oracle, DB2, etc.) into a
SQL Server database?
o What are some different examples of file sources in SSIS (flat flat, OLE DB source, Excel,
XML)
o How do you handle instances in a package where you dont know certain pieces of
information until runtime? (like an email server, a database server, a folder, etc)
o Write a simple SSIS script to accumulate variables
o What are the differences between synchronous data flow tasks and asynchronous data flow
tasks
o What are the names of the system variables used to configure a fuzzy lookup/fuzzy grouping
(confidence, similarity, threshold)
o How do you deploy SSIS packages, and what are the package deployment destination
options
o How do you configure SSIS packages
o Name the different ways you can define error handling in SSIS packages (both in the control
flow and data flow)
o The difference between type 1 and type 2 SCD (slow changing dimensions)
o When you deploy SSIS packages, what is the system database thats used (MSDB)
o Whats the name of the CFT that allows you to create a loop construct (foreach loop
container)
o How do you specify transaction support and transaction isolation level in SSIS?
o How do you call stored procedures with parameters inside SSIS?
o Describe a good use for the Multicast Data Flow task
o Some scenarios:
Suppose you have a set of account managers. You need to send an email that
summarizes orders for each account manager, for all orders placed since the last
run. Describe the tasks youd use in SSIS to accomplish that

o Things to review....the Appdev book, and the SSIS videos


o Here are some good links with content on interview questions (some of these are part of
public forum discussions, and so certain sections are a bit chatty, but theres still some
very good information in each link)
http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en/sqlintegrationservices/thread/b2ede4
56-ce40-4978-ba86-0b42270da875
http://www.sqlservercentral.com/Forums/Topic394152-148-1.aspx
http://msbiravindranathreddy.blogspot.com/2008/11/ssis-questions-and-
answers.html
http://www.dotnetspider.com/forum/158771-Sql-Server-Integration-services-
Interview-questions.aspx
http://www.techinterviews.com/ms-sql-server-interview-questions (a bit dated,
but still good)
http://ambals.blogspot.com/2009/06/sql-server-interview-questions-part-1.html (I
debated on this one, because some of the questions are extremely basic..but this
site is broken up into multiple pages, and there is some decent information)
http://www.sqlservercentral.com/Forums/Topic394152-148-1.aspx (this page is
kind of chatty, but theres a post by someone in the middle of the page that is
excellentit covers both SSIS and SSRS questions.Ive included the same link below
in the SSRS section
SSAS
o They will ask you to describe a cube and a set of dimensions that youve created in the past
o What are some of the dimension and fact table processing options (for full and incremental
updates)
o Just like with BIDS and SSIS, be able to verbally list all of the tabs in the cube and dimension
editors
o Know the difference between attribute relationships and hierarchies, and what theyre for
o Many interviewers want to make sure that you know how to do more than simply use the
cube wizard to create cubes - here are some areas where they want to know that youve
done some amount of work modifying/tweaking the cube afterwards
Tweaking Dimension usage (if some measure groups arent available for some
dimensions)
NULL HANDLING
Overriding of the default AGGREGATION
Modifying dimensions
Created hierarchies and attribute relationships
Setting attribute properties (like Keycolumns, NameColumn, etc.)
o Whats the difference between a ROLE and a PERSPECTIVE (you want to be very clear on the
distinction)
o Know the (BIG) difference between a security role and role-playing dimension (these two
have nothing to do with each other, but sometimes people confuse them)
o The difference between a star and snowflake dimension, and the benefits/advantages
o You may get asked a question about drill-through techniques and report actions (what
types of actions are available)
o Storage modes: MOLAP/HOLAP/ROLAP (data persistence/storage models)
o You very well might get asked MDX questions
They might ask questions where the answer is going to be a specific MDX statement
and maybe a little bit about the usage
You be asked to write a MDX snippet, or (more likely) to read four different MDX
examples and indicate which one is correct
Be prepared to talk about MDX code to do things like calculating a 52-week moving
average, a % of Parent, or same time a year ago
o KPIs:
Describe some business examples of KPIs
What are the possible output(display) values for a KPI
How would you write a KPI to show how a measure is trending, compared to the
same time a year ago
o Here are two VERY GOOD links on SSAS/MDX questions:
http://www.ssas-info.com/analysis-services-implementations/69-experience/1352-
dave-rodabaughs-analysis-services-interview-questions
http://www.datawarehousingguide.com/content/view/122/60/
SSRS

o Deployment (almost guaranteed) different types of deployments (native SSRS mode


versus SharePoint mode)
o If a user gets an error running a report in a browser, where would you go to view the log?
o Implementing Drill-down (#1, you set the hidden and visible props, and you start at the
lowest level, and work your way up, one level shy of the top level)
o Name the different report object (table, matrix, textbox), and different chart types that are
available
o Remember all the major functionality options in a group (creating a document map,
subtotals, page break behavior, etc.)
o If the organization is migrating from Crystal Reports to SSRS, they might ask about options
that are in one, but not the other
o Different ways to read data (OLAP and relational sources)
o Report Parameters
Describe a situation where you would use a hidden parameter?
When does SSRS automatically generate report parameters
o How to handle dynamic images
o Know the major charts in SSRS, and some of the charting limitations
o Whats the difference between a table and a matrix
o Major enhancements from 2005 to 2008 to 2008r2
o Management of shared data sources
o Remember that you can potentially use the URL string of a report to run the report for
certain parameters or certain default output export formats
o How do you build a report when you have multiple levels of detail? [subreports]
o Report expression (theyll give you 4 report expressions, you pick the one thats correct)
o Functionality in the Report Manager
Subscriptions and data driven subscriptons
Snapshots
Report history
Redefining data source credentials for running reports unattended (what
specifically must to be done to report data sources)
o Here are some good links with additional topics:
http://sqlserversolutions.blogspot.com/2011/06/ssrs-interview-questions.html
http://www.sqlservercentral.com/Forums/Topic394152-148-1.aspx (this page is
kind of chatty, but theres a post by someone in the middle of the page that is
excellentit covers both SSIS and SSRS questions.Ive included the same link above
in the SSIS section