How to prepare for your Data Science Interview

27th March 2019


Portrait of a business team At A MeetingIt is exciting to be selected to interview for a new job in data science.  What will the team be like, what kinds of projects you would work on and how about a raise!?  It can also be a stressful time. By the time you are being interviewed you have already invested in the process, but what if you blow it all in the first five minutes?

If this sounds familiar you are not alone.  A data science interview, especially a panel interview, can feel a lot like public speaking and we all know how much of a fear that is for many people. Being nervous before an interview is totally normal.  Here are a few things you can do before the interview to help combat those pesky little butterflies that appear in your stomach as you sit in the reception area.

Before you go to the in-person data science interview there are a few things you should do to maximize your chance of a positive outcome.  The very first thing to do is to review the skills listed on the job requirement. Look for the skills listed at the top or listed multiple times.  These are the skills that are the most important for the job. I recommend using the STAR method to prepare examples of how you have used these skills in the past.

star method

If you are not familiar with the acronym STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.  Then next, detail the challenge you were faced with. The STAR method states that the first thing you need to remember and relate is the Situation.  Next, tell the interviewer what was the Task you were given. Explain what Action you took, so what did you do? What was your part of the project? Finally, tell the interviewer what the Result was. Did you finish the project ahead of schedule or under budget? Were you or your team nominated for a performance-based award? Remember, especially in an interview, it isn’t bragging if it is the truth. It seems obvious to not try to exenterate your contribution but it is just as big of a mistake to downplay or not mention your accomplishments.

I suggest going over your responses with another person. It helps to hear your story in your own voice. It is almost like building muscle memory for the interview. When the interviewer asks you for the question you don’t need to stop and think about an answer you are ready. This is one of the most important clues that hiring managers look for in an interview.  One of the major deciding factors in getting an offer is if the person who might be offering you a job thinks you are prepared. After all, if you aren’t prepared for an interview what are the odds you are going to be prepared on your ninth day of work?  

In addition to going over your responses, it is important for you to do your homework about the company.  Visit their website. Look at their social media and be prepared to comment on what you saw. This is one easy way to let the hiring manager know you are prepared and genuinely interested.

So let’s say during the data science interview you decide you aren’t interested, what should you do then?  I would say keep doing the best you can. Maybe the people you are meeting with aren’t doing the best job of describing the work or maybe they have just had a major change.  In any case, it is better for you to have an offer and not need it than to need an offer and not have it. Always go for the offer in the interview.

As you get to the end of the interview you are going to be asked if you have any questions.  The answer is always yes. A fair question to ask the interviewer is, “why did you come here and why do you stay?” If you did your homework and saw something you didn’t get a chance to ask about during the course of the interview use this as your chance to ask.  You can say something like, “I was reading your Facebook page or your website, and I saw something I wanted to ask about.”

This is a way for you to tell your interviewer that you are in fact prepared and interested.  You should always have at least two questions before the end of the interview. With your last question, you should always ask for the job or at least for the next steps. It may seem aggressive but even in a very challenging candidate-centric job market, managers are not simply going to hire someone because they met with them. Most hiring managers are willing to go months and interview many people and not fill a job if they feel they haven’t met the correct person.  So don’t let a hot job market take you off of your game.

Finally, after the interview, it is always positive to send a follow-up thank you note.  If you didn’t manage to get the email addresses of the people you met with send a note to the recruiter and ask them to send it on.  If the interviewer has already decided that they aren’t going to hire you then a thank you note will not change that. However, if the manager was on the fence and they get a note from you, thanking them for their time and refreshing their memory about what you can do, you may be able to push someone off the fence and into your favor.

So the next time you are in a lobby and your heart starts to beat a little faster, relax.  You are prepared and ready. There are no guarantees in life but you’ve done all you can to stack the odds in your favor as much as you can.  Remember, you made it this far because they believe that you are a person who has the skills to do the job. They want to find out what you can do.  With that, I wish you Good Luck!

Read also: What Is More Important? A Degree in Tech or Experience?

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Mike Wolford

A published author and experienced recruiter. With over 10 years of experience in the industry, Mike published “Becoming the Silver Bullet: Recruiting Strategies for connecting with Top Talent” and “How to Find and Land your Dream Job: Insider.

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