Advice for a data science interview

The interview room is the final and often most nerve-wracking stage of the interview process, especially in a highly competitive industry like data science. Adequately preparing yourself can pacify nerves and restore a veneer of calm professional confidence. Below is a basic checklist, some questions to ask and advice on how to close an interview - all from our experienced team of data science consultants:

Company Information - Print off information from their official website(s) and collect notes on the company through your recruiter, reviews, news items and Google searches.

Job Specifications – Go over the job description and additional information supplied by your recruiter and highlight points to raise in the interview.

Package – Memorise the basic salary and additional benefits in case the employer wants to discuss them with you.

Logistics – There is nothing worse than preparing for the interview room to then not get there in time. Work out directions in advance and, if it’s complicated, print off a map and/or public transport timetable.

Recruitment Process – Be informed of your interview format: Who you are going to meet with, what you might have to do and for how long.

Interviewers – Perform background searches on the interviewers. Look at their LinkedIn profile for mutual contacts that could vouch for your experience. Google them for blogs and industrial publication references.

Hand Outs – Take a copy of your CV and pre-written references and/or an example of your work if applicable. This helps the interviewer gauge your level of experience.

Note Taking – Bring a pad of A4 paper and a pen. Record at least two points of interest to raise when asking questions or to revisit at a second-stage interview. If you feel uncomfortable actively taking notes don’t hesitate to ask the potential employer; “Is it okay if I make notes?”

Questions to ask

We advise asking a minimum of 2 questions during the interview, ideally at an allotted point at the end or, if absolutely necessary, during a natural pause. Prepare 6-10 questions in your notes and remember if the interviewer has pre-empted any of your queries. Then, if you feel it necessary, you can precede your question with a structured response. We recommend a variation on the following:

“I actually had several but you’ve answered most of them, I do however have some specific questions written down in my preparation notes. Do you mind if I refer to them?”

Relate your questions about long-term opportunities within the role, e.g. what the interviewer most enjoys about working there or why the interviewer joined the company. Avoid questions about working hours, breaks, holidays and other topics that don’t demonstrate 100% commitment to the company and focus on prepared questions instead. For example:

  • What are the company's future plans?
  • What is the likely career development pathway in the next few years?
  • What possible training could I receive in this role?
  • How would you describe the culture of this company?
  • What reservations do you have regarding my suitability?

This last question is crucial for identifying any assumptions or concerns the interviewer has about you. It is best to address these issues sooner than to let them become the reason you are rejected or not invited back. It is equally important to prepare for questions the interviewer might ask you. There are several standard questions to prepare for:

  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • Why are you interested in this particular job?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why did you first choose your profession?
  • Describe your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What do you like/dislike about your current position?
  • Why are you looking for a new role?
  • What is your greatest achievement to date?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • How would friends or colleagues describe you?
  • What are your future aspirations?
  • What can you bring to our team/company?

Focus on your achievements when responding to questions, frame every response positively and avoid talking too much by considering the answer to the question before replying. Try to form your answer using the following IPAR structure:

Give an introduction that summarises your achievement in a single sentence e.g. “I recently introduced a new system which reduced the time it takes to resolve customer complaints from 4 days to 4 hours."

Detail the problem in no more than two sentences but give enough information to grant the interviewer an understanding of the challenge you faced. Though not essential, try and include how you identified the problem and initiated action.

Describe the action you took by outlining the steps you followed, this gives the interviewer a clear image of the part you played.

The last part is the most important. The result quantifies the success of your action. Where possible, state numbers that reflect the magnitude of your accomplishment, mention positive feedback and explain why the lessons you learnt are transferable to the interviewer’s vacancy. If you are asked a question you do not understand, do not guess the answer. Ask them to elaborate or reword it. If you are still unsure, admit that you do not know the answer and explain how you might go about finding one.

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Closing the interview

The interviewer may wish to discuss salary, in which case you should give the interviewer a response along the following lines:

“Of course I am looking to fulfil my earning potential but I would prefer to find out more before committing myself to a figure, perhaps we can discuss this through the recruiter.”

If pushed, describe the package and level of salary you currently receive. The danger of negotiating salary is that it can make the parties less attracted to one another. Likewise, if a candidate is too confident or eager, they may respectively price themselves out of the process or offer their service too cheaply.

Finally, before leaving the interview, inform your potential employer that you are interested in the opportunity and that, if the interest is mutual, you would like to pursue the role to the next/final stage of selection.

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