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What NOT to Do During Your Next Data Science & Analytics Interview

June 12, 2023

When it comes to interviews, there is an abundance of advice available on what one should do to succeed. However, it is surprisingly easy to mishandle a couple of small nuances that then derail your interview process. Achieving success in an interview encompasses more than just thorough research on the company and arriving well-prepared with thoughtful responses and questions. It requires careful consideration of potential challenging questions that may arise, determining which career highlights to emphasize, and identifying topics to avoid or only briefly touch upon. By preparing adequately, candidates can enhance their chances of making a lasting impression and effectively convey their qualifications and suitability for the position.

Do NOT be Unintentional

During an interview, it is essential to have a compelling and well-crafted story explaining the motivations behind your career transition, even if you have faced challenges such as being laid off or fired. Saying you’re looking because you want to get today’s hottest methodology on your resume, or because your friends switched jobs, or just because “why not?” undermines your credibility and makes you appear hasty and unintentional in your decision-making. This will lead the employer to wonder if they can count on you to stick around if they hire you or if you’ll leave on a whim a short time down the road.

Instead, be prepared to discuss your journey with sincerity and introspection. Delve into the specific circumstances that led to your decision to interview, highlighting how your past experiences have shaped your professional goals and aspirations and helped you realize what you want to do next. Be sure to provide specific examples of the types of data science projects you’ve worked on and what impact they had. By presenting a well-articulated narrative, you not only show your commitment to self-improvement but also exhibit the thoughtfulness and self-awareness necessary to contribute effectively to a new organization.

Do NOT Oversell Yourself

Addressing questions about past failures or personal flaws in an interview can be uncomfortable, but it's crucial to respond in a way that showcases self-awareness and a willingness to learn and grow. The key is to strike a balance between honesty and presenting yourself in a positive light. One common pitfall to avoid is offering a response that sounds evasive or overly boastful. For instance, claiming your biggest flaw is that you win so frequently that it may hinder your ability to handle failure comes across as insincere and arrogant. Claiming that you’re so good with so many methodologies that you can have trouble focusing doesn’t impress either. It is important to acknowledge genuine areas for improvement without resorting to unrealistic extremes.

Similarly, if you mention a challenge such as constantly getting distracted with helping others succeed because you are by far the strongest programmer on the team, it portrays an arrogant, self-centered attitude. Instead, focus on identifying a genuine flaw or challenge, discuss the steps you have taken to address it, and highlight the lessons learned from those experiences. This approach demonstrates humility, self-reflection, and a commitment to personal and professional growth, leaving a positive impression on the interviewer.

Do NOT Badmouth a Past Employer

When discussing past work experiences during an interview, it is crucial to exercise caution when addressing a particularly challenging situation involving a nightmare boss or an unethical company that was analyzing data in ways that were questionable. While it may be tempting to vent frustrations or place blame, it is important to avoid delving into the specifics. Lacking a clear understanding of the circumstances, the interviewer will struggle to determine whether you were really the problem, if the company itself was, or if it was a combination of both. That doubt won’t make them eager to take the risk of hiring you.

Instead, it is advisable to focus on the positive aspects and lessons learned from your experience. If enough time has passed, you can use a past negative experience as an example of how you have grown and overcome challenges. However, when discussing a recent negative experience, it is best to refrain from being overly open about the situation. Such negative commentary is often interpreted as reflecting poorly on your character and will raise concerns about your ability to handle workplace conflicts diplomatically. Instead, emphasize the qualities and cultural environment you are seeking in a new position, as well as why you are excited by the types of data and data science problems that the company is pursuing.

Guarantee Your Interview Success

Interviews for data science and analytics roles are crucial moments that can make or break your chances of securing a position in this highly competitive field. In addition to focusing on what you should do, it is also vital to understand what not to do during these interviews. This approach will significantly increase your chances of success. By being authentic, well-prepared, and mindful while avoiding some common mistakes, you can present yourself as a strong candidate and showcase your true potential.

This post was developed with input from Bill Franks, internationally recognized thought leader, speaker, and author focused on data science & analytics.