Interviews, HR and hiring data scientists


What makes a great data scientist? It's an interesting question and, to be sure, an increasingly important one now that that we've entered the era of Big Data.

On his blog, Andrew Dempsey lists three high-level skills:

  • Math – They know some blend of statistics, data mining and machine learning
  • Code – They can do the above through programming, widget based software or a combination
  • Communicate – They can effectively communicate their findings and recommendations

So, how do you find these people? And how do you know when one is right in front of you?

Are these people actually good?

As someone who knows a thing or two about HR, let me chime in. For a long time now, traditional interviews have been terrible predictors of ultimate success on the job. I've seen first-hand how people who looked so good on paper did very poorly in their new positions.

The hiring problem is particularly acute with respect to Big Data and data science because the terms are so poorly understood, especially by HR folks who (as a general rule) aren't terribly skilled at analyzing data. I'd argue that many hiring managers are the least equipped to understand the true skills and abilities of the very people before them.

Of course, there are exceptions to that broad statement. And, lest I overstate things, HR rarely makes these types of hiring decisions sans consulting line employees with whom the prospective new hire will be working.

Simon Says

Rare is the recruiter who understands that hiring the right Big Data people is not about checking boxes on a checklist. Yes, for data scientists, technical skills really do matter. However, finding adroit data scientists requires more than knowing how to code in R. As I write in Too Big to Ignore, it's more about a state of mind, a natural curiosity to solve problems and ask questions.


How do you find your data scientists?


About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

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