Data science gurus: Land your next job with tips from 7 tech companies

by Justine Hofherr
June 12, 2017

From healthtech to retail, companies across all major industries need the help of data scientists for strategic planning and everyday decisions. If you’re a data guru looking to advance your career at one of Boston’s fast-growing tech companies, it’s advantageous to know what recruiters are looking for. Here’s the input we got from seven startups looking for folks like you.

 

bookbub

BookBub helps millions of readers find deals on e-books while providing publishers and authors a platform to drive sales and find new fans.

Responses via Daniel Smith, VP of Marketing

What are the top qualities you look for in data/analytics candidates? Why are they important to you?

Of course, we look for strong quantitative and analytical skills. But beyond the basics, we also look for: Intellectual curiosity — we believe it's really important to look for people who are always interested in digging and finding out more. Often the first answer you get when doing an analysis doesn’t show the complete picture, and digging deeper is necessary to find the whole truth. Proactivity — we want people who won't just wait around for instructions, but instead naturally look for problems to solve and things to make better. Structured thinking and communication — analyses are often tangled and messy. Being able to take a step back, put some context around a problem, and then attack it in a structured way is key in finding answers. In addition, being able to talk through a complicated analysis in a simple and clear way ensures that even non-technical people can understand the takeaway.

How can data/analytics candidates stand out when applying with you?

There are some candidates who have great quant/technical skills, but they're not able to step back and think about a strategic problem at a high level or communicate their thoughts in a clear way. There are other candidates who communicate well but aren't comfortable working with data on a nitty-gritty level. The candidates that stand out to us have both of these covered.

What's something candidates seem to think you care about, but actually isn't that important?

Candidates often think that having deep experience with things like SQL and Python is necessary. Of course it's a plus to have both these skills, but it's not a prerequisite. The more important thing is the willingness and aptitude to learn these tools and other skills necessary to be a good analyst.

 

docent

Docent Health gives healthcare teams a central platform for real-time patient and experience information. This helps further understanding between patients and clinicians and helps optimize workflow.

Responses via Bailee Walker, Technical Talent Lead

What are the top qualities you look for in data/analytics candidates? Why are they important to you?

First, we look for candidates who are technically/analytically experienced. We believe it’s important for candidates to have a basic understanding of the technologies in the space but, to an extent, certain technologies have enough overlap that we are not too stringent with a specific platform, more a conceptual understanding of big data tools/languages, etc. Second, while having the technical wherewithal is important to us in hiring for a data or analytics role, we find it equally, sometimes more, important to have an unwavering curiosity and desire to tell stories with the data. For us, we’re collecting healthcare data that has the potential to enact change for many people and the way they receive care, we have to figure out the best ways to slice and dice, analyze, then organize this data to tell a meaningful and impactful story. Healthcare is a REAL issue in our country for REAL people, we need people that are passionate about analytics that will help health systems do what is best for their patients and their hospitals, in order to provide a more integrated and fundamentally human patient experience.  

How can data/analytics candidates stand out when applying?

Docent Health was founded with the mission of helping health systems and providers make their patients feel beautifully connected to their healthcare journey and our belief is that ALL patients should be treated like high-value customers; we want to hire people that are excited by this! The analytics component of our business has some of the highest potential to make change in the greater healthcare system and we want to hire folks that are technically sound, experienced with the tools we’re using, and excited by the exciting problems we’re trying to solve!

What's something candidates seem to think you care about, but actually isn't that important?

Industry experience. We do NOT require healthcare experience although some people may think this is the case. We are of the mindset that a diverse school of thought is the most innovative and so while we do hire from healthtech, we also love to hire from consumer, cybersecurity, hospitality, you name it!

 

true fit

True Fit is a startup that’s using technology to help clothes and shoes shoppers find the perfect fit online.

Responses via Rhonda Phillips, Senior Scientist

What are the top qualities you look for in data/analytics candidates? Why are they important to you?

To me, the top qualities include general curiosity, enthusiasm and excitement for data and problem solving, plus analytical skills, communication and teamwork skills. Candidates need to demonstrate their drive to learn, and must be willing to do whatever it takes to solve a particular problem. Pairing that drive with analytical skills like math, programming, etc. is important because they’re part of the job as well, but I will admit, it’s almost impossible to know how to do everything at first! (This is why I believe enthusiasm and curiosity are so important.) At True Fit we work closely with other teams outside of data science, so candidates must be able to communicate what we learn to the teams that need to apply our findings. Finally, relevant to True Fit, I like to meet candidates with a general interest in fashion and footwear. While a love of fashion and shopping is great, though not necessary, candidates must have an interest in the problem we’re trying to solve if they want to work here.

How can data/analytics candidates stand out when applying?

There are a couple of things that catch my eye on resumes, but the most important are experience with real data and enthusiasm. If you love what you do, that will show through in all of your communication and may even be contagious.

What's something candidates seem to think you care about, but actually isn't that important?

I find it is best to be clear about experience and expertise and to share why you love your focus areas, rather than try to appear knowledgeable about a wide range of topics. However, candidates can often focus resumes and discussions to reflect experience in something particular — for example machine learning and other specific skills that are so popular in the job market today. Yes, we value machine learning and other specific skills, and do look for candidates with that experience, but we also value general math and analytical expertise.

 

aetion

Founded by Harvard Medical School faculty members and top big data technologists, Aetion is a healthtech company that enables payers and providers to collaborate with biopharmaceutical and medical device companies in real-time to develop therapeutic insights and make smart choices in patient care.

Responses via Marisa Valente, vice president of human resources; Francis Lam, vice president of data science

What are the top qualities you look for in data/analytics candidates?

Sheer intellectual horsepower and intellectual curiosity will bring a candidate a long way. Education in computer science, biostatistics, epidemiology, a hard science and/or math is critical. Then, most critically, having the ability to use statistical methods to tell a compelling story from the data by framing and/or solving a problem.

How can data/analytics candidates stand out when applying?

Most importantly, candidates should be able to describe how they’ve told stories with data in the past. They can demonstrate their creativity in problem solving using data and analytics to inform the framing of, research into and arrival to a solution around a unique and challenging question.

What's something candidates seem to think you care about, but actually isn't that important?

Specific domain experience or expertise with particular tools is non-critical. Since these things differ from role to role and company to company, you simply need to demonstrate the ability to and interest in learning them on the job.

 

affectiva

Affectiva is an MIT Media Lab spin-off that’s pioneering Emotion AI, the next frontier of artificial intelligence. Affectiva’s mission is to bring emotional intelligence to the digital world with emotion recognition technology that senses and analyzes facial expressions and emotion.

Responses via Brett Riccardi, human resources manager

What are the top qualities you look for in data/analytics candidates?

Top qualities I look for in analytics candidate would be depth of knowledge in the projects they have worked on as well as technical expertise. Depth of knowledge isn't something you can check on a checkbox or fill into a form, but rather comes from demonstrating that you fully understood a problem you were given, the strengths and weaknesses of approaches you used and good reasons for why. As important as the methods and analysis you chose is what else was considered or what the next steps would be. It's important because this speaks to the strength and experience of an analyst. New techniques can be learned over time, but knowing how to approach a problem is something that comes from experience.

How can data/analytics candidates stand out when applying?

Resumes that tend to stand out are unfortunately ones that show relevant and related projects and technologies here. If we are looking for an expert in computer vision, then understand that at Affectiva we study emotions and any projects you've done that might be related (image classification, object localization and tracking) to human face will be of interest. Technically, we favor people who have in-depth experience using Python as their main research and programming language.

What's something candidates seem to think you care about, but actually isn't that important?

I'm not sure if this is a misconception, but one thing I see often on people starting to enter the field of data science is that there is a huge breadth of knowledge but very little depth. This might be a side effect of people who are new to the field trying to discover their area of interest, but I'll see resumes with five or six projects, but each one was only one month long. That is a very fast turnaround of results in which there is no time to dig deeper. Being able to hack together ideas from a variety of projects can be useful, but not at the expense of solid depth of knowledge. It's OK to be a jack of all trades, but at the least be a master of one.

 

jobcase

Jobcase technology powers over 100 jobsites, from full service to simple search, arming more than 70 million Americans with a platform to find their next career.

Responses via Jennifer Berk, Director of Data Strategy

What are the top qualities you look for in data/analytics candidates? Why are they important to you?

When talking with data/analytics candidates, I look first for data common sense — for example, choosing how much to clean data, or asking for definitions of unclear names, or knowing when to use a rate or ratio instead of a raw number. We dig into presented data when we're making business decisions at Jobcase, so our colleagues need to make good choices about what to present. Second, and just as important, I look for the ability to communicate about business impact — explaining why this is the right way to look at the data, what decision we should make based on that analysis, and what the results of that decision will be. Jobcase is self-funded, so our colleagues need to constantly triage the highest-impact projects based on revenue, cost, and member engagement, and be able to cooperate to choose (and change!) those priorities.

How can data/analytics candidates stand out when applying?

Convince us you have both technical skills and communication skills, whether from your formal education, teaching yourself and side projects, or past work experience. Tell us which tools you know and what you've done with them — we're not focused on any particular tool when hiring, but we want to understand how you can fit into a team that has varying specialities. It's a bonus if you already understand customer acquisition, email marketing and member engagement metrics, but we'll catch you up pretty quickly if you don't. And of course we'd love for you to join the Jobcase community and help other members....

What's something candidates seem to think you care about, but actually isn't that important?

We have Jobcase candidates complete a data exercise, and sometimes they tell us how a technique or algorithm works as part of their presentation. We're much more interested in why they chose that method (including what its assumptions and limitations are) and what insights they've gained. The best discussions show us how the candidate thinks about a business problem using data, and we always ask lots of questions!

 

punchbowl

Punchbowl is a web-based software platform that provides party planning services, customized digital invitations and greeting cards.

Responses via Ariel Faulkner, Director of Marketing

What are the top qualities you look for in data/analytics candidates? Why are they important to you?

Punchbowl is a data-driven company. We track and analyze every aspect of our business and are fond of saying “We’ll let the numbers decide.” We look for analytics candidates who can see the bigger picture beyond the numbers, are intellectually curious and have excellent communication skills. These qualities are essential because we rely on our analytics team to provide color commentary, not just reports, and help us identify real, meaningful opportunities that will move the needle.

How can data/analytics candidates stand out when applying?

In the recruiting process, the candidates who stand out are the ones who take the time to really explore our product and our business. We can immediately tell the difference between someone who has just glanced at the homepage versus someone who has spent time using our site and app like a real user would, and thoughtfully communicates what they’ve observed. This tells us three things: You are sincerely interested in the position and the company; you are curious, and like to peel back the layers of the onion to understand things on a deeper level; and you have attention to detail.

What's something candidates seem to think you care about, but actually isn't that important?

We don’t need candidates who are good at everything. We’re often looking for people who can be a rockstar in one, essential skill. Many interviewees walk through the door and try to convince us that they can be useful in many areas of the business. We value the spirit of jumping-in wherever you’re needed, but what we really want to learn is this: What is the one thing that you are better at than anyone else on our team?

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