Hiring a data analyst

In late 2020 I was hiring for a data analyst role. We were looking for someone with domain expertise, R and some SQL if possible. That alone is a long wishlist ;). Originally this post started as a twitter thread which you can find a link to at the end.

These are the notes I was taking while reviewing about 100 applications for the role. Hopefully by sharing this, job seekers can get some insight into how reviewing applications work (for me at least) and other hiring managers can compare their experience to mine.

Caveat: Please be kind, I’m putting myself out there a bit by listing free flowing thoughts

Background: I was reviewing ~100 CVs in two sittings

  • Do photos on resumes help/hurt? At first I thought it helped me remember the candidate but after a while that effect disappeared, so I would say I have no real comment or preference. Given all the potential problems with bias and that some organizations reject applications which contain candidate photo’s outright (so as not to be accused of biased hiring), I think it’s probably best not to include photo’s in applications.
  • We put a lot of effort into the job description and I think that helped the good matches reveal themselves. Spend time on your job description!
  • Good demographic mix of candidates, but I think it’s because we’re a global company, with already a good mix and a bit due to our efforts with the ad ;). 
  • Some people reaching out by email as an application but I always direct them to the form, can’t process the application otherwise! 
  • Someone saying someone else should apply. Ok… I guess? Still direct them to the website. 
  • For those that were clearly unsuitable matches due to lack of experience but reached out, I gave words of encouragement and some something of value to walk away with.
  • If you are clearly WAY over qualified, I’m concerned that you will find the work boring, which you will.
  • If you have R and SQL skills, list them. I appreciate the honesty of people not listing them if they don’t have them, but if you do have them and don’t list them, how would I know? 
  • We specified messy datasets, so if you come from a field where I might think there’s high precision – note in your cover letter that you can deal with messiness. Know your audience :). 
  • Bit odd to put yourself forward as a specialist in an unrelated field? Mention how you’re pivoting else it just seems like a poor fit. 
  • I can see how important the first job is in directing your career. If you have had to get an unrelated job, explicitly spelling out that you have go transferable skills and what they are will HELP. 
  • I think I do prefer skill list shown high up somewhere near top of CV. 
  • I think its ok to leave off listing MS Office as a skill- make space for something else or list how good you are at Excel (that said, apparently GenZ thinks MS is “an old persons GSuite”) 👴 .
  • I assume the level of effort in customising CV and cover letter reflects how confident you are that you’re a match – this makes sense. 
  • Again, we’ve listed R, SQL as required technical skills – mention them in your work! 
  • Quite a few candidates that are highly technically competent but show no potential for these domain expertise. 
  • On paper, many people have really good skillsets and they’ve got good careers ahead of them if given the right opportunities.
  • If you are desperate to get out your job, don’t mention it. Your desperation doesn’t help match to what we need. I do feel for you but I cant do anything for you. 
  • If you are saying you’re a perfect fit for the role, but everything you list in your cover letter has nothing to do with the job, its an almost immediate rejection – why look at the CV? Note, I did always look at the CV but poor cover letter did always correlate with poor matching CV.
  • We balanced need for tech skills + domain expertise, even opting for a little bit more on the tech side to look for domain expertise growth potential – but listing a boatload of tech and no domain expertise makes me think you’ll get frustrated in our relatively tech-lite environment. 
  • Why do some people hang onto their student email address? Switch asap! 
  • Some added recommendation letters (relevant ones) which was a bit of a boost. This was very rare though and the effect not as high as you’d think.  
  • So far, no one who made shortlist didn’t also have “good” rating for cover letter. 
  • Usually I can tell from the cover letter already that the CV would disappoint. 
  • For a while I doubted whether our job ad was clear enough but then those who did match, seemed to understand the level of data skills we were looking for. Those who didn’t match tended to pump up their technical skills way beyond what we would ever be able to support.
  • I really think put skills right at the top, followed by roles, then education, that’s the kind of natural drill down I followed.
  • When I did start finding the right candidates, I had to re-assess my generous scoring of others. 
  • If you are spouting off lots of technical stuff and no domain stuff, I would say you are a poor match. 
  • Very long cover immediately makes me wonder if you can communicate succinctly. 
  • Very wordy cover letters obscure the keywords I’m scanning for before I re-read the whole thing. I would say open with a line that hits all the keywords (if they are relevant of course!!). 
  • I can tell if you copy and pasted the cover letter. Not inherently bad unless it reads like it was for another role entirely! 
  • Cover better suited to what your skills will bring to help us in this role and how this fits your plans, rather than going on too much about what you believe or feel. 
  • By the 70th applicant I could tell quite quickly if it was a no and I could scan pretty quickly as well. If I scanned too quickly I would go back again. 
  • If you are a total mismatch, I don’t think its worth applying unless you don’t have something better to do with your time 🤷‍♂️. 
  • After first assessment which was easy, it was then that I looked more closely at CVs cut and the shortlist by more than half. 
  • Now I started looking more closely at the trade-off between domain knowledge and tech skills. 
  • Now really hard – thinking much more about the day to day. Can they set up a pipeline? Can they communicate results? What is the eagerness/enthusiasm? Started thinking about the more mundane work and assessing how they would cope. 

And that’s how I came to the interview shortlist.

I hope that helps other hiring managers and job seekers alike get a glimpse at an n=1 sample of others process 🙂 

See below for the original twitter thread and some interesting discussions 🙂

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Preview image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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