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What do Hiring Managers Look For in a


What do Hiring Managers Look For in a
Data Scientists CV?
Published on March 26, 2017 | Featured in: Big Data, Information Technology, Recruiting & Hiring

Ben Dias Follow


6513 420 1,269
Head of Advanced Analytics and Data Science at Royal

Ive just completed my rst round of recruitment since joining Royal Mail as their rst
Head of Data Science, with some successful candidates joining my team. But having
been involved in hiring Data Scientists for many years now, at the initial shortlisting
stage of the process, I still nd myself wishing too often that the information Im
looking for was in the CV in front of me. It just seems like Data Scientists in general
dont know what they should put in their CVs as they dont know what hiring managers
are looking for. And this leaves hiring managers like me with the dilemma of either
rejecting most of the CVs (and taking the large risk of dismissing some potentially very
good candidates) or having to employ an additional telephone screening stage to nd
out the information I need from the potentially good candidates.

Neither scenario is ideal and both have their pros and cons. So I thought I would try
something different, and instead write down and publish what I would like to see in an
ideal CV from someone applying for a Data Scientist position on my team at Royal
Mail. My hope is that this will start an interesting discussion, from which I can also
learn more and further improve my recruitment process. Ultimately I also hope this
results in improving the quality of CVs across the Data Science community, and thereby
help me to streamline my recruitment process as a consequence.

Educational Background

The rst thing I look for in a Data Scientists CV is evidence of a solid educational
background in a heavily mathematical subject. Almost anyone can claim to be a Data
Scientist these days, just because they know how to use the multitude of machine
learning libraries out there to build you a solution to your problem. But to me, a real
Data Scientist is someone who understands the technical details behind the algorithms,
and knows what assumptions they are making when using one algorithm vs. another.
This gives me condence that they would select the right algorithm for each specic
problem and will be able to engineer the most appropriate features for that algorithm.
Therefore, I would like to see an externally validated qualication, such as a University
degree or equivalent, and Id like to see this on the rst page (at least mentioned in the
personal statement at the start).

Independent Research Experience

Data Science is by denition a research activity, where we are always looking to solve a
problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed. Otherwise we
are not doing real Data Science! This is why Ive taken Eric Ries' very appropriate Lean
Startup framework for innovating in the midst of lots of uncertainty, and adapted it to
make it work for Data Science. And thus, Im running my Data Science team at Royal
Mail as a lean Start-up. Therefore, next Im looking for some evidence in the CV to
convince me that the candidate is capable of carrying out independent research. The
most obvious evidence for this would be that the candidate has successfully completed a
PhD, or at least an MSc that included a research project.

However, the biggest mistake candidates make in this area of the CV is to just say they
have done an MSc or PhD in some specic subject (e.g. MSc in Computer Science or
PhD in Statistics), and possibly mention the university. But what I really want to know
is the details of their research activity and how successful it was. Therefore, Im more
interested in the title and summary of their Thesis. If the work was sufciently novel
and completed successfully, it would give me condence in their ability to carry out
independent research. But of course, attaching their Thesis to their CV is not the
answer! In fact, their ability to summarise the key aspects (context, approach, outcomes
and novelty) of their research activity in one paragraph is a very important indicator of
their excellent written communication skills as well.

I would also consider evidence of alternative equivalent research experience (e.g.


experience as a research scientist or Data Scientist). But in this case, it should ideally be
called out, for example in the personal statement, and the examples of research projects
described in the relevant section of the CV (e.g. in the work experience section).

Programming Skills
Next Im looking for evidence of the candidates programming skills. Here, some
candidates love to list a 101 languages, thinking that it makes them look really
attractive. But in reality they would only use 2 or 3 languages on a regular basis. Here
the key for a hiring manager like me is to see that the candidate has experience in at
least one language of each of the following types:

1. A high-level rapid prototyping language such as Python or R

2. A low-level deployment language such as Java, C++, C#, etc.

3. A scalable/Big Data language such as Scala/Spark

I would want to see all three for a Senior Data Scientist, the rst two for a Data Scientist
and just the rst (R or Python) for a Junior Data Scientist.

The other mistake I see in CVs is just having a list of programming languages with no
indication of prociency or experience. The really good CVs not only list the languages
along with the number of years experience in brackets (e.g. Java [6+ years]), but also
list the languages used in each Data Science project they mention in the work
experience section.

The candidate can get lots of brownie-points by also mentioning any open-source code
bases they have contributed to, or providing links to their publicly available work (e.g.
on github), so that I can actually go online and view their coding ability. This will give
me signicantly more condence in their programming skills.

Impact! Impact!! Impact!!!

For the more Senior Data Scientist roles, next Im looking for the candidates real-world
Data Science experience, and what really drives me up the wall here is when there is
absolutely no mention at all in the CV of any impact they have had in the real world.
This leaves the hiring manager wondering why any company would every consider
hiring the candidate, as there doesnt seem to be any indication of ROI (Return on
Investment)!

Some candidates focus on who they reported to, others focus on the accuracy and/or
complexity of the models they built, while others just mention the types of projects they
worked on. But rarely anyone covers the most important thing Im looking for what
was the impact of their work? Why would I even consider paying them to come and
work for me??

It really doesnt matter to me if the candidate reported to the CEO or if their models
were 99.9% accurate. What I really want to know is what difference they made to the
business that hired them. Here it is very important to remember that all models are
wrong, but some are useful! So it doesnt even matter if your model was only 60%
accurate, if it improved some aspect of the business (e.g. reduced customer churn) and
resulted in tangible business value (e.g. leading to annual incremental revenue of 5
million).

My ethos, which is essential in a commercial environment, is to always start with the


simplest possible model and only optimise and/or add complexity if/as required. This is
exactly what the Lean Startup framework mandates and is exactly what we do in my
Data Science team at Royal Mail. This is because you would usually hit diminishing
returns as you continue to optimise and/or add complexity to a model, and the key is to
know when your model is good enough to have a tangible business impact, and then
deliver it, realise the value and move on to the next most important problem.

So ideally, in the work experience section of the CV, I would like to see multiple impact
statements, at least one for each Data Science role the candidate has held. This would
give me condence that the candidate has good commercial acumen and is worth
investing in, as I can expect a good ROI. Here again, the candidates ability to
summarise the key aspects (context, approach, impact) of their Data Science project in
one paragraph is a very important indicator of their excellent written communication
skills as well.

Coaching, Mentoring and Line Management Experience

For the more Senior Data Scientist roles, Im then searching the CV for the candidates
experience in coaching, mentoring and line management. If the candidate is already
operating at a Senior level, I would expect to see this mentioned in the work experience
section, giving details of how many Data Scientists they have managed and for how
long, and/or how many they coached or mentored and in what skills. Here a mention of
any formal management, coaching and/or mentoring training courses attended would be
a bonus.

What would really impress me would be if the CV gave an example of how the
candidate managed/coached/mentored a Data Scientist who was either a high-performer
or someone with a development need giving the context, their approach and the
outcome. Again, they should showcase their excellent written communication skills by
summarising this in one paragraph, instead of writing a thesis!

For a Data Scientist ready to take on their next role as a Senior Data Scientist, I would
expect to see some training courses attended and some experience in supervising and
mentoring/coaching at least one student and/or contractor/temp. This will give me
condence that they are ready to take on managing and coaching/mentoring permanent
staff as well.

Technical Breadth and Depth

Next I would love to get a feel for the breadth and depth of the candidates technical
capabilities, especially from the CV of a Senior Data Scientist. Here the breadth can be
demonstrated by mentioning a variety of types of problems theyve worked on (e.g.
forecasting, predicting, optimising, simulating, etc.). However, I rarely see evidence of
the technical depth in a CV. One good example Ive seen in CVs is where the candidate
mentioned an algorithm/library they had contributed to an open-source package. Coding
up such an algorithm/library would not only require good coding skills, but also a very
deep level of understanding of how the algorithm/algorithms in the library work.
Another good example is where the candidate explains why they chose to use one
algorithm over another for a specic project. Here if they articulate the choice based on
the assumptions behind each algorithm and properties of the data and/or problem, it
shows that they didnt just use a standard library, but understand why the chosen one is
the best algorithm to use for that specic problem.

Highlighting their external accreditations, such as their Chartered status (e.g. Chartered
Mathematician, Chartered Scientist, Chartered Statistician, etc.) is also an excellent way
for a candidate to demonstrate their technical depth and breadth.

Tools and Processes

Especially for a Data Scientist or Senior Data Scientist role, I would also be looking for
some evidence in the CV of the candidates Agile experience. Here Im looking for
them to call out when and where they worked according to an Agile framework, and
ideally which framework (e.g. Scrum, Kanban, etc.) and tools (e.g. JIRA, Assembla,
etc.) they used. From experience I have found that combining the Hypothesis Driven
Approach with the Kanban Agile framework supports the Lean Startup framework
really well. Therefore, this is what my Data Science team at Royal Mail use, and we are
currently in the process of migrating from Assembla to the more t-for-purpose JIRA
cardwall. Therefore, although Im looking for any Agile experience, it would be an
additional bonus to see that a candidate has used Kanban and/or the Hypothesis Driven
Approach in at least one Data Science project.

I will also be looking for their experience using different environments (e.g. Linux,
Windows, Hadoop, Cloud, etc.) and of using best practice processes such as version
control (e.g. Git) and documentation (e.g. Wiki). Here the best CVs list these aspects of
each of the projects mentioned in the work experience section, while also listing these
with the corresponding years of experience in brackets in a separate section.

An Open Mind-set

An open mind-set and a commitment to continuous learning are vital, especially for a
Data Scientist, as our eld is continuously changing at pace. Therefore, I am always
encouraging my Data Science team at Royal Mail to spend some time learning
something new each week. This does, of course, reduce the team's capacity available for
project work. But I consider this as an investment rather than a cost, because it actually
is, and Ive seen the benets of continuous learning realised time and time again.
Therefore, another key aspect I look for in a CV is an open mind-set, and a commitment
to continuous learning and continuous professional development. The usual evidence
for this would be regular MOOCs or other training courses completed, conferences and
workshops attended, etc. And the key is to mention the dates of these learning events, to
show that they are a regular commitment.

So er Skills
Finally, and especially for the Senior Data Scientist roles, Im looking for evidence of
the softer skills such as stakeholder management, inuencing senior managers,
presentations to business/non-technical audiences. Here, again ofcial training courses
and mentoring/coaching received is good evidence to share. The best CVs will also
highlight any difcult stakeholders and/or collaborators that the candidate had to deal
with and manage in order to deliver the projects they mention in the work experience
section. Here the key is to also mention how they dealt with the difcult stakeholder
(i.e. the approach they took).

Summary

In summary, an ideal Data Scientists CV, will contain all of the above information
presented in a clear, concise manner, demonstrating the candidates excellent written
communication skills as well. And candidates should not be afraid of having a CV that
is longer than a page or two. I would be happy to read even up to 5 pages of useful and
relevant details, especially if it allows me to move faster in the interview process and
get the candidate in straight away for a face-to-face interview and offer them a job
quickly.

But you should never not apply for a job if you think you dont t all of the criteria.
Especially for permanent roles, hiring managers like me would welcome candidates
who have one or two development areas to work on. I want people who can join my
team and contribute, while at the same time continuing to learn and grow themselves.
Continuous development is very important to me, as mentioned before, and is
something I am always encouraging my Data Science team at Royal Mail to do, and is
something I will always ensure they have the time and space to do.

As I mentioned in my previous article, a new era of Data Science has dawned at Royal
Mail! So if you happen to be a Data Scientist who can pull together a CV that contains
all or most of the above information, then Id love to hear from you, as Ive still got a
few Senior Data Scientist vacancies I am looking to ll. My brilliant internal recruiters
Terry & Lucy are also always available to help anyone interested in applying to join my
Data Science team Royal Mail.

PS:Ifyouvejustappliedforoneofmyvacanciesandwouldliketoupdateyour
CVbasedonwhatIvewrittenabovepleasedo!Idmuchprefertohaveyour
updatedCV.

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Ben Dias
Head of Advanced Analytics and Data Science at Royal Mail Follow
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