How to Rock a Virtual Data Interview
Preparing for an interview for a data position is one thing.
Preparing for a virtual data interview is an entirely different challenge.
In today’s increasingly remote world, more and more companies are conducting virtual interviews in place of in-person ones. Much of this change stems from the recent quarantine and shelter-in-place orders due to the coronavirus, but it’s easy to assume that this trend will continue in the future as more employers recognize the need for great data employees, and not just great data employees in their city.
So to help you truly rock your next virtual data interview, we’ve pulled together a few tips that we recommend when conducting our online interviews for The Data Incubator’s Data Science Fellowship Program.
1. Be prepared
This step goes beyond making sure you’ve read the job posting and have done your research on the company you’re interviewing with.
It also means preparing your technology and surroundings. Make sure your computer, phone, webcam, headset, microphone and anything else you might need for the interview are fully charged, plugged in, connected and in good working order. Prep your tech at least a few days before your virtual interview if you have the time, that way you can replace anything that might have seen better days before the big moment.
Additionally, make sure you set up a clean, well-lit area to do your interview. Whether you’re in your living room, kitchen or bedroom, make sure anything that can be seen by the camera is as clean as your mother would make it if she was expecting guests. The last thing you want is to distract your interviewer with a pile of dirty clothes or dishes in the corner of the screen.
And make sure you wear pants. It might not seem like a necessary thing since you’ll most likely be sitting during your interview, but all you need is one misbehaving pet, one spilled beverage or one unexpected doorbell to cause you to jump up and show that you’re only half-prepared for the role. Just put on some pants—trust us!
2. Review your work
Many companies these days include a small data project or assessment to test candidates’ skills prior to interviewing them. If they do, it will 100% come up during your virtual interview. You also probably had to submit a portfolio of your work. That will also be discussed on your call.
Make sure you take some time before the call to review what you submitted for the role and prepare to talk about it. How does your work relate to the company and the role you’re applying for? What steps did you take? How would you implement this kind of work with a different data set? What tools did you use, and why?
Most importantly, think in advance about what business insights you gleaned from the work you’ve done. Do you have examples of how you’ve done similar work in the past?
Prior to the interview, pull up your project/assessments/portfolio on your computer so that, if needed, you can screen share and walk through the process to really showcase your skills.
3. Be clear and concise
You’re going to be asked a lot of questions during your video call, and it’s good to have good, solid answers at the ready. Spontaneity will only take you so far.
From the typical, “Why do you want to work for this company?” and “Talk about a professional failure you experienced and how you overcame it,” to the more technical “What kind of data would you want to collect to solve a specific business problem?” or “Tell me about a time you worked with a large database or data set,” make sure you’ve got a clear and concise answer for each.
Having too long and convoluted an answer could be seen as showing off, or that you’re unsure of the answer and are making things up hoping you’ll stumble upon the right answer eventually. Being clear and concise shows that you listened to the question, did your homework and answered only what was asked.
4. Be honest and natural
All that prep work is important, but you don’t want to sound like you’re reading from a script when it comes time to do the actual virtual interview. Along with gauging your skills and ability, they’re also going to be looking at your personality to make sure you’d be a good culture fit with the company.
Having notes for the more difficult questions is a great idea, but make sure they’re just bullet points and not a script. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell your interviewer that you don’t know, and why. It doesn’t reflect poorly on you to admit that you haven’t worked in a certain program before, and prefer a different one.
Honesty is the best policy, so if you’re confronted with a question about a process or situation that you have not had experience with, you can simply let the interviewer know that you’ve been lucky enough not to have encountered that situation yet, but offer a possible plan of attack based on your related knowledge. You can also ask for clarification if an interviewer uses a term that you’re not familiar with, and ask them to explain it in a different way.
Being transparent about your experience, and asking questions during your interview demonstrates that you are honest, and willing to learn. And, showing that you’re honest and natural will not only help your interviewer remember you, but better determine if you’re going to be a good fit for the team and the company.
Remember—while you may work with a lot of machines and computers, you’re still human. Try to act like it.
5. Ask questions
To show you really care about the position and the company, make sure you have some questions prepared for the end of the interview.
They can be culture-based: “What’s your favorite thing about working at the company?”
And technical based: “What platforms is the team currently using, and why?”
And thought-provoking: “What is the one thing the company wishes it could do with its data?”
And more. Having questions ready to go shows initiative and dedication, especially if you can tailor some of them to the specific role or company you’re applying for.
And when you get the answer to your question, respond to it, and connect it back to your own experience or desires. Building that rapport with the interview can go a long way.
6. Bonus: Follow up
Within 24 hours of your interview (or even sooner), make sure you follow up with each person you interviewed with. If you were part of a virtual panel interview, or group interview, send a quick note to each person separately.
Thank them for their time and the information they shared. If you mentioned anything specific in your interview (a project you worked on that wasn’t in your portfolio, a tool you recommended, a site they should check out), make sure you include it in the email.
It’ll show an attention to detail as well as courtesy and your desire to land this job.