When hiring for a Data Analyst, there’s a lot to take into account – a candidate’s skills, their CV, the competition, and maybe even the length of their cover letter. A million things to consider, and a million ways to interpret them. In this blog, I share my experience as a hiring manager when I recently had to hire a Data Analyst. What went through my head? Who scored the most points and how?
Last year, I was looking to fill a data analyst role. We were looking for someone with domain expertise, R and SQL knowledge as much as possible – and that alone is quite the wishlist!
I want to share some notes of this journey that I think could help fellow recruiters and candidates alike. Feel free to compare my experience with yours, draw inspirations, or get ready for your next application journey. Of course, this is all from one person’s perspective, so take it with a grain of salt. Happy reading!
I had about 100 applications to go through in two sittings. Time was of the essence, but hiring for such a critical position is of course not something you want to rush! It was about optimizing the reviewing process, and pinpointing who stood out as well as possible. Let’s start with some of the most important considerations…
SKILLS MATCH & GAP
Given the extensive job description that was available, I’d expect at least a handful of keywords to be reflected in your CV and/or cover letter. For instance, we mentioned that the job would need to deal with messy datasets. If you’ve got experience in working with messy datasets but in a way that I might not be familiar with because its very specific to your sector, then mention it. Know your audience! With that in mind, make sure to mention R & SQL skills if you do have them (otherwise, how am I to know?)
Missing some skills?
Few people match the requirements 100% and there’s always flexibility, but if your skill set is a complete mismatch, I have one question for you: Why are you applying? I’m certain you can find better use of your time. On a different note, if you’re missing some tech skills, but have field expertise, it may still be a good fit. The other way around? Not so much. We tried to balance the need for both tech and domain knowledge as much as possible, but with no domain expertise, we’d fear the candidate would get frustrated in our relatively tech-lite environment.
Sometimes, the gap between what skills you have and what we need is too large to overcome. In those cases, I’d send out words of encouragement to the candidate (time-permitting), and constructive feedback to walk away with.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: over qualification. It’s not always about money, if I see someone who checks all the boxes tenfold and beyond, I genuinely worry that they’d get bored with the position they’re applying for. Other times, the applicants would list so many tech skills, often unrelated to the position, that it’d make me wonder whether they understood the job at all.
LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT COVER LETTER
Own design, own words, many keywords, and to the point. Perfect!
The cover letter that would usually stand out most often had a brief opening that made use of all the relevant keywords. That’s something I recommend everyone should do. And if your text is too convoluted, I’ll likely miss the keywords I’m looking for in my first reading. It’s also best when the candidate discusses how their skills fit the role, and not what they believe or feel may be good or not.
I would often look at the cover letter first, and after scanning through it, I could usually tell if the CV was going to disappoint. First impressions matter! I’d always look at the CV as well, but there was a definite correlation between disappointing cover letters and disappointing CVs…
On that note, if your letter is really long, I wonder about your ability to communicate efficiently. The sweet spot seemed to be 400-600 words.
Have you copied an entire cover letter from the internet, and tried to pass it as your own? Well, this alone isn’t an issue per se with some adjustments, but when the text discusses the wrong company or a different position entirely, that’s a wasted opportunity! You also shouldn’t say you’re a perfect fit and have nothing to show for it. …and don’t cry out for help about desperately wanting to leave your current job. I do feel for you but I can’t do anything about it – your desperation won’t help me check if you’re a match.
WHAT ABOUT THE CV?
After reviewing all applicants, I came to a preference: skills at the top, followed by roles, then education. This kind of order felt natural. And I must say, I had a distinct preference for CVs that listed their skill set at the very top, after all, this is one of the most important things to highlight, especially for data jobs.
On the topic of skills, I think it’s fine to leave out MS Office. It’s almost like a default now and you’d be more surprised to see a Data Analyst who never had to deal with Word or Excel in their life. Make use of that space to put different skills in the spotlight, or even just mention that you are especially good with Excel.
Onto jobs history – It’s fine to have unrelated job experiences listed, but make sure to write the transferable skills along them.
Out of the box and things to avoid
Trying to stand out can be a hit or miss. For example, some candidates had a (relevant) recommendation letter included in their application. While it did give them a boost, it wasn’t nearly as impactful as some would think.
In any case, please don’t use your student email address, update it asap! Also don’t call yourself an expert in an unrelated field unless you highlight how you’re wanting to transition to something new – otherwise it looks like a poor fit.
On a different note, do photos on resumes help? Initially I thought it’d help me remember the candidate better, but that thought quickly disappeared. Down the line, I’d say I have no preference. However, given the potential problems with bias, and that some organizations outright reject candidates that do include a photo, it may be safer not to include it in applications at all.
Be critical, put yourself in our shoes!
APPLICATION, DECISION, SELECTION
Follow. The. Process.
We have a submission process for a reason – it allows us to manage applications and eases the entire process. Sending me an email won’t work, I’ll just be redirecting them to the submission page! Similarly, if you’re sending me an email saying somebody else is a fit and that they should apply, well… direct them to the website too.
First round: quick scans. By the time I reached the 70th application, I could sweep through each applicant quite easily. Of course, if I felt I did it too fast, I’d go back, but after a while you get the hang of it. When I started having a bit too many ‘right’ candidates, I’d go back and reassess.
It’s when I took a second closer look that things started to feel more critical. By that point, I’d be cutting the shortlist by at least half! I had to be very analytical myself to determine the trade-offs between domain knowledge and tech skills – and whether each applicants could truly strive in day-to-day work.
Before cutting it down to a small interviewee list, the final step was to ask a few questions about each candidate given the knowledge they provided me: Can they set up a pipeline? Are they able to communicate results? How enthusiastic are they? Can they cope with the more mundane tasks?
With that done, I was left with a small shortlist of candidates for the interview round.
In the end, I think reading the job description thoroughly will give you the best shot at crafting a good cover letter and CV – but for that, there needs to be a good job description to begin with! I’d say that alone helped us lure in the right candidates, and ultimately find the Data Analyst we needed. That’s something I’d definitely recommend polishing before posting.
It was a fun journey to reflect on – we also got a great demographic mix of candidate. Maybe it’s because we’re a global company, maybe it’s because our ad was this good. Probably a mix of both. 😉
NOTE: the author of this blog (Raymond) is not the hiring manager in the story. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are not his either. The hiring manager chose to remain anonymous.