7 Secrets to Impress Tech Recruiters and Ace Your Data Scientist Phone Screens

behavioral interviews May 08, 2023

Have you ever worried about making a good impression during a phone screen with a technical recruiter?

If you have, you’re definitely not alone! Phone screens can be nerve-racking. Even if you have a ton of experience in the field and are extremely qualified, it’s hard knowing how to sell yourself as a candidate over the phone.

That’s why in this blog we are going to clear up some confusion. We will go over 7 things to know about phone screens as a data scientist. By the end, you’ll be ready to smash your next phone screen!

Before we get started though, if you prefer to get this information through video, you can head over to my YouTube channel to watch my video on this subject.

Now, let’s get started!

1. Understanding the Role of the Recruiter

It's important to understand what the recruiter is trying to accomplish.

When I first started looking for jobs, I viewed recruiters as obstacles. In my mind, they were there to prevent my forward progress and interview process. I saw them as people with very high standards who were trying to find a reason not to hire me.

Luckily, this understanding could not have been more wrong! Since I first started outI have conducted many interviews myself and worked with a lot of recruiters, and I now realize that recruiters are there to guide you not hinder you.

The role of the recruiter is to guide you through the interview process. They provide insights into the company and team and answer your questions. They are not there to try to hurt you or stop you from getting the job!

Understanding the role of the recruiter is crucial because it will change the way you interact with them. Recruiters are they to help, and they can be an excellent resource.

For example, I’ve asked many recruiters to hop on a call with me so that I could learn more about upcoming interviews and how I should be preparing, and the recruiters were always happy to help. I was able to gain valuable insights from them which really helped me put my best foot forward in the interview.

So, remember that recruiters are your friends. They see you as a valuable talent and want to help you land the job. Hopefully, knowing this makes phone screens less intimidating. Recruiters are looking to move you along in the interview process not stop you.

Now that you understand who you are talking to more, let’s look at some things to know when preparing for phone screens.

2. Preparing a Self-Intro

The first thing you’re going to do when you get on the phone will probably be a self-introduction. The self-introduction aims to catch the recruiter’s attention in the first 30 seconds of the conversation by highlighting your most relevant data science skills, experiences, and achievements.

An important thing to remember here is to tailor your introduction to the position you’re applying for. You can use the job description to understand what is required in the role and emphasize that you have the necessary capabilities and skills to perform that role in your self-intro.

Another way to think about this is that the self-intro should be about how you fit the company’s needs. People often make the mistake of focusing on how the job fits their needs, but what the recruiter wants to know is how your experience and skills align with the company’s needs.

How to present yourself in 30 seconds?

I think it’s best to start with a brief overview of your background followed by a few of your achievements or experiences that demonstrate your qualifications for the specific role. So, if you are applying to a product data scientist role that requires experience in A/B testing, you Could talk about how you lead A/B testing projects at your current company. This shows that you are prepared to contribute in your new role the moment you start.

If you want even more help with preparing your self-introduction, I recommend checking out my video on the subject: How to Introduce Yourself in Data Science Interviews.

A final tip for the self-intro is simply to be conscious of your voice. Remember on a phone call the recruiter can’t see you, so you are relying on your voice alone to show that you are enthusiastic about the opportunity. You need to speak clearly and slowly and sound engaged.

If you’re not sure that your voice is doing that, I recommend recording yourself as part of your preparations. You can listen to how you sound to see if you are coming across as motivated or bored. If you sound bored on your practice recording, you can practice and make some adjustments before the actual phone screening.

3. Resume and Project

The self-introduction will only get you through about 30 seconds of the phone call, so what do you need to prepare to discuss next?

The next step is ensuring that you can discuss your resume comprehensively. Be prepared to dive into your work experience, education, and skills. Preparing specific examples that show how these things have prepared you for the position you’re applying for is a great idea.

Besides talking about the experience and skills clearly represented on your resume, you also want to prepare to discuss a couple of data science projects. Make sure that the projects you prepare are relevant to the position you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a marketing data science position, discussing a marketing campaign or media mix model you developed would be helpful.

After you’ve picked relevant projects to discuss, there is one mistake you want to avoid. Don’t get too technical. You want to show technical skills, but recruiters typically don’t understand or appreciate the technical challenges of a project.

Instead of technical details, focus on showing that your work has an impact using business metrics that non-technical people can understand. Focusing on this aspect of your projects shows that you add value to a company and that makes you a strong candidate.

4. What Questions Should I Prepare For?

Now that you have prepared what you want to say, what questions should you expect from the recruiter?

Behavioral questions

Recruiters will often ask behavioral questions in a phone screening because they want to get an idea of whether you will fit with the company culture. You should be prepared to answer questions about things like teamwork, problem-solving, and communication. Here are some example questions:

  • Why us?
  • What are you looking for in your next role?
  • What does a good team look like to you?
  • What are some of your long and short-term professional goals?
  • What are some challenges you have faced while working at your current company?

These questions might sound simple, but don’t underestimate them! I’ve worked with over 100 data scientists in the past few years, and I’ve noticed that many people are less effective when answering these questions than they are at discussing their experience and skills.

How can you prepare to answer these questions effectively then?

Practice. I recommend practicing these questions out loud and writing out some solid answers. You can even keep the notes at hand when you’re on the phone. That preparation will make you a lot more comfortable when answering these questions and can make your answers much more effective.

You shouldn’t just be prepared for behavioral questions in a phone screening though! You should also be prepared to answer technical questions.

Even though the recruiter might not have a technical position companies often train recruiters to ask technical questions. It’s their way of ensuring that a candidate has the necessary experience and expertise before moving the candidate forward in the interview process.

Technical Questions

That doesn’t mean that you should expect incredibly in-depth technical questions and a phone screening. However, it is very possible that you will get simple product case, statistics, and SQL questions, and the recruiter typically has a rubric or the correct answer standing by to judge your response.

Don’t get caught off guard by these questions! Make sure you know what the technical skills and requirements of the role are before the phone screening, and be ready to answer technical questions about those things.

5. Research the Company

Another important part of the preparation for phone screens that people often overlook for phone screenings is researching the company. Having some information about the company makes it much easier for you to show enthusiasm about its products and mission, which will make you sound like an interested and motivated candidate.

What type of information do you need to research though?

You can start by looking up things like the company’s values and mission statement. You can also look at things like how the company has developed and what its plans for the future are.

A practical way to find this type of information is by exploring the company’s website and social media channels. This will not only help you find exact information but can also give you a sense of the company’s culture.

Another place to look is company blogs. Some companies have data science or tech blogs that provide insights into the work those teams are doing a company. This will give you a much better idea of what type of work you will be doing and what metrics the company cares about.

Having this knowledge will help you throughout the phone screening to present yourself as a committed and knowledgeable candidate.

6. Questions for the Recruiter

A final thing to prepare before you hop on the phone is some questions to ask the recruiter. This can seem like a small thing, but having thoughtful questions shows that you have a genuine interest in the role and the answers can also help you decide if you should continue pursuing the role.

Here are some example questions:

  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What do you think makes this company's culture unique?
  • Where do you see the company in five years?

Feel free to come up with your own questions based on what you want to know about the role!

However, remember it is best to keep your questions positive. Don’t ask questions like “What is the worst thing about working here?”.

Also, avoid questions about work-life balance and vacation time. It’s not really appropriate to discuss these types of things this early on in the process. You should wait until the later stages of the interview process for those inquiries.

7. Answering Questions about Salary Expectations

So, you know what to prepare before the phone screening, but is there anything you need to know about what may happen during the screening itself?

A situation that can often occur in phone screenings that catches many people off guard is a question about salary expectations. You could be having a great phone screening and then suddenly get asked: “What are your salary expectations?”

What should you say? If you give a range, will it hurt your negotiating ability later?

First of all, a phone screening is still very early in the process, so it is uncommon to discuss salary at this point. You might not face this question, but it is very possible and you need to be prepared. You do not want to give away exact information. Even this early on, giving numbers can hurt your ability to negotiate if you receive an offer.

So, what do you say? How do you avoid giving numbers without being rude?

Here’s a basic script that I suggest:

I don't feel comfortable giving a ballpark figure. I believe my skill set is unique, and I am confident that I can perform well in the position that I'm interviewing for. I also believe that the company can offer competitive pay. Would you mind sharing with me the expected pay range for this position?

This answer is polite, but it does not give any numbers (and therefore none of your negotiating power) away. This response can also help you get some numbers from the recruiter that might help you decide whether you want to continue to pursue this role.

That’s not the only way this question might get asked though! Some recruiters might say something more like: “If the salary is between X and Y, would you be okay with that?”

You can use a very similar version of the script above to answer this question too. Remember that salary is usually only part of the total compensation. There might also be a sign-on bonus, stock or RSU, and an annual bonus involved, so you could also say something like:

I’ll look at the entire package I’m offered upon hiring to determine my decision. Would you mind sharing the range of the total compensation?

Again, this response doesn’t give away any negotiating power, but it could help you get more details.

The main things for answering questions about salary in a phone screening are to be polite, don’t give away information, and ask questions so that you can make an informed decision about whether the opportunity is worth your time.


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