How to Land a Senior Data Scientist Position

interview tips Feb 14, 2023

If you have been working in the data science industry for a little while you might be wondering how you can advance. How do you become a senior data scientist?

In this blog, we will look at two things:

  • What requirements companies use to differentiate junior and senior data scientists
  • How to make yourself stand out in an interview as someone qualified for a senior position

Let’s get started!

What Makes a Senior Data Scientist?

The first thing to realize is that interviewing for senior and junior positions can look very similar. The interview process for both includes the same types of interviews - a combination of technical and non-technical rounds.

How then does a company determine if you're senior?

Most companies already have standards in place. To land a senior position typically requires 4 to 5 years of experience with a Master’s degree and 2 to 3 years of experience with a Ph.D. If you just have a bachelor’s degree you should expect to need 5 or more years of experience.

Can You Influence Your Position?

This means that seniority is largely predetermined, but that does not mean there is nothing you can do to influence your placement and position.

I have known both people who did great in interviews and got positions higher than their years of experience, and I’ve known people who did not do well in interviews and received offers for positions that were lower than their years of experience.

So, regardless of your years of experience doing well in the interview is crucial for landing a senior position. That’s why we're going to look at ways to showcase seniority in different data science interview areas.

Showcasing Yourself as a Senior: Product Case Interview

Product case interviews are one place where you can stand out as a potential senior. Product case interviews are all about problem-solving and are thus a great place to show high-level problem-solving.

Here are 3 ways to show high-level problem-solving skills in a product case interview.

Show Awareness of Context

One of the first ways that someone with senior experience will stand out is that they consider the specific context of problems rather than sticking strictly to frameworks. Specific context includes things like the business model, the stage of the company, and unique aspects of the product.

For example, if asked to evaluate what idea among several should be implemented, a framework might suggest that the first step is A/B testing. However, A/B testing many ideas is costly and unnecessary. It would be better to first look at the context of the problem and determine other ways, such as looking at historical data, to narrow down the ideas before A/B testing.

Following a framework too closely does not show high-level problem-solving because frameworks are generic while problems are specific. Anyone can memorize a framework, but addressing the particular context of a problem demonstrates an ability for individual thinking.

Demonstrate an Ability to Spot Pitfalls and Obstacles

Another way that you can make your problem-solving skills stand out is by considering potential issues or pitfalls with the question.

Imagine that Facebook asks you to improve the accuracy of birthday data. Someone with more experience and advanced problem-solving skills would first wonder if there are privacy issues that need to be considered before diving into how they would improve the accuracy.

To land a senior position you need to show not only an understanding of data but also an ability to see potential problems and obstacles beyond the data.

Use Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is the ability to think beyond numbers, and it’s a very important skill for someone who wants to be a senior.

The results of an experiment are important, but other things also need to be considered to make the best recommendations. For example, a referral program might cause a company to lose money in the short term, but it might have great strategic benefit by increasing the user base.

A senior data scientist will consider multiple aspects to best meet the company’s goals.

Showcasing Yourself as a Senior: Behavioral Interview

Product case interviews are not the only place you can stand out. Behavioral interviews are where you discuss your experience. You can’t fake experience, but how you present that experience can make a difference.

Present Multiple Attributes of Yourself

Behavioral interviews will ask you questions that require you to tell stories about your past experiences.

The questions tend to ask about a single attribute such as your communication or conflict resolution skills. However, to stand out, it’s important to display multiple dimensions of yourself with each answer. Each story is a chance to show that you are a professional and capable candidate.

Some good attributes to showcase are leadership, responsibility, flexibility, and empathy. Your stories should show that you are willing to go above and beyond, care about the overall team's success, and can drive and deliver impact.

Be Proactive

If you want to be a senior, it’s essential to show that you can take charge. But how do you do this?

Preparing questions to ask the interviewer is a great way to show that you can be proactive. Having good questions at the end of the interview shows that you can drive conversation and that you are truly interested in the position.

Showcasing Yourself as a Senior: Presentations

There is one more effective area to showcase yourself as a senior: presentations.

As a senior, you will need to be able to convince stakeholders of your ideas, so being a good presenter is essential. Here are 3 ways to make your presentations senior-level.

Present Your Best Stuff

To present your best stuff, you want to present a project that had challenges, limitations, or obstacles.

Presenting a project with challenges gives you more opportunities to show your skills and adaptability which will better show that you are a capable candidate.

Highlight Your Impact

Projects are a team effort, but when presenting you want to focus on “I” instead of “we.” Highlighting your contributions will show that you have a lot of experience and leadership ability.

Accept Feedback Professionally

Don’t underestimate the importance of attitude. Be sure to maintain a professional attitude towards questions and suggestions.

When presenting ensure that you carefully listen to questions and other remarks from your audience. Someone who does not accept questions and feedback will likely be a difficult coworker. You want to show that you listen to other opinions.

Final Thoughts

All these ways can help you prove that you deserve a senior position.

Still, remember that many companies do have pre-set standards for seniority. You could still get a senior position if you don’t meet these standards, but don’t expect it.

Finally, remember that juniors and seniors handle themselves differently in interviews. If you do want to land that senior position, you need to show that you are a senior in the interview.

If you want to read a longer version of this post with more examples, you can do that here.

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