3 Tips to Balance Interviews and WorkFeb 08, 2023
If you’d rather watch than read today, feel free to check out my video on this topic here: https://youtu.be/BjlITRWqWKY
When job-searching, often your other obligations don’t cease to exist. You still have personal responsibilities, and in some cases, another full-time job with work responsibilities to keep up with.
How do you optimize your interview preparation when your time is so limited? I’d like to offer three tips that can help you achieve a better sense of balance, reduce your stress, and help you become better prepared for interviews.
Tip #1: Leave a Gap Between Work and Interviews
When time is tight, it’s common to schedule one thing immediately after another to make the most of your limited time. For instance, you may schedule an interview directly after a work meeting. Although this may seem efficient at first, it’s not a sustainable tactic in the long run, especially when it comes to interviews.
Scheduling time gaps around interviews is essential in order to give yourself time to context switch, and get yourself in “interview mode.” If you try to immediately switch between work and interviews, you are more likely to be tired, and may not perform as well in the interviews.
How much time to leave before an interview depends on the type of interview.
For a technical phone screen, like a product case interview or a SQL interview, I recommend giving yourself at least 30 minutes before the interview to gather your thoughts, and context switch.
For onsite interviews, I recommend giving yourself much more time, as these interviews are typically 5 to 6-hour commitments. In an ideal case, take the whole day off from work for these.
Don’t schedule interviews back-to-back. An onsite interview can be draining, so avoid scheduling interviews with different companies two days in a row, as it is unlikely you’ll maintain peak performance this way.
Tip #2: Postpone Interviews
Sometimes no amount of clever scheduling will leave you with enough time to adequately prepare for interviews. In these cases, it’s best to accept that you don’t have enough time, and alter your strategy to give yourself more time.
Don’t schedule technical interviews with recruiters right away. Leave yourself with more time for preparation if possible.
You may end up in a situation where you have already scheduled an upcoming interview, and now know that you won’t be ready in time. In this case, it’s far better to postpone an interview than to go when you aren’t prepared. Postponing could result in a higher likelihood that you’ll get the job.
Postponing can feel risky if you have never done it, so here are two conditions to consider before you do:
1. You know you are not going to be ready for the interview.
How do you know that? Participate in mock interviews, and have another person evaluate your performance objectively. For coding interviews, use an online coding platform to see if you are able to solve problems within a time limit.
2. Only postpone an interview with a company if you have never postponed any interviews with that company before.
If you have postponed with them already, then it’s better to stick to the original time because rescheduling interviews multiple times may indicate you are not motivated to work with that company.
Postponing is a tactic for dealing with situations where you are overwhelmed. You can postpone one interview with a company, especially if it is an onsite interview, and you know you are not going to be ready.
Make sure to let the recruiter know that you want to postpone at least a week before the interview.
Have a solid reason, like postponing because you greatly value the opportunity and want to be fully prepared, but do not have enough time due to work or personal responsibilities.
Big vs. Small Companies
For big companies, postponing one interview generally isn’t a problem. Large companies usually hire continuously, so postponing even by a month doesn’t necessarily mean that you will lose the job.
Smaller companies tend to move faster, so you will need to be a little more cautious, and ask the recruiter how far away you can reasonably reschedule the interview.
Tip #3: Focus on One Type of Role
Preparing for an interview takes significant time, and sometimes the only way you can find enough time in your busy schedule to manage that preparation is by limiting how much overall preparation you need to do.
Two Categories of Interviews
Different companies need different types of data scientists, meaning each interview can require different preparation.
Break data scientist jobs into two general categories: analytics-driven and algorithm-driven.
- Analytics-driven roles are data scientists that focus on, as you can probably guess, analytics. You need a strong product sense, a solid knowledge of A/B testing and statistics, and must be comfortable presenting analysis and findings.
- Algorithm-driven roles are more focused on machine learning skills. Some companies refer to these types of roles as applied scientists or research scientists. Generally, you need a good understanding of coding and machine learning for these roles.
Because of their different emphases, trying to prepare for both analytic-driven roles and algorithm-driven roles at the same time will inherently increase your workload.
Focus on Depth
More interviews may mean more opportunities, but more interviews do not necessarily mean more job offers.
Typically, hiring managers want to see you demonstrate in-depth knowledge, and developing that knowledge takes time. I recommend focusing on one type of role at a time. This will give you less to study, allowing you to better develop your skills, leaving you with enough time left to dedicate to your job, and other obligations.
It’s best to decide whether you want an analytics or algorithm position, and then pursue that type of job exclusively.
Finding time for preparation and interviewing is tricky when you still have a full-time job, but there are ways to leverage your limited time, and make the most out of every opportunity. Sometimes, this means allowing yourself sufficient time to context switch before jumping into the next task. Other times, it may mean having to postpone an interview until you know you can ace it.