Common Interview Questions – Are you prepared?



Contributed by Charlie Waterman

You should prepare well for any interview situation but, these days, researching the company and understanding the role is definitely not enough. Interviews can take many different forms but much emphasis is now placed on how you answer certain questions. Familiarise yourself with the most commonly asked ones and prepare some well thought through answers.

You may ask why? Consider this scenario: You are feeling confident the interview has gone well so far, you have been given the opportunity to provide good examples of how your skills and experience would be of benefit to the company and then you get asked a challenging question that you were not expecting. What do you do? Hesitate and become tongue tied or, like most people, blurt out whatever words come to mind first which, you later realise, didn’t make much sense or perhaps didn’t reflect you in the correct light?

Interviews have become ever more sophisticated and the inclusion of specific questions is designed to test you on all sorts of levels. Here is a list of the ten most common interview questions that you could be asked and suggestions on how best to respond. Some you may be familiar with, some not, but do you have well prepared answers for them?


Tell Me About Yourself?

This is typically the first question you will be asked once you’ve taken your seat and the interview formally starts. This is the opportunity for the interviewer to assess you as a person, both through what you say and your delivery. Remember, their first impression of you is of the utmost importance, so make sure you can answer it in a confident way. After all, you know you better than anyone. Keep it short and succinct, preferably no longer than 2 – 3 minutes.

So what should your reply cover?  Make sure you have done your research on what the company expects from the successful applicant, so include information on your qualifications, personality and work experience (making sure they are kept relevant to the position in question). And avoid going into detail about personal life, family etc. at this early stage.


What Are Your Weaknesses?

This seems tricky as, on one hand you want to give a favourable view of your personality and ability to do the job, while on the other, you don’t want to claim you have no weaknesses. There are several ways to answer double-edged questions like this.

So what should you disclose then? If you have thoroughly gone through the company’s profile and the job advert and description (make sure you have access to this prior to the interview), you will know the qualities the job requires, what are considered strengths and what are not.

With this knowledge you know what will be considered a weakness by the interviewer, so you can admit to those which you have that are irrelevant to the job in question. Whatever weaknesses you state, make sure your answer is a positive one by making sure you have examples of how you have overcome them in past roles.


What Is Your Greatest Achievement?

Although the interviewer is asking you about your greatest achievement, you still have to choose one that is of most relevance professionally rather than personally. This is a good opportunity to highlight how you can contribute to the company if you are successfully recruited, so focus on an achievement that applies to the position. For example, if the role requires a significant amount of problem solving and troubleshooting, you might want to recount how you resolved a persistent problem that had plagued your company for years. Explain clearly and simply the challenge, solution and outcome and wherever possible, always quantify your results in terms of savings made and increased productivity.


What Would You Like To Be Doing Five Years From Now?

This question is included to find out whether you are committed to the job and to ascertain if you are somebody who sets goals in life. It’s an undisputable fact that people who set mid and long term goals are more reliable than those who don’t.  Knowing what you want in life says a lot about your personality, for example as a person who can lead and stay motivated.

Your answer should assure the interviewer that your career progression goals are in line with the actual future plans for the company. As such, it is crucial that you do your homework on the company’s future plans so that you know what to expect for yourself and whether it will meet your long-term career objectives.


Why Do You Want To Work With Us?

This is the question designed to give your interviewer an indication of how much you know about the organisation, their culture and whether you can identify with the company’s vision and values. Every business has its strong points; just make sure you focus on these in your answer. For example, if the company emphasises its integrity with customers, then you should mention that you would like to be in such a team because you yourself believe in integrity in business.

If your values are not in line with those of the company, ask yourself honestly if you would be happy working there. Whatever you do, don’t focus on the package on offer. 

his will show that you could be someone who will easily move onto another company if the price is right. Make sure your answer focuses on 2 or 3 key points which match with the organisation’s ethos.


Why Did You Apply For This Position

Don’t at any point focus on the package on offer. Or for that matter, avoid giving the impression that you have applied purely because you need to make a living.

In fact, the best way to answer this question is to spend some time examining what you like about both the role and the company. It is likely you will find something such as the culture, work environment, or role your job will play in the future success of the business.

Once you know why you want this job, you can then prepare a response that will relate to how well you fit with the position. For example, if you like the analysis work involved because you enjoy discovering more about customer behaviours, bring up that inquisitive nature of yours. Convince them that you are can offer the majority if not all the skills and traits they require and above all convince the interviewer that you will be an asset to the company.


Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

Here, the interviewer is trying to gauge how much the job fits to your expectations. You may have quit your last job because you were unhappy about something or you may actually have no opportunity for career progression in your current role. There could be a wide variety of reasons for leaving a job. Whatever your reason is, the interviewer wants to make sure that you will be committed to their role and the business and not leave because your expectations are not met.

But whatever your reason, make sure you put a positive spin on your answer. Never complain about what made you unhappy or make derogatory remarks about colleagues or management, this is a real no, no in interviews. Instead focus on your career goals and how the job you are applying for provides a better environment for growth than your previous or current one. Emphasise what you have learned in your most recent role and the valuable skills you can now offer.


Why Should We Hire You?

This is the answer where you link your skills, experience, education and your personality to the job itself. So you must be utterly familiar with the job description as well as the company culture. Always remember to include actual examples of your experience and achievements to date.

It is possible that you may not have as much skills, experience or qualifications as the other candidates. So what can you say that will set you apart from the rest? People are attracted to someone who is charismatic, who can show honest enthusiasm and drive and who clearly loves what it is that they do. When you emphasise your compatibility with the job and company, be sure to portray yourself as a motivated, confident and energetic person, who could be a real asset to the team in which they work.


What Are Your Salary Expectations?

You should really avoid going into detail on this topic until you are offered the job. However most interviewers can and do ask this question. Salary negotiation is a tough and delicate matter and some may use this question hoping that you will be the first to give a figure and set the benchmark. The repercussions of this are you could get a job offer but not at either the salary you want, or one that is market average right now.

If you have applied via a recruitment consultancy, then discuss this in detail with them prior to the interview. As part of their service they will negotiate the best package possible for you if you are offered the job, which will be in line with the salary range the company is offering.

If you have applied direct, the company may well have advertised a salary range. A good rule of thumb would be to state a figure within that, at what level is your choice.  You should know your market, and if you are offering a rare skill set this means you may well be able to command a salary well above the average in your field – just don’t be greedy.

At other times, this question is designed to let interviewers see if money is the only thing that matters. So, remember to emphasise that your priority lies with the job and not just the pay packet.


Do You Have Any Questions?

This is normally the last question you will be asked before the interview ends, so it’s your chance to finish the interview on a real positive. Even if you don’t believe this is the role for you, make sure you have at least 3 prepared questions and ask them. Replying that you’ve got nothing to ask will always leave the impression to the interviewer that you are not really interested in the job.

The interviewer is going to be attracted to proactive candidates who ask intelligent questions. Make sure they aren’t those with obvious answers that you could easily get if you had done your research thoroughly. Instead, try to incorporate your knowledge of the industry and the company into a question that will address a genuine concern of yours. That way, you get to impress your interviewer and assess for a final time whether the job aligns with your expectations.

A good question to ask is what your chances are of landing the job, but make sure to word it in the right way. Thank them for taking the time to interview you and express your enthusiasm for the position before asking if there is any reservation for hiring you. This will be your final chance to address any concerns the interviewer might have of employing you. Stay calm and reply objectively rather than taking any criticism personally.

Hopefully these tips give you some food for thought in your interview preparation. Planning really is worthwhile and answering succinctly to any question posed ensures you will come across as confident, positive, decisive and organised.

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How To Write The Perfect Tech Job Description

It’s a challenge finding the right Data & Analytics candidate. Add in the number of companies fighting for that perfect profile and for many it can seem like an uphill battle. But there’s a simple way to cut through the noise; better job descriptions.  As a specialist recruitment agency within the Data & Analytics space, we have seen a real variety of job descriptions over the years, from the bright and innovative to the long and technical. And it may surprise you to learn that candidates still ask regularly to see official job descriptions and it is part of their decision-making process.  Unfortunately, they are also often a part of the recruitment process that can be rushed or created from out-of-date previous descriptions. There are some real benefits, however, to putting the time and effort required into creating something fresh.   If you’ve recruited a role like a Data Scientist before, you know that the problem isn’t usually getting enough candidates through the door, it’s about getting the right ones. A well-crafted job description leads to better quality applicants. It also helps those candidates become more engaged and excited about your business.  So, with that in mind, here are our five top tips for businesses looking to help their role stand out from the crowd.  CHECK YOUR JOB TITLE  You might think that calling your BI Analyst a ‘Data Ninja’ is going to get you the top talent, but it would probably mostly cause confusion. It is important that you align the job title to a clear and market relevant job title. Often internal job titles can be the biggest blocker in aligning your vacancy to the market.  Consider changing the job title for external purposes to make it more closely aligned to the market. Here are some common examples:  An AVP Analyst within a Marketing Analytics team is more closely aligned to a Senior Marketing Analyst. A Data Scientist job title aligned to a role with no machine Learning or algorithmic development may be better titled a Statistical Analyst.  CREATE A COMPELLING JOB RUN-THROUGH  Our consultants agreed unanimously that one of the weakest areas of job descriptions tends to be the more detailed description of what the role actually is. Too often job descriptions just list lots of different responsibilities, but these are often very generic or basic.  Before starting to write the job brief, ask members of your team that do the role already – what gets them excited?  You will likely find that it has to do more with the types of projects i.e. the application of technical elements, that appeals most to candidates. If you can, bring the role to life in a meaningful way. For example, relating it to projects that your team has done is a really enticing method of exciting a candidate about the potential of the role. Create A Tailored Experience Section Uninspiring job descriptions often have long lists of key skills required, often with irrelevant skills included. Keep your requirements to around 5 or 6 key bullet points, asking yourself what the most important requirements are and clearly laying those out.  On top of that often companies get too focused on requesting years of experience. We strongly discourage companies from specifying years of experience in a job advert as, within the UK, most European countries and a number of US states this is classified as age discrimination. Instead of including years of experience, carve out what it is that you want your ideal candidate to have done before instead, this will often correlate to their experience level. For example: 5+ years' experience in a Marketing Analytics could easily be transformed to Proven commercial experience in a Marketing Analytics environment with exposure to pre and post campaign analysis, customer analysis,  customer segmentation and predictive modelling.  DON’T FORGET TO SELL YOURSELVES Another key area where many companies fall down is effectively selling their opportunity and company to the prospective candidates. Whether an active or passive job-seeker, candidates are likely deciding whether this is the right fit for them based on what they are reading. Many job descriptions completely forgo any type of sales pitch above an initial description of what the company does, perhaps because they expect the candidate to know them and want them.  These are the areas we’d suggest bringing to life to effectively sell your opportunity: Writing in your brands personality. Consider the right tone of voice to match your company culture and style of working. Introduce yourself. Whether you’re a brand name or not, use this chance to actually tell people about what you really do and what you really stand for. Share what it’s like to work for the company. Include the culture, work environment, targets, challenges and of course reference to perks and benefits on offer too. Consider the candidate. What appeals to a talented Data Scientist will differ from what appeals to an HR professional. Make sure you tailor your overall pitch to the type of candidate you are seeking.  WORK ON THE LOOK AND FEEL  A little effort on the aesthetic look of your job description an go a long way.  On top of a nice overall look, keep the length to a maximum of 1.5 pages. Utilise bullet points and bold formatting to keep the description some-what ‘skimmable’.  If you’re looking to hire a Data & Analytics professional, Harnham can help. Get in touch with one of our expert consultants to find out more. 

WE HAVE TO TEACH SPECIALISATION, WE CAN’T EXPECT IT: A Q&A WITH VIN VASHISHTA

We recently spoke to Vin Vashishta, a consulting Data Scientist and Strategist who was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Data Science.  Having started off in the tech world 25 years ago and progressing from web design and hardware installation to Business Intelligence Analytics, Vin found for many years that enterprises were reluctant to adopt AI technologies and embrace the value of Data. In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of the decade just passed that companies started to think about their Data more strategically and the world of Data Science was born, albeit hesitantly:  “When I first started, it was a lot of experimentation, everyone wanted a proof of concept,” he says. “A lot of work was creating models that could go from whiteboard to production and productise and show their value.” However, it wasn’t until halfway through the decade that he began to see businesses who had adopted Machine Learning move away from experimentation into incorporating it more deeply into their companies, relying more on analytical and optimisation models to make strategic business decisions.  “After that, in about 2017/2018 the maturity changed. It went from being a one off implementation to it being a comprehensive tool within an organisation where we have full lifecycles of model implementation and full models that were full views of the system. The key component of development was allowing users to access a small part of the system to do their job better without having to understand the whole thing. And that’s where we are now. We have this applied Deep Learning and we are seeing, especially this year, attempts to optimise that, make things go faster and make them more repeatable.” But, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility: “There’s this whole depth we are getting into, the expectations are so much higher, people don’t just expect it to work they expect it to work the way they want it to and in a way they can adopt.” So, with so much expected and required of Data Scientists in 2020, building the right team is more important than ever. However, many businesses, Vin believes, are yet to get their hiring processes right: “A lot of the measures that we use to sort of evaluate employees are fictional – when you say years of experience, it has no correlation to employee outcomes or the quality of employee you get long term. It’s the same thing as college degree, there’s no correlation.” So when Vin is trying to build a highly specialised team, what does he do? “We have to teach specialisation, we can’t expect it. We can’t bring someone in and call them a Data Scientist and hope that they train up. You end up with teams that are exactly the same because they have hired the same people, people who reinforce the bias of what they do, and that is where true leadership needs to come in.” A specialised team made up of individuals who bring their own ideas to the table is more important than ever, particularly as businesses demand more from their Data teams. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all models. Businesses now want something tailored to them: “Custom models are huge. The “import from…” Machine Learning development from three years ago adds value when it comes to wrangling and doing the Analysis, but when it comes to creating models companies are now expecting it to become a competitive advantage. Companies no longer want the same model that everyone else has, now it has to be differentiating.” These smart, customised models, he adds, will help businesses through the current pandemic. “The best models right now are adapting rather than reacting.”  However, he’s sceptical about the Data Science community becoming too preachy:  “When it comes to COVID-19 one message I want to send to the Machine Learning and Deep Learning community is ‘shut up’. We don’t have the Data! We have so many Data Scientists talking about something that’s very important to get right. If you get it wrong the consequences and the credibility we will lose as a field is enormous.” Indeed, discussions about the lack of quality Data on COVID-19 are widespread at the moment and raise concerns for Vin: “What the last two and a half months has revealed is the danger of bad Data, the danger of assumptions that are hidden in Data that hasn’t been looked over well or wasn’t gathered well and was fed into these models that now aren’t robust. Of course, no model can account for something this drastic, but they should still be performing far better than they are right now.” Despite these concerns, Vin believes any change in the world brings about opportunities for those in the Data and technology space. “What I’ve been trying to do ever since I joined the technology space is figure it out. It’s constantly evolving and it’s constantly changing. That’s really what has driven my journey. I’m always trying to figure out ‘what’s next’ over the next five years, ten years whatever it may be.” If you’re looking for your next Data Science, Machine Learning or Deep Learning role, or want to build out your own highly-specialised team, we may be able to help.  Take a look at our latest opportunities or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to find out more.   

The Search For Toilet Paper: A Q&A With The Data Society

We recently spoke Nisha Iyer, Head of Data Science, and Nupur Neti, a Data Scientist from Data Society.  Founded in 2014, Data Society consult and offer tailored Data Science training for businesses and organisations across the US. With an adaptable back-end model, they create training programs that are not only tailored when it comes to content, but also incorporate a company’s own Data to create real-life situations to work with.  However, recently they’ve been looking into another area: toilet paper.  Following mass, ill-informed, stock-piling as countries began to go into lockdown, toilet paper became one of a number of items that were suddenly unavailable. And, with a global pandemic declared, Data Society were one of a number of Data Science organisations who were looking to help anyway they could.  “When this Pandemic hit, we began thinking how could we help?” says Iyer. “There’s a lot of ways Data Scientists could get involved with this but our first thought was about how people were freaking out about toilet paper. That was the base of how we started, as kind of a joke. But then we realised we already had an app in place that could help.” The app in question began life as a project for the World Central Kitchen (WCK), a non-profit who help support communities after natural disasters occur.  With the need to go out and get nutritionally viable supplies upon arriving at a new location, WCK teams needed to know which local grocery stores had the most stock available.  “We were working with World Central Kitchen as a side project. What we built was an app that supposed to help locate resources during disasters. So we already had the base done.” The app in question allows the user to select their location and the products they are after. It then provides information on where you can get each item, and what their nutritional values are, with the aim of improving turnaround time for volunteers.  One of the original Data Scientists, Nupur Neti, explained how they built the platform: “We used a combination of R and Python to build the back-end processing and R Shiny to build the web application. We also included Google APIs that took your location and could find the closest store to you. Then, once you have the product and the sizes, we had an internal ranking algorithm which could rank the products selected based on optimisation, originally were based on nutritional value.”  The team figured that the same technology could help in the current situation, ranking based on stock levels rather than nutritional value. With an updated app, Iyer notes “People won’t have to go miles and stand in lines where they are not socially distancing. They’ll know to visit a local grocery store that does have what they need in stock, that they’ve probably not even thought of before.” However, creating an updated version presented its own challenges. Whereas the WCK app utilised static Data, this version has to rely on real-time Data. Unfortunately this isn’t as easy to come by, as Iyer knows too well:  “When we were building this for the nutrition app we reached out to groceries stores and got some responses for static Data. Now, we know there is real-time Data on stock levels because they’re scanning products in and out. Where is that inventory though? We don’t know.” After putting an article out asking for help finding live Data, crowdsourcing app OurStreets got in touch. They, like Data Society, were looking to help people find groceries in short supply. But, with a robust front and back-end in place, the app already live, and submissions flying in across the States, they were looking for a Data Science team who could make something of their findings.  “We have the opportunity,” says Iyer “to take the conceptual ideas behind our app and work with OurStreets robust framework to create a tool that could be used nationwide.” Before visiting a store, app users select what they are looking for. This allows them to check off what the store has against their expectations, as well as uploading a picture of what is available. They can also report on whether the store is effectively practising social distancing. Neti explains, that this Data holds lots of possibilities for their Data Science team: “Once we take their Data, our system will clean any submitted text using NLP and utilise image recognition on submitted pictures using Deep Learning. This quality Data, paired with the Social Distancing information, will allow us to gain better insights into how and what people are shopping for. We’ll then be able to look at trends, see what people are shopping for and where. Ultimately, it will also allow us to make recommendations as to where people should then go if they are looking for a product.”  In addition to crowdsourced information, Data Society are still keen to get their hands on any real-time Data that supermarkets have to offer. If you know where they could get their hands on it, you can get in touch with their team.  Outside of their current projects, Iyer remains optimistic for the world when it emerges from the current situation: “Things will return to normal. As dark a time as this is, I think it’s going to exemplify why people need to use Artificial Intelligence and Data Science more. If this type of app is publicised during the Coronavirus, maybe more people will understand the power of what Data and Data Science can do and more companies that are slow adaptors will see this and see how it could be helpful to their industry.”   If you want to make the world a better place using Data, we may have a role for you, including a number of remote opportunities. Or, if you’re looking to expand and build out your team with the best minds in Data, get in touch with one of expert consultants who will be able to advise on the best remote and long-term processes. 

Top Ten Tips: Video Interviewing for Data & Analytics Professionals

Large parts of the world may have moved to working remotely for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean that their projects have ground to a halt. And, with Data & Analytics at the forefront of many businesses ongoing strategies, their Data teams are continuing to grow regardless.  As a result, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of video interviews taking place as companies look to continue hiring and meet their growth and business goals.  For many, however, video interviewing will be an entirely new experience, one that throws a number of complications into the mix during an already unusual situation. With that in mind, we’ve put together our ten top tips for acing a video interview: UNDERSTAND THE TYPE OF VIDEO INTERVIEW “Live” interviews are ones where you’ll see another person on the end of the connection. These are typically conducted using Skype, Zoom or Google Hangout. For some interviews you’ll be recording your answers, expect these to be done using sites like Sparkhire. Ask your recruiter or contact with the business in advance so you know what type of video interview to expect. TEST YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION AND WEBCAM Test your connection for Skype, Zoom Google Hangout, or whichever interview platform you are specifically using. Do a test run to see how fast/slow your connection is to see if you will have any problems with the video that you may need to resolve beforehand. SOUND CHECK  Equally as important is how you sound. Having to repeat your answer because the interviewer couldn’t hear you will not only annoy the interviewer, it may disrupt your flow and throw you off guard. If possible, try not to use headphones, as they may make you look less professional (video interview or otherwise!), but audio quality is more important than appearance here, so check the audio in advance to be sure. CONNECT WITH YOUR INTERVIEWER IN ADVANCE  If you know who you’re interviewing with connect with them on LinkedIn beforehand or get their phone information. This is so you have a backup in case the video platform isn’t working and will save any last-minute panicking if the platform isn’t working. DRESS THE PART Just because the interview is over video doesn’t mean you don’t get dressed up for it. Dress how you would if you were having the interview face to face – first impressions count! Plus if you’re dressed smartly from head to toe it’ll help you feel best set up for success. LOOK BEHIND YOU  Interviewers can easily be distracted by what is happening behind you. If you don’t have a home office, use a room where you’ll have a wall or bookcase behind you which will look professional. REMOVE DISTRACTIONS Noise, music, children and pets can all be distractions to you and your interviewer. Be prepared to continue through the interview if your pet makes noise or your child barges in. Ideally if you can find a quiet space away from these distractions you won’t be interrupted. MAKE EYE CONTACT Interviews over video won’t replicate a live meeting. You have to proactively make sure you smile, make eye contact and speak clearly. Don’t fidget or make a lot of movement – if the connection is slow, you’ll appear fuzzy and out of focus. DON'T PREPARE AT THE LAST MINUTE You wouldn’t leave preparing to the last minute if you were meeting face to face so a video interview shouldn’t be different. Prepare your answers, questions to ask the interviewer and use post it notes if you need helpful reminders for video-specific tips (Look at the webcam! Smile! Speak clearly!). KEEP A GLASS OF WATER NEXT TO YOU It’s an ideal prop if you do need to take a couple of seconds to collect your thoughts before answering a question. Don’t substitute for a hot beverage (tea or coffee for example) as if you do spill you don’t want to be distracted by a burn or stain.  If you are looking for your next role, we may be able to help. Take a look at our latest jobs, where you will find a number of remote working opportunities.  Or, if you are looking to make a remote hire, get in touch with one of our expert consultants and we can help you manage the process. 

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