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Interviewing Data Miners and Modelers

Tim Graettinger on his approach to interviewing data miners and modelers.

So You Want a Job: Interviewing Data Miners and Modelers

By Tim Graettinger, PhD.

Interview Judging by the recent posts on numerous web sites, many companies are looking for people with data mining and modeling (DM) skills. I recently interviewed some candidates for an open position. Since people in this field are a unique group, and interviewing them can be challenging, I thought you might like to hear about my approach.

Philosophy for Hiring and Interviewing

When I interview a DM candidate, let's call her Janet, I want to find out:

  • Is she smart?
  • Is she focused/does she get things done?
  • Is she compatible/can I work with her?
Rolled into these three general criteria are several, integrated elements that deserve more elaboration. To me, in a DM context, smart means problem-solving smart. I want to know if Janet is a problem solver. Can she frame a problem? How does she think? Does she believe she can and will get smarter and improve her thinking and skills over time? I believe that intelligence and creativity can be developed and enhanced over time. I want to work with people who feel the same way.

Next, focus and a getting-things-done mentality usually manifest themselves in project work. In the interview with Janet, I want to learn if she can work on projects independently and also with a team. Does she have a process and the focus to stay on track and see a project through to the finish line? How does she work through the inevitable problems that crop up?

Last, I want to know what a working relationship will feel like. I'm particularly interested in her ability to communicate difficult concepts, issues, data, models, and results. And I think those communication skills (or lack thereof) come out clearly in discussing recent projects, as we will see below.

That's the philosophy: Find someone, maybe Janet, who is smart, focused, and compatible. Now, let's get specific.

Read more.

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