Deliver a Killer Presentation in Data Science Interviews
How to present yourself as a strong candidate in interview presentations.
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash
Few people enjoy public speaking. However, it is an essential skill in almost any job. Data science is no exception to this. As a data scientist, you will have to present your ideas and findings to stakeholders, which is why you often have to give presentations when interviewing for a data scientist position.
Presentations can be nerve-racking, but they are a vital part of proving that you are a capable data scientist. Data scientists have to be sellers that can drive conversations to convince stakeholders to buy into their suggestions and stories. The presentation part of an interview is where you demonstrate your ability to be a driver and not just a supporter.
In this blog, we will look at 5 tips for giving presentations in interviews. We will go over both what type of information to include in presentations and how to present those things in a compelling manner. And if you prefer watching to reading, head over to my YouTube channel6 to check out my video on this subject.
Let’s get started!
Focus on Your Impact
The first tip is to focus on your impact. Projects are usually a team effort, involving more than just data scientists. It takes a lot of collaboration and teamwork to successfully complete a project.
Despite this reality, this is not what interviewers tend to care about when you present a project. They are interested in you, not the rest of the team. Therefore you want to focus on your role and impact.
To convey your impact clearly, you should describe it in measurable terms. Use metrics and numbers to explain your achievements on the project.
The best metrics are those that show the effect you had on the business. This includes things like increasing revenue, customer acquisition, customer retention, etc. If you know what impact your work had on a business metric, this is an ideal way to illustrate your impact in a presentation.
However, sometimes connecting your work to a direct impact on the business is very difficult. It may be that the scope of the project was not large enough or that the project is only indirectly affecting a business metric.
If this is the case, you still want to describe your impact using metrics that the interviewer can easily understand. You can talk about things like improving team efficiency and productivity by building data pipelines, or about how a tool you built or methodology you developed was adopted by multiple teams.
Although these things do not say exactly what impact you have on the business, it is clear that you are positively impacting the overall company. Improving team productivity is sure to lead to improved business metrics.
When describing your impact, avoid details that do not clearly explain how you helped the business. For example, simply saying that you improved model performance is not helpful for an interviewer. It is unclear exactly how that benefits the company. Stick with metrics that are clear to someone without a technical background, and if you have them, business metrics are best.
This tip about focusing on your impact does not only apply to presentations. When describing past projects in an interview, the impact is also very important. You can check out this blog post to learn more.
Use Your Best Stuff
Our next tip is to use your best stuff. This tip might seem painfully obvious at first. Of course, you want to present your best project! However, what exactly do we mean by best? It can be tempting to present a project that you feel was the most successful, but your most successful project is often also an easy project.
When I say present your best stuff, I am more so referring to the best stuff about you rather than the most successful project. Talking about a project with challenges gives you far more opportunities to display your skill, thoughtfulness, and uniqueness as a candidate. Challenging projects also tend to be more interesting, so it is much easier to capture the interviewer’s attention.
Challenges are not the only thing that make a project your best. You also want a project where you were heavily involved. Pick a project where you feel comfortable highlighting your actions in the various steps of the process. Explain things like the project design and implementation feasibility to demonstrate that you understand your job and its implications. This shows that you can drive projects because you understand how the entire thing works.
So when you pick a project to present, choose one that captures you at your best. This often means choosing to talk about a project that had some problems and obstacles. This idea leads us to our third tip: list the limitations of the project.
List the Limitations
It can be tempting to skip or skim over the issues and limitations that arose during a project. However, the limitations you faced on a particular project are not something that you want to bypass in a presentation, specifically when discussing the modeling method.
The fact is that simply knowing how to use a modeling method is not enough. Anyone can learn to do that. To impress interviewers, you need to demonstrate a knowledge of the method’s advantages and limitations in your application. Show awareness about what was not ideal in your situation.
For example, you might have faced a limitation with data. Perhaps they were problems with data collection, and your team did not have enough data to do analysis or modeling. To overcome this limitation, you might have had to do some research to find an external data source.
What this example shows is that listing the limitations gives you a chance to discuss how you improved or plan to improve. Thus, awareness of limitations indicates a capacity for growth and demonstrates your problem-solving capability. It shows that you can identify weaknesses in a plan and work to mitigate them.
Think through The Technical Details
The first three tips should help you decide which project to talk about, but now that you have picked a project, how do you prepare to present it? Everyone’s method differs, but there is one thing that I suggest everyone do. The fourth tip is to think through the technical details of the project.
You likely won’t have time to explain every technical aspect of a project, but you want to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of everything you do choose to talk about. You will often be asked follow-up questions that will require a thorough understanding of the technical details of the project.
For instance, an interviewer might ask you things like:
- Does it make sense to convert a continuous variable to a categorical variable? What if the distribution is long-tail?
- With a tree-based model, do you need to trim if it’s a random forest model?
Make sure that you are comfortable enough with all the technical details you plan to present to answer follow-up questions.
Behavior Does Matter
When preparing a presentation, content certainly matters, and so far that’s what our tips have focused on: what type of project to select and what aspects of that project to focus on in your presentation.
However, having fantastic content is not the only thing that makes a presentation successful. The interviewer will also be evaluating the way you handle yourself when giving a presentation.
Although you want to appear as someone you can sell their ideas and drive conversation, you do not want to come across as arrogant or egotistical. Part of being a good presenter is demonstrating that you are a good listener. No one wants to work with a coworker who refuses to listen to others and consider different perspectives.
Therefore, when giving a presentation it is important to show an openness to questions and suggestions. Listen to different opinions, even those that disagree with your own, and take the time to analyze them. You can then either persuade your audience of your own view or admit your limitations in the matter.
Many times this simply means admitting that someone has a good question and thinking of a solution. Do not dismiss others’ opinions and concerns because this implies that you would be a poor coworker. During a presentation, you should carry yourself in a way that shows confidence and capability while also demonstrating that you value differing perspectives.
What all of these tips show is that a presentation in an interview is less about presenting a project and more about presenting yourself as a data scientist.
To show that you are a capable data scientist, your presentation should go beyond simply explaining the bare facts of the project. You want to demonstrate your impact, your ability to problem-solve, your technical skills and knowledge, and your ability to behave professionally and drive the conversation.
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