Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interview your interviewers: data scientist edition

An interesting post from a data scientist, Trey Causey, on his experience in interviews. I like this set of "questions you should ask your interviewer":
  1. What does success look like for this position? How will I know if I am accomplishing what is expected of me?
  2. What is the last project you shipped? What was the goal, how long did it take, what were the stumbling blocks, what tools did you use, etc.
  3. What will my first 90 days in this role look like? First 180 days?
  4. Who will I report to and how many people report to that person? Do they have regular 1:1 with their team members?
  5. Why did the last person who quit this team leave? The company?
  6. If a startup, how long is your runway? How are financial decisions made?
  7. What would be my first project here? Has someone already been working on this or is this in the aspirational stage?
  8. What is the current state of the data infrastructure? How much work needs to be done on getting the infrastructure and pipeline into shape before we start analyzing that data?
Causey is a data scientist, so #8 is pretty specific. Nevertheless, this seems to me to be a good set of questions that an interviewee should keep in their back pocket. I personally like #5, but I am not sure that I have the guts to ask that question during the public portion of an interview (I like to have mutual connections answer that one.) 

Readers, what's your favorite question to ask your interviewer? 


  1. 9. How much more money will I make if I went to an ACS certified school?

  2. #5 - Why did the last person who quit this team leave? The company?

    This is a great question to ask. I once had an interviewer admit he had fired three people in a row when I asked him this question. I decided at that moment that I didn't want to work for him.

    1. I failed to ask this question many many years ago. I found out later that the average stay of an employee in my department was two weeks! I waited until the employment agency got paid (common at the time, pre-Internet). Then I gave two weeks notice and I was off to my next job.

      Oddly enough, that company flogged itself as an adviser to senior managers. What a cesspool.

  3. In the interview process Causey describes, there are a series of 30 minute one-on-one interviews. This is pretty standard for PhD chemistry hires as well. In these interviews, I'd ask:

    (the hiring manager): How long have you been managing this group? What are your long term goals? How much longer do you think you'll be managing this group? Are you aware of any personality conflicts among team members? What have you done to improve these problems or in general to increase group productivity? What is the typical time to promotion for the position I'm considering? Who is the top performer in the department? What qualities does he/she have that differentiates him/her from the other department members?

    (your potential future co-workers): What do you think of your manager? Would you choose to work for him/her again based on what you now know about him/her? How is your department perceived in the overall organization? Has anything been done recently to improve that perception? What metrics are used to gauge your performance? Do you think these are the right metrics to be using? Who are some of the hardest department members to work with, and why? What's the biggest barrier currently in place that prevents you from doing your job the way you think it should be done?

  4. To be honest, I don't think you'd get honest answers to most of these. Most of them would be standard non-answers, especially 1-3. I think 4-7 are good questions, but still may not get honest answers, ESPECIALLY 5. What you can do when asking 5 is gauge the emotion. If the person A) has something very rehearsed or B) suddenly looks very uncomfortable, there's probably trouble that they're trying to hide.

    I like Anon12:14's questions a lot better, but also don't anticipate you'd get a lot of honesty there, especially from bad managers or co-workers who hate their job but need to keep it for whatever reason.

  5. I like item (1). I've tried what I thought was a variation on it, "What attributes are you looking for in an employee who would succeed in this position" - which has been met with some surprised reactions (maybe they aren't used to getting that kind of question?). But I also have gotten some interesting answers that reveal what I was looking for: what the hiring manager really wants the working relationship to be like. I like the phrasing of (1) better and will be using it and some others from this list.

  6. All great questions and I wouldn't expect "honest" answers, either. The point of these questions would be to observe the answering process and divine the nature of the workplace from them.

  7. Related to #5, I have asked if internal candidates are being considered for the position I was interviewing for; and got what I felt was a good answer: They had good people, but they were not seasoned or experienced enough for the position, so the company was looking outside. It's good to know some employers respect industry experience. And no, I did not get the job. Too bad, it would have been good fit.

    1. Great question. My mom is retired from Merck, and they had a policy of forcing her to interview three people for a position, even though she already had someone she wanted (often a contractor she wanted to make an employee). She felt it was dishonest to make two other people burn up a vacation day to interview for a job they had no chance of getting, and she despised Merck HR.

  8. "Do I look fat in this suit?" Because if you're fat, and if the position is competitive, chances are you're not getting the job even if you're better on paper. Unless all the other best candidates are a bit chubby too, but this is unlikely at the assistant professor level.

  9. Tks very much for your post.

    Avoid surprises — interviews need preparation. Some questions come up time and time again — usually about you, your experience and the job itself. We've gathered together the most common questions so you can get your preparation off to a flying start.

    You also find all interview questions at link at the end of this post.

    Source: Top 10 interview questions and answers

    Best rgs