Finding a Data Science Job in a Pandemic

Finding a Data Science Job in a Pandemic


At Interview Query, we love talking about our success stories. This week I talked to Jennetta, who recently joined Attain as a data scientist. I asked her about her interviewing experience, how tough it was to get a job during the current pandemic, and advice to the rest of the data science job-seekers out there.

Hello! What’s your background, and how did you get into data science?

Hi, my name is Jennetta. My background is in theoretical mathematics, and I received a Master’s Degree back in 2018 from Stockholm University.

Since then, I’ve worked three different jobs, one as an AI researcher at a water company, then as a software engineer at a government contractor, and lastly as a lead data scientist at Penn Interactive. Currently, I am about to begin a role as a specialist leader in AI/ ML for a government contractor, Attain.

How was your overall interviewing experience when looking for a new job?

The interviewing experience was so weird with the pandemic. I was on the job market six months before this and the key difference was that last time I got a job right away. It was pretty straight-forward, as I quit my last job to take the new position that I was offered, and felt more like what you would call a buyers market. I guess in this case an employees market where getting a data science job wasn’t that difficult.

This time, however, I was let go right before the pandemic started. At first, I was getting interviews right away and was kicking up a lot of steam. One job opportunity was with Comcast, where I was one of the final candidates for a lead role. The director loved me so much that he reached out with his personal cell to check in, letting me know they were getting things finalized. But once the pandemic hit there was a massive hiring freeze, and the opportunity went away.

Another job opportunity I had was down in Miami. I was interested in moving down there, so I started interviewing with Royal Caribbean and even flew myself down for the onsite. The interview experience was great, I feel like I aced the interview, but obviously, that one did not work out either. And slowly, interviews just started getting canceled left and right.

What did you do afterward to find a job in the midst of the pandemic?

I started looking at the bigger companies like Amazon and Facebook. It was definitely a different situation for me, given that I had never lived out on the West Coast and had always worked at startups before.

I made it to the final stages of Amazon and the technical screen for Facebook, and they all gave the same feedback that I was a strong candidate. However, given it was an employer’s market, they all had an even bigger pool of qualified candidates to choose from.

One thing that stuck out to me in the interviewing process was that I feel like so many people in the Interview Query Slack channel do their homework and do tons of research for their interviews. I can’t say I am that type of person. Generally, if they like me, they like me. That’s why I would be surprised by how some of the interviews were specific to a type of role.

Sometimes, I feel like since I don’t have a technical background, I always get slammed when it comes to talking about hyper-parameters, doing intense coding exercises, or discussing dev ops. But in the Facebook data science interview, they rejected me because they thought I was too technical?! Facebook was surprising, given they wanted me to focus more on the business side when I thought I was a strong communicator

What was the hardest interview question you received?

I got a supply chain problem from Amazon that had to do with supply and fulfillment. They gave a problem where they named different kinds of datasets that I had access to, like a list of products, zip codes, and fulfillment centers, and asked me to model out the problem to maximize profit.

I found this problem to be tough, and in the end, the hiring manager and the other data scientists who were in the interview told me that this was a problem they had been working on for 3 years and still hadn’t solved. I feel like if they had told me that upfront, I wouldn’t have jumped straight into solutions and rather had a discussion. But I guess this experience just goes to show how important it is to ask questions and clarify assumptions up front, given how much of an information mismatch you face in interviews.

Check out examples of Amazon and Facebook data science interview questions.

How did you end up getting your current job at Attain?

With my interview process at Attain, I had a really positive phone screening with the technical recruiter and then had another equally good conversation with a lead on the project.

About a week later, I heard from the recruiter that an offer was being written up, and I quickly accepted. It was quite ironic that for so many interviews with other companies, I had to jump through dozens of hoops, perform challenging take-home projects or online assessments, and go through 8 hours of site interviews, all ending in no job offer, while the company that finally made me an offer only needed to have two 30-minute conversations with me to know I was the person they wanted.

What’re your final pieces of advice for people that are looking for data science jobs right now?

My advice for interviewing, especially right now, is that you have to be really vigilant and on the prowl to get calls and to get companies interested. I read a lot on the Interview Query Slack channel stuff, like I sent out 10–15 resumes; why am I not hearing anything back? No, that’s not a lot.

In one day, during my job search, I would reach out to over 200 recruiters on LinkedIn and additionally apply for 20–40 jobs. Then after doing that for a week, I would hear back from around five of them. It’s a full time job of just submitting resumes and also writing cover letters.