interview prep
September 23, 2020

Softer Skills matter for your interview prep too – how to show them

By Paul Laughlin

I hope the advice & resources we’ve shared recently help those between jobs, now let’s turn our attention to interview prep.

You should treat finding a job as your job and perhaps use the template from Kevin to prioritise your opportunities, hopefully securing an interview. There is a lot of focus on analysts & data scientists being up to date on their technical skills. Candidates prepare themselves for technical tests.

But, I’d advise that you don’t overlook the need to also demonstrate that you possess the softer skills needed. I’ve interviewed over 20 data leaders for customer insight leader podcast & almost all have cited the need for softer skills. But how can you identify what that means?

In this post, I’ll use the 9-step model that provides a framework for my training. It will help us think through which skills are needed and how you might evidence them in an interview.

A framework to identify your Softer Skills

Let me start by introducing my model for the skills analysts need. This is based on over 15 years of experience in leading & developing such teams. It categorises the skills I’ve seen make a difference to your analytics at each stage of the workflow. Here is the visual summary.

interview prep model
(c) Laughlin Consultancy Ltd, not to be reproduced without permission

There are two levels to this model and 9 steps that require Softer Skills. Plus, another that helps guide action within each of those 9 steps.

Understanding this model

The high-level phases of this analytics workflow are (whether implemented in one ‘waterfall’ or smaller iterative agile phases):

  • Contracting (agreeing on what the business needs & what you’ll deliver)
  • Technical (the data & analytics work to develop a product or insight)
  • Delivery (delivering action to improve your business as a result)

Each of those phases contains key steps, that require Softer Skills to successfully complete them all. The total list of steps to consider is:

  1. Questioning (to get to the real need, not what’s been asked)
  2. Plan (effective preparation & project/work planning)
  3. Buy-in (key stakeholder identification, engagement & support)
  4. Data (identify appropriate data sources & data wrangling)
  5. Analysis (use appropriate technical approach to meet the need)
  6. Insight (converge evidence to generate insights into behaviour)
  7. Sign-Off (consider political implications of results & agree on approach)
  8. Visual Story (data visualisation & storytelling to communicate output)
  9. Solution (influence to achieve action & create a feedback loop to learn)

In addition to those distinct 9 steps, Commercial Awareness is required to help guide your approach at each step. I’ve shared before on the 3 aspects of commerciality that analysts need to be more effective.

How can that model help you with your interview prep?

Anyway, before that starts reading like just a chance to advertise my model, let me explain what I think it can help you. Over my years of interviewing hundreds of analysts & other data roles, I’ve seen many fail to evidence softer skills when asked.

It appears many candidates for technical roles, like analysts or data scientists, focus all their prep on the technical aspects. That can be a fatal mistake. I’ve seen many more people hired because of the softer skills they demonstrated than solely on the basis of technical prowess.

So, I recommend that you use the above as a checklist to either think of positive examples to cite or identify where you need to develop.

Preparing your examples to impress

So, let’s unpack a bit more of what a positive example might look like for each own the above steps. Here I am assuming a broadly ‘competency-based interview approach. One where you will have the opportunity to provide examples of generic competencies (including softer skills), rather than needing to have more specific experience.

Let’s work through those steps to help you identify examples…

Questioning example

When have you asked more when someone has requested data/analysis/model from you? Think of a time when you asked questions and ‘dug deeper’. Ideally, an example where that conversation helped identify that the person actually needed something different than originally requested. An example where you demonstrate confidence & curiosity.

Planning example

When have you prepared well for a piece of analytics work? When has it served you well that you anticipated potential delays or dependencies on others? Have you had responsibilities for planning projects or preparing/reviewing scrums or sprints? Demonstrate forethought & rigour.

Buy-in example

When have you developed & used a stakeholder map? When have you identified the key stakeholders who matter and met with them to explain some work & secure their buy-in? Can you provide an example of gaining their trust for your work? Demonstrate stakeholder management.

Data example

It’s easy to get distracted by just the technical work here. When have you stepped back & thought carefully about which data to use? Have you an example of avoiding operational or regulatory problems by thinking through the provenance of data or how it will later be deployed? When have you thought more carefully than others Demonstrate care & attention.

Analysis example

Let’s again avoid the coding & statistical work itself. When have you protected sufficient time for Exploratory Data Analysis and as a result identified something else that needs to be investigated? When have you taken time to step back & consider which algorithmic approach will best serve what the businesses needs? Demonstrate taking a wider view.

Insight example

When have you focussed on understanding people not just the numbers? Do you have an example of converging evidence from multiple sources to spot wider themes or imply motivations? Have you used research together with analysis to help identify why you are seeing the identified behaviour? How have you shown curiosity to understand your customers better?

Sign-off example

How have you shown that you can be more politically astute? Do you have an example of spotting for yourself that there might be political implications from the insight or results of your analysis? Can you share an example of handling this carefully through negotiations with key stakeholders? Do you know what they care about? Demonstrate awareness.

Visual Story example

For this one, if you are not prevented due to reasons of confidentiality, you might want to have a digital example. You are looking to share examples of having effective data visualisation & storytelling skills. When have you managed to summarise effectively? When have you communicated technical data in a simple visualisation? Demonstrate an eye for this.

Solution example

When have you followed up beyond completing your piece of work? Have you got an example of successfully influencing others to put your recommendations into action? Can you demonstrate a curiosity & even passion to see a difference made? Did you discover the result of action & implement a feedback loop to improve future recommendations?

Commercial Awareness example

Have you got a strong example of your awareness of the financial performance of a business, together with an understanding of strategy & market? When have you applied this understanding to guide your questioning, prioritisation, data selection, analytics, interpretation & communication of impact? Demonstrate that you can provide more than a textbook solution.

How else will you include Softer Skills in your interview prep?

I hope that list helps you prepare well & I hope you secure the right role for you as a result. You have my best wishes.

What else has helped you prepare well or even have successful interviews the secured a job you love? Please do share positive tips to help our community at this time.