When hiring managers schedule interviews for analytics jobs, they assume the candidates they’ve chosen have a strong level of technical abilities. While those skills will likely be tested during the interview, managers also want to know more about how you think through problems and view your work.
“What matters is initiative, being an independent learner, having a strong work ethic and working whatever hours are necessary, and good teamwork,” says Thomas Goulding, a professor in Northeastern’s Master of Professional Studies in Analytics program.
Here are some of the top questions you can expect to answer during your interview and how you can best prepare for them.
4 Most Popular Analytics Interview Questions
Analytics interviews are unique in that they typically require you to demonstrate your skills—sometimes on the spot, with little preparation.
“Employers are demanding more evidence that you’re technically competent than before,” Goulding says.
The following questions take this into account, asking applicants to showcase their abilities while providing insight into how they typically operate on the job.
1. Solve This Problem
One of the most popular analytics interview questions isn’t a question at all—it’s a case study. Either before your interview or during it, your interviewer will ask you to solve a real-world problem, such as providing a recommendation based on the company’s prior sales or pricing a new product. You’ll then have time to solve the problem before being asked to talk through your process and solution. This task tests your analytical skills using the same data you’d be handling as an employee, making it a reliable test of your fit with the company.
“They want to see how you attack the problem, what problem-solving skills you have, how you tackle the unknown, and how you handle stress,” Goulding says.
2. How Many Xs are in Y Place?
A similar problem-solving question asks candidates to estimate a large, multi-variable number, such as how many windows there are in New York City or how many pairs of shoes are purchased in Paris each year. Though it may sound nonsensical, this challenge tests your ability to identify variables, communicate your thought process, and pay attention to detail. Getting the correct answer is not necessarily the most important factor. Instead, the question is designed to provide insight into how you approach complex problems.
3. How Do You Handle Messy Data?
The data that analysts are meant to parse isn’t always in the best condition. It can contain inconsistencies that make analysis difficult, lack organizational structure, and otherwise be tough to read. Though a dull task, cleaning data can take up significant time and energy, and it’s essential to have a strategy for handling it in place. Interviewers want to be sure that you won’t be stumped by roadblocks and can manage tasks like this independently.
4. Share Past Analyses and Insights
When asked to share details about your previous work, don’t hold back. Interviewers want to see that you’ve tackled big projects and provided value to a company. Being able to talk about the actions taken as a direct result of your analysis shows that you can achieve results and move companies forward thanks to your skillset.
“The most important thing you can do is work on projects that are difficult and impressive,” Goulding says. “You don’t want to showcase your classes, because that’s not going to differentiate you.”
Preparing for Your Interview
Understanding the questions you may be asked is only half of the preparation needed to ace your analytics interview. These strategies can help you practice for the rest.
Research the Company
Because analytics interview questions often revolve around real-world issues facing the company, having a solid background on the organization at which you’re interviewing can be helpful. Conduct some research on the firm’s business model, customers, competitors, and challenges, as well as any major changes within its industry over the last few years. Not only can this information help you answer case study questions, but you can also use your knowledge when answering other questions to show that you care about the business’s success and want to be part of the team supporting it.
Practice Your Hard Skills
Solving hypothetical business problems on the spot requires quick math and strong familiarity with Excel, SQL, and other software if you’re required to use it for this test. Practice the basics before your interview, and bring a pen and notepad with you if you find it helpful to take notes while you work. Remember that when interviewers ask you to make a calculation or solve a problem, they are looking for more than just accurate answers—they also want insight into your thought process. Practice talking through your steps as you work through a problem at home to build up this skill.
Prepare Questions of Your Own
Asking your interviewer some questions at the end of your meeting shows that you’re curious about the company and can help you gain better insight into whether the role is a good fit for you. Consider asking questions like:
- What are the company’s biggest challenges, and how would I help solve them in this role?
- How would you describe the company’s culture?
- What are the company’s long-term goals?
Do a Practice Interview
Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to interviewing. Have a friend interview you using some sample questions, and search for online resources that can help. Talking through your answers and receiving immediate feedback can be an excellent way to make sure you’re representing your skills as best as possible during the actual interview.
Advancing Your Analytical Skills
Developing the right skill set is the best way to prepare for your career as a data analyst. Taking advantage of free resources can help you learn terminology and build your foundation, but formal education will help you fast-track your learning. Whether you choose to take a bootcamp-style course, pursue an advanced analytics degree, or obtain a professional certificate, there are many options available.
Northeastern’s Master of Professional Studies in Analytics prepares students for careers in analytics by helping them gain a theoretical foundation and apply it to real-world business problems. The program’s emphasis on experience-based learning through co-ops, case studies, and analysis of real data sets from companies in a range of industries gives students a unique advantage when interviewing for jobs.
“We don’t send companies students—we send them engineers,” Goulding says. “They talk and behave like no other interviewees because they’re confident and experienced.”