Data Scientists: Should You Hire, or Train From Within?

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Where do data scientists come from? In a perfect world, they have:

  • Formal training with a background that could be in modeling, math and statistics, analytics, and computer science.
  • Strong business acumen
  • The ability to explore and examine data from multiple disparate sources and spot trends or discover previously hidden insights
  • The capability to communicate findings to both business and IT leaders so as to influence how they approach a business challenge

Why are data scientists becoming so important? Because predictive analytics are becoming more critical, allowing companies to reduce risk and create unique customer experiences.

And if your organization needs one or more, are you better off hiring someone who has earned a degree, maybe even an advanced degree, or should you train and hire from within?

If you’re hiring, ask yourself the following questions to evaluate your data-scientist job candidates:

  • Does the candidate act as if they have all the answers? An effective data scientist’s job is to ask questions and realize that they won’t know the answers until they’ve tested their statistical models against fresh data
  • Does the candidate know the statistical modeling tools your organization uses, and if not, does she or he seem willing to learn them?
  • Does the candidate express an awareness that data mining and predictive modeling tools are always changing and evolving, or do you feel that they are focused only on using what they know already?

One school of thought says you don’t necessarily require a degree to analyze big data. In fact, some graduates’ experience may be too limited and too clinical, as opposed to real-world, hands-on experience.

If you already have employees in your organization who are familiar with your data needs, you may be better off helping them get the education, training or certification they need to bring maximum value to your data analytics.  Here’s how to evaluate them:

  • Do they know the core competencies, like SQL, statistics, predictive modeling and programming? This will give them a common language that will let them talk to people from different backgrounds.
  • Do they have hands-on experience hacking data, good exploratory analysis skills, the ability to work with engineering teams and the ability to generate and create algorithms and models?
  • Can they “tell a story” with the data? In other words, can they communicate to product managers or executives why their findings matter?

If you have people already in your organization that you want to bring up to speed, there are plenty of opportunities to learn these new skills online via open online courses and universities’ online programs.

If you’re ready to hire data scientists but are feeling unsure of your ability to seek and recruit the best, call Smith Hanley Associates. Highly specialized positions require the expertise of a highly specialized recruiting firm, and we’ll put our decades of experience to work for you!

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