Mailbag: How to Get Experienced DS Resume Noticed by Recruiters?

[ mailbag career datascience ] · 4 min read

I writes:

Hello! I’ve been working as a data scientist for close to 2 years now and would like to start applying for jobs again soon. Just wanted to ask for your opinion on what more I should include in my resume in addition to all the basic information (education, work experience etc) to increase the chances of getting called up by recruiters. There are quite a bit of resources on how to pass interviews and how to prepare your resume for people new to this field but I’ve not found much for existing data scientists. I’ve come up with some points below:

  • Kaggle competitions
    • I know you did a very successful product classification challenge 6 years ago and ranked in the top 3% but these days I feel that Kaggle competitions are much harder to crack due to the many PhDs and geniuses there. And I think if you aren’t in the top few % then it’s probably not worth mentioning on your resume? It’s definitely a nice-to-have but not the most bang-for-buck since it’s very time consuming and not entirely representative of real world challenges.
  • Personal side projects?
    • I actually have a friend who runs a shop that sells car accessories and performs car modifications. I have not asked yet but I think he would be open to letting me analyse his sales and coming up with ways to optimise his business or increase revenue. This seems a pretty exciting project to me since there are “real” implications as opposed to say a Kaggle project. Maybe I could somehow build an end-to-end product for this like how you did which is really interesting. The ‘downside’ (I think) is that some people may see this as an ‘unsexy’ project?
  • School projects
    • I’m also doing OMSCS just like you did and I’m wondering if its worth including some of the more interesting projects on my resume, like the ones in Reinforcement Learning for instance. Another reason for including this is because it’s really difficult to devote time to other side projects while in this program (I’m sure you can testify on this) so I guess it’s sort of implicitly saying “hey I don’t have many side projects because I’m studying, not slacking”
  • Volunteer with DataKind or something but I heard they are pretty strict on accepting new members these days (my friend tried and got no response) so I’m not optimistic about this
  • Nothing? Just relying on the descriptions of your achievements at your current job would do.
  • Other suggestions?

Do you have any opinions on this? If it helps, I’m based in Singapore. Looking forward to your reply. Thanks!

This is a great question. I find that—at least in Singapore—getting your resume picked up by recruiters is somewhat of a game. Understanding what they look for is key.

“What should I include in my resume to increase the chances of getting called up by recruiters?”

In my experience, most recruiters (in Singapore) tend to be keyword scanners and experience calculators (though there are a few good ones that are excellent at spotting talent outside of the resume). Thus, regular recruiters just compare your keywords and experience against the job description/requirements to see if it matches up—that’s how they determine candidate quality.

Does the candidate meet 8 out of 10 requirements, or just 5/10? They don’t want to forward hiring managers too many 5/10s. Thus, they’ll play it safe and only reach out and forward resumes if it crosses a certain threshold (e.g., 8-9/10).

The suggestions you have (e.g., Kaggle, side projects, volunteering) are great, though it depends on the recruiter and hiring manager’s inclination. Look at the industry/companies/teams you want to join—do they tend to be filled with Kaggle competitors? Or do they work on a lot of side projects? Personally, as a hiring manager, I’m biased towards personal projects as they demonstrate curiosity, learning ability, and grit; other hiring managers might emphasize other aspects.

To summarize, for your resume:

  • Have a summary on top, with 3 bullet points (max) on why they should hire you.
  • Then, your work experience, with measurable results from your deliverables.
  • Then, education, showcasing relevant learning (e.g., classes taken).
  • Lastly, your projects, MOOCs, etc.

Write it in such a way that it meets most of the standard job requirements for roles you’re targeting.

“Wow, that sounds really difficult (and somewhat random).”

Yes, it is. Thus, instead of waiting for recruiters to call on you, I suggest (i) getting referred, or (ii) reaching out directly to the hiring manager instead.

Here’s what that process looks like:

  • Look for roles you’re keen on.
  • Do you have a friend in the company that can refer you?
  • If yes, reach out to them—with the URL of the job posting—and ask them to help refer you. Of the many times I tried this, I always got a first interview.
  • If no, try looking for the hiring manager and reaching out directly, explaining how your skills and experience can help in the role and team.
  • Repeat.

While this sounds tedious, it’s far more effective. For example, job applications usually have a 5-10% conversion rate to get the first interview. In contrast, from experience, referrals and cold emails have >95%.

All the best!

Have a question for me? Happy to answer concise questions via email on topics I know about. More details in How I Can Help.

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