If you are looking for a job as a data scientist—or any job, for that matter—mailing your resume in response to job listings is by far the worst thing you could do. It’s not worth your time since your chances of getting someone to call or email you in response are so low.
A much better way is to establish some sort of personal connection with the company or department that you are interested in exploring. In fact, even if you don’t have a company or position in mind, it still makes a great deal of sense to reach out to practicing data scientists in order to learn more about the field, perhaps discover hidden job opportunities, and just plain build your network.
That’s a key word in job hunting: networking.
LinkedIn has certainly made networking much easier than it used to be, but that ease has also made it possible to be very sloppy when you do this. It’s so easy to fire off a series of messages and/or InMails that simply say, “I’m looking for a job and would like to know of any openings in your department.”
But that’s not really any better than firing off resumes at random. And you’re blowing a great opportunity to help your job search.
What Not to Do When Reaching Out
Every day I get messages via LinkedIn and most of them are truly terrible. Okay, I do get a fair number thanking me for the advice I give beginning data scientists on how to break into the field—and I do appreciate those. But most of the messages are all about “getting something”, not legitimate attempts to build any kind of relationship.
Most of the messages I get are like the above, where someone asks me out of the blue if we have any openings. Sometimes people will be as bold as to ask me if I could refer them to someone in the company I currently work at or someone who I’ve worked with in the past.
The thing is, I don’t know anything about this individual or, usually, any openings we might have. So I’m neither inclined nor capable of helping them.
I recently got such a message asking me if we had any openings and if I’d refer him. Honestly, his resume was pretty decent. And if he had approached me in a different manner, I might have taken the time to figure out how I could help him. But this individual made no attempt to try to establish any kind of relationship with me. I’m simply a tool to help him get what he wants.
Every once in awhile, I get an open-ended request to get on a phone or Skype call so someone can “pick my brain”. No duration specified, no agenda. No specific questions. They want me to drop everything I’m doing and let them pepper me with every question they can think of. Needless to say, these aren’t any better than the messages that want me to refer them to someone. In both cases, I’m supposed to give value to a complete stranger with nothing in return.
Why You Should Climb the Ladder
The truly baffling thing is that the messages I get fall into two categories: those thanking me for my posts on job hunting and those who want to get something from me. Very, very rarely do I get messages that combine both of these elements.
Which is too bad because that’s really the way to do it. People who are familiar with my content and compliment me on it stand a much better chance of me helping them. They are in a great position to tack on an “I’d love to learn a little more about the work you do at (company). Can I ask you a few questions?” to their message.
Even though I’m very busy, I do like helping people (obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog or sending out tips to my email list every other day). And who knows? If the person impresses me with their skills and/or enthusiasm, I might be able to refer them to someone else I know who has a job opening.
I like to think of networking as climbing a ladder. You’re going step-by-step to reach an end goal. It’s unrealistic to think that a single step is going to get you where you want to be. And trying to jump all the steps at once is silly (not to mention, dangerous).
And, really, anyone who wants to immediately jump to the end is probably ill suited to become a data scientist in the first place. To be a good one, you must spend a lot of time exploring and understanding the data. And you may have to reach out to the stakeholders and subject matter experts when you are brainstorming a plan of attack.
Those who want to jump right to modeling turn out to be poor data scientists. So I’m immediately suspicious of anyone trying to take a short cut in their networking because I certainly don’t want to work with someone who takes short cuts in their data science work.
Think About Them, Not Just About Yourself
One of the biggest problems I see with people conducting their job hunt is their mindset. They are thinking about themselves and their needs. That’s natural, of course, but not very effective. In fact, it makes their job search much more stressful than it needs to be because they become consumed with self-obsessed issues like “Am I good enough?” An effective job search entails understanding what problems a prospective employer has and then marketing yourself as someone who can help them.
That’s thinking about them first, not you.
This is especially important when networking. If you are going to reach out to experienced data scientists, don’t make your first message all about you and what you want. Make it about them (mostly). Comment on something they’ve posted. Point them to a helpful resource. Offer to share their content. Maybe ask them something about their profile.
Initially approaching someone with the mindset “what can they do for me?” is ineffective and just plain annoys people who might have been in a position to help. Yes, it takes slightly longer to do it this way, but going step-by-step is what will get you where you want to go.
I know it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the job search. And then it’s tempting to fire off lots of generic requests for help. But it just plain doesn’t work. Pause and think about how your request is going to occur for the other person. What would make them stop what they are doing and reply to you?
This is a skill that will serve you well throughout your life, not just your job search. Make it a point of mastering it.