How to hire a data scientist

Data scientists have emerged as the hot ticket when it comes to using big data to grow business. Competition for these data gurus is fierce, so we asked our resident expert, SEEK's Head of Marketplace Analytics, Antony Ugoni, for his tips on how to stand out as a hirer of choice.

From offering up your chunkiest problems, to supporting the science, here are six tips to help you hire that hot ticket:

1. Clarify your need first

In an emerging field, terms and job titles are often interchangeable. Before you introduce a data scientist role, it’s important to clarify that the responsibilities go beyond a report of structured data (like last year’s results and quarterly reviews). The core function of a data scientist is to manipulate moving data in order to solve business problems. It’s when you’ve got chunky problems and masses of unwieldy data at your disposal that you need a data scientist on board.

2. Look for a highly-skilled Jack

The best data scientist is a Jack-of-all-trades (albeit a highly-skilled, hard-to-find Jack!), combining technical, mathematical and commercial skills. Look for candidates who have a strong business focus to compliment their technical talents – you want someone who can understand your business problems as much as they can understand your data.

3. Sell your problems

To attract the right data scientist, you need to offer an environment where there are a variety of complex problems to work on, with access to the best data and tools to solve those problems. Don’t understate the business problems you have – if anything, you need to sell them. The appeal for a data scientist is the solution they can bring to your business as a result.

4. Support the science

Let your candidate know they will not only have interesting problems to work on, but also the support of senior leaders to dig into those problems. Data science is an egoless discipline. Confirm that leaders have committed to letting the data tell the story, even – or especially – when the data contradicts previously held beliefs on what works within the business.

5. Build a community

In an emerging discipline, data scientists often operate in relative isolation, therefore commit to providing access to an industry community. These are employees who like to create, build and bounce ideas around.

If you don’t have an internal environment for your data scientist to do this, encourage the building of an external community of colleagues. As long as IP is protected, everyone wins from sharing knowledge and generating new ideas.

6. Open up the field

Given the relatively new title – it was coined in 2008 – you can expect your candidates to come from a variety of backgrounds. Here at SEEK, our analytics team includes astrophysicists and biostatisticians (that’s how I got my start), and our data scientists have worked across multiple industries.

Your candidate doesn’t need to come via a comparative industry or speak a particular programming language – the field is still too new to filter by commonality. As long as they’ve got the method, and an understanding of your business problems, you’ll find their skills are transferable.

When it comes to hiring data scientists, the good news is that although there are few, they are out there, and they’re monitoring the market, just like any other candidate. In fact, our astrophysicist, Max, applied for his current role through SEEK, proving the right opportunity will always be attractive – even to the hottest ticket in town.
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Antony Ugoni


Head of Marketplace Analytics

Antony Ugoni is one of Australia’s leaders in analytics and, in 2013, accepted an opportunity at SEEK to develop the candidate-to-advertisement matching capability. Antony began his career as a Biostatistician to the Alfred Group of Hospitals,...

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