By: Mike Gilhooly, Public Affairs Manager
July 5, 2013
Online community All Analytics recently talked with Adam McElhinney, Head of Business Analytics at Enova, about what makes a candidate for an analytics position irresistible. And it’s not what you might expect.
In the interview, McElhinney wasn’t surprised that Enova was recently named number one in Brill Street + Company’s Top 50 Employers for Gen Y Emerging Talent in Chicago. Still, he said, “It’s certainly nice to be recognized.”
What makes Enova so attractive to Gen Y-ers? According to McElhinney, it’s pretty simple: “I make sure we have lots of interesting work to do. It’s cutting-edge stuff, so employees are constantly learning, meeting new challenges and pushing boundaries.” Enova’s analytics employees are also integrated into company operations and invited to have a voice in decision-making.
Judging employees solely on their accomplishments and their impact on the company, McElhinney said, makes Enova a great place to work because it promotes a culture of results. “As long as Enova employees get the work done, they have complete flexibility with their hours and workflow.”
Job seekers have picked up on the attention Enova is receiving, so McElhinney took a moment to offer pointers on getting the analytics gigs that keep companies like Enova going strong.
- Three main qualities. Candidates need to have an extremely strong quantitative background in math, statistics, physics, industrial engineering or computer science. But it’s also important to have some business acumen and people skills, i.e. the ability to communicate and collaborate.At Enova you need all three. Analytics teams are embedded directly into the business, frequently interacting with marketing teams, strategy teams and executives. They can do the analytics and then turn that model into an actionable business solution that they can communicate to stakeholders.
- Educational background. Keep in mind that there are many ways to demonstrate your ability, and education is one of those things that will typically get you an interview but not necessarily get you the job. We hire Ph.D.’s, Masters and undergraduates, and we see huge differences in performance that can’t be explained by education level or the prestige of the school. It just depends on the person.
- Develop a logical approach. In discussions of actual projects during the interview process, even if you don’t have experience in a particular field or type of project, what’s most important is having the ability to frame problems in a logical fashion.
- Competitions. Kaggle and other statistics or data mining competitions are a great way to show employers what you can do.
- Work samples. Academic papers and samples of a project you worked on are also valuable. In addition to your resume, show off your portfolio.
- Open-source software. For the kinds of analytics work we do at Enova, experience with open-source is a great asset. Contributing to one of the open-source data analysis tools that are available really makes an impression.
- Ask questions. In interviews, ask about the company culture. Ask the interviewer about their career path and how someone advances in the company. In some companies, employees cannot advance until a certain amount of time has passed or they reach a certain milestone. Ask about turnover percentage. Is it a place where people have been for 10 years or where they stay a year or two, then leave? It’s important to uncover these things before you take a job somewhere.
And the wrong things to do? McElhinney said it seems obvious, but candidates should make sure they’ve done their research before an interview. An interviewee who has clearly not read the job description or gotten a basic understanding of the company makes a bad impression. For example, analytics can mean different things to different companies. For firms like Enova, it’s advanced statistical modeling and machine learning.
Overly technical questions, McElhinney said, like whether an interviewer prefers one really specific modeling technique over another, usually doesn’t impress them. “That’s a missed opportunity to ask a more meaningful question.”
Speaking of questions, not asking many is a red flag for McElhinney. “Again, the interview process is your chance to ask more detailed questions and assess whether you think this is a place you would like to work.” Even asking the same questions to different people in the interview process is a good idea, he said, because you can get a more holistic idea of the culture and organization as a whole. “You could be spending a big chunk of your time with these people, so you want to have a good sense of what that would look like.”
For info about interning, recruiting, opportunities and the culture at Enova, click here.