Episode 28: Tips for Data Job Seekers from a Resume Writer and Interview Coach, Fatemah Mirza
Learn from Fatemah Mirza, the founder of CareerTuners.com, on how to position yourself and your data experience (even if you think you don’t have any) to help yo land a data job.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode
- Tips for data portfolio
- Common mistakes when it comes to communicating about themselves and their work during the job application process
- Advice for entry-level data professionals applying for their first job
- How to position pro bono work
- How to stand out from other applicants
- How to approach whiteboard and live coding sessions
- What to do if you have a bad interviewer
Connect with Fatemah Mirza
Get in Touch with Hana
Let me know what you think of the episode, you can
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If you enjoyed this episode, check out this episode where you learn communication tips for when you start your first data job.
[00:00:00] Hana: Welcome back to another episode today we’re joined by Fatemah Mirza from Career Tuners, and she’s coming on here today to talk about how to apply for jobs. How to showcase yourself and your work in your resume, LinkedIn interviews, et cetera. I’m really excited to have her on here today.
[00:00:20] I actually know her from college, so it’s really nice to connect with her again, and I’m really excited to learn from her today and have you all learn from her as well. So welcome Fatima.
[00:00:32] Fatemah: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
[00:00:35] Hana: So you have a company called career tuners.com. You’ve been working with this company for a very long time. I remember following you from the early days. Can you tell us a little bit more about career tuners?
[00:00:46] Fatemah: Absolutely. So career tunes helps ambitious job seekers find, apply for and get higher paying, more fulfilling jobs. So we help job seekers from all step of the processes. Some of the people that come to us, they’re like, I don’t know what I wanna do. I want to go into data science, but I don’t know which specialty would match.
[00:01:05] My pay goals, my work-life balance goals my skillset, what has the most growth and that sort of thing. So we help them from, from you know, finding a path that works for them all the way to negotiating their salary with them. So in the middle we have things like redoing their resumes coaching them for interviews, applying to jobs for them.
[00:01:24] So we’re trying to help people and make it as easy as possible for them to get the job that they want at the pay that they.
[00:01:32] Hana: That’s awesome. That’s really great that you’re have. End-to-end involvement. It’s such a stressful process, the whole job application process, and there’s a lot of questions and confusion that can come up at any point. So that’s great that you’re offering that whole end-to-end services.
[00:01:49] What have you noticed with your clients who are data professionals when it comes to applying for jobs what opportunities are there for these type of job applicants to showcase their data work?
[00:01:59] Fatemah: Absolutely. So I think the best way to do that. Is if you are able to, you know, put together a portfolio and you can link to your portfolio on your LinkedIn we can even put together like a really nice header image that includes the URL to your portfolio. But if you just have the opportunity, To only share your resume and you’re not gonna have the chance to really, you know, be able to showcase your entire portfolio to somebody.
[00:02:24] Really even using the experience section to talk about the work that you’ve done, how you’ve made data more accessible, how you’ve made dashboards more user friendly, what decisions the data helped inform all of the things that are really important for you to. basically to say that you were a successful data science professional, making sure that that is carried through in your resume is really, really, really critical because not everybody is going to have the chance of showcasing their portfolio.
[00:02:51] Sometimes All you have is that first impression, which is your resume. So if you make a good case there, the chance of you actually being asked for your portfolio or more of information is a lot.
[00:03:03] Hana: I see. So you mentioned attaching a data portfolio. Do you even if for ev, if there’s someone who’s applying for a job role that doesn’t mention or require a portfolio, do you recommend that they still attach that?
[00:03:17] Fatemah: I definitely recommend that you have a portfolio. You might not have the chance to acha attach it or share it, but I think even the act of putting your portfolio together, It gives you that mental like, wow, look at what I achieved. And it helps you articulate that better during interviews. It helps you articulate that better on your resume.
[00:03:33] So it is really, really important to take stock of what you’ve achieved, I think at least on a quarterly basis.
[00:03:39] Hana: Hmm. I see. Oh. What common mistakes have you noticed with data professionals when it comes to communicating about themselves and their work during the job application process?
[00:03:50] Fatemah: I have found that a lot of consultants, especially in the data science space, tend to have really long resumes. Like they really like to share details of everything they worked on. This is especially true for professionals with a little bit more experience and. , what people might not know is that your second page of your resume is often not even looked at.
[00:04:12] You know, in the first screening, in the first screening, people are only taking a look at your first page. The first few seconds they’re like, okay, is the most recent job title you’ve had relevant to my hiring needs? If it’s not, their not gonna read the rest of your resume with as much care and attention as you want them to.
[00:04:29] So that’s the biggest piece of advice I would give, especially to more experienced professionals, to younger professionals or to professionals who are new to the data science space. A lot of times, The experience that they have, they’re trying to break into this industry. It comes from like boot camps or schoolwork or some sort of academy that they’ve enrolled in.
[00:04:50] Using those projects to showcase your data science experience is really important. And then you can kind of summarize some of your earlier. Earlier history, so you’re not getting pigeonholed. For example, if you’re a teacher and you’ve been teaching for let’s say 10 years and you’re like, ah, I hate kids.
[00:05:06] I don’t wanna do this anymore, , I don’t wanna see people, I just wanna do data science, right? , if you have that kind of story, which a lot of people do, , you would summarize your teaching experience. You would say something like, earlier history includes 10 years of teaching. I helped, you know I looked at test scores and made database decisions based on that, but, you know, you can, you can talk about some of the transferrable skills, but that’s, that’s the key advice that I would give to new people in the space or really experience people in the space.
[00:05:33] Hana: I see. The advice you gave for new or entry level data professionals who may not have actual real world experience yet, and as you mentioned, they have certifications and you know, they attended boot camps on their resume. Then in addition to having that earlier, employment history where, you know, it’s like not directly relevant to data.
[00:05:54] Where do you recommend that they have some relevant work history section where maybe they talk about just the projects they’ve worked on or the bootcamp experience or not have that section at all?
[00:06:05] Fatemah: No, I definitely think that’s pertinent. I think it depends on your experience. Even if the experience was like, let’s say volunteer work or it was you did a little bit of freelancing, I think you can call yourself a consultant. So like, my name’s Fatemah. I would say something like, consultant for Fatemah, for Fatemah Company or something.
[00:06:24] Like, I would give that an experience heading and each. Each project I would make like a resume bullet. However, if the projects that you did were just for learning, it was just like schoolwork there, it wasn’t like a real project, then it would appear under your education and I would say put your education higher than your professional experience.
[00:06:46] if that’s what’s more relevant to your reader. I mean, it’s just like with any book, you know, like when you read it and like the first few pages are boring, you’re not gonna read the rest with your resume. It’s the same thing. If the first line speaks to the reader’s hiring need, then they’re gonna read the rest.
[00:07:00] If not, they’re gonna probably skip it or skim it at the very best.
[00:07:06] Hana: So you brought up a really good point about capturing. The hiring manager or the recruiter’s attention. Do you have any tips for new and experienced applicants that are trying to break into the data field for the first time and they’re struggling to stand out from other applicants?
[00:07:22] Fatemah: I would say as much as possible, try to get some form of paid experience, even if it’s really nominal, even if you’re going onto Upwork and taking on a project that pays $15 an hour. The reason I say this is because while your school projects are great, and they will expose you to different data science techniques, Languages, et cetera.
[00:07:45] There’s nothing like actually taking a business need and boiling it down, you know, using data science best practices and stuff. So if you can show on your resume, look, there was an actual business need that I helped make easier or, you know, help resolve that experience is gonna look a lot better than when you compare your resume with someone who.
[00:08:08] It may, maybe a really well-written resume, maybe the project section’s very detailed and it has a lot of keywords and everything that’s all great. But what really would stand out is if you show that you have real world experience, even if it’s really low paid, even if it was just a two week project, it doesn’t matter because it does show that you are capable of solving real world problems and that you’re trustworthy and loyal and all of those good things.
[00:08:35] Hana: I don’t know how you feel about this. I talk to a lot of entry level or people who are trying to break into the data field, and sometimes they even struggle with finding internships, even free internships. And so what I recommend to them sometimes is that try doing a pro bono project, like a small project, not one that lasts several months.
[00:08:51] So yeah, you recommend that. I tend to recommend doing pro bono projects for nonprofit orgs or organizations that you feel really passionate about and that way you have some kind of connection and motivation to work with them. But also, especially organizations that can’t afford to have a full-time data professional just to help them out with a project or two is.
[00:09:12] you know, be a win-win situation for both of you. And you know, and it helps you show that you have an experience on your resume. How would you recommend someone communicate that experience on their resume? Should they mention it’s pro bono, or should they make it sound like it’s an actual work experience?
[00:09:28] Fatemah: So that’s a good question and I’ll come to that. But as an aside, I just wanna address like some of the emotional pain that someone might experience when they feel like they have to do pro bono work in order to even break into the field. Like, I get it. I get that. That’s really annoying. And yes, in an ideal world, we would always be compensated for our effort.
[00:09:45] Hana: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:46] Fatemah: and there are ways to get compensated for your effort. Like you can learn how to become a consultant. You can learn how to pitch projects, you can learn how to find clients that have deep pockets and all of that good stuff, but there’s another learning curve associated with that. And maybe you don’t have the time to actually learn that new skill.
[00:10:05] Maybe just like, you know, a five hour project is something that can really make a difference on your resume and. At the end of the day, I think you do really have to evaluate what’s gonna be making you more money in the long run. Like if you’re like, you know what, no, I’m onto something. I think being a consultant and actually learning how to be a freelancer in this space is gonna be worth the time.
[00:10:27] I’m gonna get paid for these projects, and then I’m gonna. Charge even more when I’m, you know, working with companies. If you think that’s what you wanna do, great. But if you’re like, no, I need a job now, I need that stability right away, then I think it’s really important to just be like, let me build up my resume and, and get a move on things, you know?
[00:10:46] So to answer your question, you know, how do you communicate this? I’m a big fan of saying all the experiences are equal just because you got paid less for something, or you got paid nothing at all. . It doesn’t mean that experience is not valid. It definitely means it is valid. You did something of benefit.
[00:11:04] You did something positive, so you shouldn’t have to write that you were, you know, doing this pro bono that takes away from that experience. You can use the word consultant if you like.
[00:11:15] Hana: Yeah. I’m sure a lot of people are gonna be happy hearing that. And I totally agree with you.
[00:00:00] Hana: So we’ve talked about tips for resumes as well as portfolios. What are your tips for data professionals for technical interviews like live coding or whiteboard sessions? Are there any particular strategies that you recommend?
[00:00:15] Fatemah: It’s a completely different skill to do like a live coding interview versus actually doing coding for the job. So knowing that this is one of the barriers to entries, I think really important. There are a lot of boot camps that help prepare. Folks for technical interviews, if you are really struggling with this and this is the biggest gatekeeper to your job, maybe consider investing in one.
[00:00:35] There’s a lot of great technical interview coaches out there that specialize on different fields, so finding one that. Best serves you. And then your learning style is, I think, really important. Just remember that, you know, this is a totally different skillset when we’re actually working. We have access to things like Google and we’re not using a whiteboard, like we’re actually typing stuff on a keyboard.
[00:00:56] It’s a completely different experience. So you have to learn how you’re going to be asked to present in the interview itself. And there’s a lot of great forums as well that help with interview. Related to the FAANG companies. That’ll be like, oh, this is, this is the kind of interview that I was asked to undertake and that sort of thing.
[00:01:15] So this is definitely a resource worth checking out.
[00:01:18] Hana: Yeah, I definitely agree with you that it is a very different experience than real world experience with coding and whiteboard sessions. Even if you do do pseudo code on whiteboard, when I was doing my technical interviews, I have to remind myself to actually talk out loud my thought process and what I’m doing and how I’m approaching the problem.
[00:01:35] Because usually when you’re working on a problem yourself, you’re just in your head , and you’re not really used to talking out loud. Not everyone does that. So I definitely didn’t do that and I had to remind myself that instead of just quietly doing stuff on the whiteboard or on my computer to actually talk out loud what I’m thinking and how I’m approaching things.
[00:01:54] And sometimes I actually got feedback from interviewers that actually let me clarify because they realized I didn’t understand their question or they didn’t clarify the problem enough. That’s one thing that I recommend folks remember is to actually walk through the problem and what you’re thinking with your interviewers, and sometimes I, I won’t always get to the right answer, but they actually mentioned that they liked how I approached the problem and it wasn’t all about finding the right answer, it was about seeing how you think and work and code. So that is comforting for me to know at least that it doesn’t matter if I get to the right answer necessarily.
[00:02:33] Fatemah: Absolutely. And that’s I think one of the key things I look for when building my team as well is when I ask you to do an exer, I, first of all, I pay all of the, the interviewers for any exercises that I’m benefiting from. You know what I mean? Like, that’s 1 very strong ethical viewpoint that I have is a lot of these companies will ask you to do projects and stuff that they’re gonna benefit.
[00:02:54] I really think you have to be compensated for your time. My little rant aside a lot of times I don’t end up using the research or the work that someone presents to me during their interview, but looking at it allows me to see what resources they used, how they structure everything, and it helps me make hiring decisions.
[00:03:11] Most recently, and this has nothing to do with data science, but I was interested in hiring someone to do my website and he was, Oh, your copy’s like really long. There are certain places where I would shorten things up and I asked him why and then I explained that, look, this is how people are looking.
[00:03:29] And at my website, and he was, he did adjust himself and he said, yeah, I can see why longer copy here would make more sense. And I think that conversation is really important. So I think even if you’re asked to present, like let’s say like a slide deck, I think it’s really important to ask if you can present it during a conversation because you articulated everything, your thought process and stuff, and that really helped you and just kind of giving your report and stuff.
[00:03:59] It doesn’t allow the interviewer to get that same context, so I do think that’s a really valuable tip that you shared.
[00:04:04] Hana: Okay. That’s good to know. I know interviews can be really stressful and sometimes there are take home assignments that can be very time consuming, so I really appreciate how you believe in compensating people for solving p. Real problems, real business problems, cuz not all companies do that.
[00:04:20] I know a lot of companies that exploit their interviewees and have them do free work that can last like a couple weeks or even if it’s just a few hours, it’s still important to be compensated. So, I know we can have a whole conversation about this in
[00:04:34] Fatemah: call them out. I’m just kidding.
[00:04:37] Hana: Yeah, my husband’s in the tech field as well.
[00:04:39] He’s an engineer and he’s had so many interviews that went like this, and he spent so much time on real problems, and I’m like, you really should be compensated for this. . You’re pretty much like a free consultant.
[00:04:50] Fatemah: use that for like a business purpose. I mean, if they’re asking you for an exercise, like let’s say they’re like, well, how would you do this? Or How would you answer this question? That’s totally different. But if they’re like, prepare a report or create an algorithm,
[00:05:03] Hana: Right. So far we’ve talked about resumes, portfolios, interviews, you also briefly touched upon presentations and slide decks, and turn that into a conversation or a dialogue with the interviewers.
[00:05:16] Are there any other parting tips you have for interviews that do require a presentation or have you present the assignments that they gave you?
[00:05:25] Fatemah: The biggest takeaway that I think everyone should take from this conversation is a lot of times you’ll have an interviewer that is unfortunately, A bad interviewer, they will be like a great manager or, or they’ll be a great professional in the data science space, but they’ll be really bad at conversations or assessing candidates.
[00:05:45] And this is just an unfortunate. You know, symptom of, of how some of the issues in, in the hiring process. But the key thing to do is to understand that you are always in control. And just because they’re on the other side of the table, it doesn’t mean that the interview is not a conversation. So if you feel like, quite frankly, my interviewer is a little bit of a moron, you can literally tell them like, Hey, I think one of the key things we didn’t talk about that I saw in your job description, That I, I would like to speak to if possible is your need for visualization.
[00:06:19] Can I talk about that briefly? So, I think interrupting the interviewer is totally okay. It’s a huge necessity if the interviewer is incompetent and to please feel free to do that in any part of the interview process. So if you are doing an exercise and you need more information, interrupt. have the confidence to be like, no, to do my best and to show them that I can solve their problems, I need to have this proper conversation.
[00:06:44] It’s a two-way street, right? So that’s something that you have to have to do it. It takes a little bit of confidence and it takes a little bit of bravery. But if you do it once and it goes well, you’ll be like, okay, this is something that I can always do. So that’s definitely something that you want to do.
[00:06:58] Don’t let a bad interviewer derail your job search. They might be a great person, they might be a really wonderful professional to work with, but they might not have the proper training to actually interview candidates, and that’s okay.
[00:07:09] Hana: Oh, that’s a really good point. And I also like your earlier statement about reminding us that we’re in control of the interview, which is I think, not how we approach interviews, but it’s such an empowering statement, reminding ourselves that we are in control and there’s ways we can.
[00:07:23] Feel in control when, when things may not be going the way we want, like with a bad interviewer. So thank you for these tips. It may seem really scary to do it at first, but I think with practice it gets easier I remind myself about interviews being a two-way thing.
[00:07:39] When it comes to reminding myself that not only am I being assessed, but I’m also trying to assess the company, the team, the people I’ll be working with. So coming in with those questions prepared and also critically analyzing the kind of people I’ll be working with, is this even a place where I want to work?
[00:07:56] And I understand like in some cases applicants are very desperate for jobs and so, it doesn’t sound like a top concern, right? To be thinking about I might actually reject this company just because I don’t like the people. You might just be thinking about, let me just get my first data job, or let me just get a new job.
[00:08:13] So it’s something important to keep in mind. thank you for sharing all these tips. I’m sure this will help listeners prepare for those who are looking to apply for jobs or they’re trying to break into the data field for the first time.
[00:08:26] I hope this episode was helpful. I know this was really informative for me. There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t know about before, so thank you Fatemah, for sharing all that. Where can people connect with you especially people who want to get help with the job application process?
[00:08:41] Where can people connect with you?
[00:08:44] Fatemah: Absolutely. So the first place that you can get started is actually my free resources. If you like the interview tips that I shared with you. I have a pretty great interview cheat sheet. interviews are something that a lot of people in the technical space struggle with because they’re so, such great engineers or they’re such great scientists, but talking about yourself and advocating for yourself is a whole new skill set that does become a lot easier with experience and time.
[00:09:08] Adding to that, to that, what you said earlier about being a young professional, if you’re really young, professional and you’re just getting your start in the data science space, one tip is to pretend that you are a C E O, like you’ll. , you can’t imagine a c e o going into an interview and getting grilled, right?
[00:09:26] It’s always a conversation where they’re, they are like, what is your problem? Like, what are you struggling with? What am I supposed to fix here? And they present their solutions like that. So having that executive mindset is a really easy way to get better and more exciting offers. So that interview cheat sheet is up for.
[00:09:44] You can go to career tuners.com/podcasts. That’s C A R E E R T U N E R s.com/podcast. And I also have some other awesome free resources for you guys. You can download my resume cheat sheet. My LinkedIn cheat sheet and my cover letter template as well as what I like to call the only networking template you will ever need, that boils down all of my best practices into a single little template that I just love and it has worked to.
[00:10:19] So, well, not just for me, but also many of my clients. The goal of my free resources is to make things as easy and implementable as possible. So I’m never gonna share like a giant, like 35 page handout with you. I’ll always try to make things as concise and actionable as possible because you guys in the data science space, no, you can have a lot of data, but if you don’t know how to actually look at it or visualize it properly, like the executive isn’t gonna do anything with it, right?
[00:10:44] So just like that and boiled everything down to make it. Easy to implement as possible, so you can grab that at any time.
[00:10:49] Hana: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for preparing all these free resources. When I was breaking into the data field, I was actually transitioning from academia to the industry. I don’t know if you remember, I used your free resources. I also went to your live in-person workshop, and you helped me figure out my resume and how to position myself, and it was.
[00:11:06] So helpful. So I highly recommend For those who are listening to, please check out Fatemah’s website. I will link it in the show notes. Again, it’s career tuners.com/podcast and you can go to the show notes to find the link. Are you also on social media?
[00:11:22] Fatemah: Yeah, you can follow me on Instagram. I post a lot of really ridiculous videos. I do this character called Messica and she just is a very bad job seeker and we school her together . It’s a lot of fun. It’s at career tips from ct. If you want a slightly more professional approach to job hunting.
[00:11:41] You can follow me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/careertuners. But you know, I like to keep it fun. I like to keep it light. I think one of the key things about making things actionable is taking the stress out of this. So if you follow me, that’s what you can expect.
[00:11:57] Hana: Awesome. I will also link her handles to her social media accounts, so you can follow her there as well and connect with her there. Thank you, Fatemah, for joining us on the show today.
[00:12:06] Fatemah: It’s my pleasure. I loved reconnecting with you. Thank you so much for having me.