How to escape the resume slush pile

Sending a resume through a company’s job website is like throwing it into a black hole. You click a button and you never hear anything again. You’re left wondering if anyone ever even read it, let alone gave it serious consideration

I have noticed that for data science in particular, a resume provides few meaningful signals about whether a candidate is a good fit for the role. Data science requires an interdisciplinary skill set that is hard to assess from a work history, a college major, or a list of coding skills. In general, a resume is not an ideal way to communicate your value as a data scientist to a company. But for most people breaking into this industry, sending a resume is the only avenue they see for getting hired.

But it’s not the only way, and in fact, it’s not even the most common way people land jobs in this industry. I hired twelve data scientists during my time at Pebble. Here’s the breakdown on where we found them:

  • 3 were referrals from people who worked at the company
  • 3 came from university programs we partnered with
  • 2 came from Insight Data Science
  • 2 I met at university events where I was a speaker
  • 2 sent their resumes through the website

Only two hires out of twelve sent their resume through the jobs website! Compared to many companies, this rate is higher than average. The numbers don’t lie: If you’re applying for jobs, you need to leverage other avenues of access if you want to improve your odds. Here’s what I recommend.

Networking events

If you don’t have a network of people who can give you an internal referral to a company, then you should start building one! Go on and search for data science meetups in your area.

These events can feel awkward, but it’s worth your time to make an effort to build connections in the field. A great question you can use to get the conversation going with anyone is:

“What’s your background?”

People appreciate when others take an interest in them and what they do, and you can often make a strong connection with someone simply by doing more listening than talking. “What’s your background?” will never fail you.

Bonus: “What’s your background?” is also a great question to ask at the end of an interview, when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for them. Many of my students who have asked this question in an interview setting have been stunned by how the interviewer’s tone totally shifted, becoming more friendly, more open, and more relaxed. It’s like a magic trick.

Events at your school

Many universities have speakers in industry come to give informal talks or sit on panels about career opportunities. Keep your ear to the ground as these events aren’t always well-advertised. Make sure you get on the email list for student groups related to data science careers.

I hired two people who I met at events like these. I wouldn’t have met them if they hadn’t come up and introduced themselves. Do some research beforehand on who is speaking, what their company does, and whether they are hiring.

Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the speaker. The worst feeling as a speaker is when no one comes up to talk to you afterward! Introduce yourself and tell them how much you enjoyed their talk. Say you’ve noticed they are hiring at their company and you’ve seen a role you think would be a good fit for you. This script works:

“I read about [COMPANY] and I found the work you do really interesting. I noticed you’re looking to a hire a [DATA SCIENTIST]. I’d love to talk with you more about whether I’d be a good fit for the role.”

Job placement programs

There are a number of job placement programs that work with job-seekers on structured, short-term data science projects and introduce them to companies who are hiring. I’ve worked with two programs like this:

Insight Data Science is a program for people with PhDs transitioning into data science. I hired two Insight Fellows to work at Pebble who have since gone on to have great careers (one is now at Facebook and the other is the Head of Data at a healthcare startup). Insight has offices in Silicon Valley, New York, Toronto, Boston, Seattle, and Los Angeles, along with remote fellowships. If you have a PhD (or if you’ve dropped out of one), Insight is a great way to sharpen your skills and land a job at a great company.

If you’re not a PhD, check out SharpestMinds, a data science mentorship program. SharpestMinds pairs qualified job-seekers with mentors in the industry to work with them on a project on a one-on-one basis. Mentors also help with interview prep and job search tips. Mentees get access to the SharpestMinds community, which works with a number of companies looking to hire data scientists and machine learning engineers.

Cold emails

A cold email is an email you send to someone you don’t know. This strategy is more effective than people think. I’ve landed dozens of contracts through cold emailing, and I’ve seen many students get hired after sending a cold email to a hiring manager.

In a cold email, you make a pitch directly to the hiring manager that should convince them to hire you. For super-specific cold email guidance, you can check out my other posts on who to email and what to write. At a high level, here are some general guidelines:

  • Only send a cold email after researching a company thoroughly. You should have a good understanding of what they do and be able to express a concrete interest / enthusiasm in some area of their business. You should also be clear on what roles they are hiring for, and mention the specific role for which you think you’d be a good fit.
  • Email the hiring manager, not a recruiter or any other random person at the company. The hiring manager is the person who runs data science and will be managing you (or managing someone who manages you) once you are hired. If there is not a VP / Director / Head of Data, look up the list of employees on LinkedIn to determine who is most likely managing the data function (VP of Engineering? Head of Product? Someone else? Often, these managers will say which teams they manage in their profile). The hiring manager is the decision-maker here—if they want to bring you in for an interview, the recruiting team will make it happen. A hiring manager will also be more able to spot certain skills / personality traits they’re looking for in a candidate that will come across in your email. This post has more details on how to find the right person at a company to contact.
  • Send an email, not a LinkedIn message. LinkedIn messages often go unread, and they are usually spammy given that it takes so little effort to send one. Go the extra mile and acquire the email address for the person you want to contact. Check out my suggestions for how to get the email address you need.
  • Write a good email! Be concise and direct, open and enthusiastic. Articulate in a few sentences what your background is and why you are excited about the prospect of working at the company. I’ve provided precise templates for the content of your email in my post on how to write a cold email.

Don’t send your resume into a black hole. Be proactive about your job search, and keep in mind that even in the tech industry, business is all about humans. The connections you make face-to-face or even over email carry a lot more weight than what’s on your resume.

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