The Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Data Professional

The Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Data Professional

Why Do We Need an Ultimate Guide to Hiring Data Professionals?

With Data and Analytics professionals making it into the top 15 in-demand jobs of 2021 according to LinkedIn, there is certainly a lot of buzz around the industry. One of the main challenges for talent specialists and hiring managers is to navigate through the endless piles of CVs of self-proclaimed data gurus without wasting too much time and, more importantly, without risking hiring a bad candidate.

Bad data professionals are increasingly proving to be disruptive to the industry, with the estimated cost of bad hires being as high as 200% of the first year salary in some data related roles. An industry-accepted estimation of the cost of hiring a bad data professional is roughly $100k, including recruiting, hiring, dismissing and subsequently replacing the employee.

Regardless of what the exact cost is, at Alooba we firmly believe that hiring a bad candidate can be as bad as missing a great candidate!

Given the number of reasons above, most companies have become overly picky about hiring data professionals. While this hedges the company against the risk of bad hires, it also increases the likelihood of eliminating great candidates who simply do not adapt to broken hiring processes or lengthy and ill-placed technical interviews. Missing a good candidate could mean having to slow down on many projects that could provide a short term competitive advantage for your business or worse...those good candidates being hired by a direct competitor!

This is, without a doubt, generating a hiring crisis in the industry, with companies struggling to find good candidates and effectively screen and test their skills without disrupting their hiring processes. Execution time is key when hiring for highly technical roles. It is estimated that good talents in data and analytics are usually on the job market for as little as 15 days on average during job transitions.

For the reasons above, we decided to put together an ultimate guide on how to hire data and analytics professionals, following what we believe are the best practices that would help you minimize time-to-hire and increase the quality of your candidate pool. These are our areas of expertise and we hope you’ll find it helpful to structure your hiring process and unlock value for your organization.

Let’s break it down

Our process effectively consists of 8 stages. Even though 8 sounds like a lot, once we explain them, you’ll see they really form a comprehensive process. The stages are:

  • Define
  • Plan
  • Source
  • Screen
  • First Round Interview
  • Take-Home Assessment
  • Final Presentation
  • Offer

Stage 1 ― Define

Before anything, we first need to have some sense of what an ideal hiring process would look like. What exactly are we optimizing for? We believe that an ideal hiring process should be:

  • Accurate ― the best quality candidates move through each stage and end up getting hired. For this step, we want to be able to track that the ratio of candidates moving through different steps of the process is consistently high.
  • Cost-effective ― the explicit recruiting costs are minimised. These can range from job ads, recruiting costs, skill assessments tools etc. In this case, the KPI to be tracked is obvious, the cost per hire should be kept as low as possible.
  • Efficient ― the overhead time spent by the internal workforce is minimised. Efficiency is ensured by keeping the average time spent by the hiring team on each application to a minimum. As you are probably well aware overhead time equals money. A lot of time/money is usually wasted on redundant interviews, interviews scheduling, providing feedback etc.
  • Diverse ― the candidates come from a variety of different backgrounds. There are various metrics we can track here: male/female ratio, ethnicity ratio, domestic/foreign employees ratio, average employee age etc.
  • Fast ― the shortest possible time from application to hire. Tracked metric: time-to-hire.
  • Fair ― every candidate is afforded an equal opportunity. To be maintaining a fair process we should keep track of the number of candidates that get objectively evaluated over the total number of applicants.
  • Relevant ― each stage is necessary, and candidates aren’t subjected to arbitrary steps that add no value. Key metric: the process is strictly following the relevant steps and no extra layer of complexity is added at any time during the process.
  • Transparent ― candidates clearly know what the process looks like and what/when the next steps will be like. KPI: feedback provided from start to end of the process. To ensure transparency we should track the percentage of candidates getting feedback at every step of the process.

It is important to keep an eye on the KPIs above during the whole hiring process.

Stage 2 ― Plan

After establishing what a good hiring process would look like, it is time to focus on who we are trying to hire and why. According to the needs and the roles you are hiring for, you may want to clearly define the role requirements in terms of experiences and skills. It is important to have a clear definition of the skills but also to leave the requirements as broad as possible, in order not to create unnecessary barriers.

In the past, we have seen these requirements defined far too narrowly. It is worth mentioning the case of a hiring manager for a BI Developer role, refusing to even interview anyone who didn’t have specifically T-SQL skills. Even if some candidates were amazing with another version of SQL (MySQL, Oracle etc.), they weren’t even considered. This massively narrows the audience and reduces your chance of finding a good quality candidate, blowing out time to hire and hiring costs.

Stage 3 ― Source

Once you figure out the candidate profile you are after, you can now turn your attention to where to source these candidates. Being in the industry for quite some time we have tried a number of different tools and platforms that can help sourcing candidates. We are aware that sourcing candidates is a process that is very specific to the type of company you work for.

If you work for a well-established company or known brand you may be able to drive enough volumes to your career page to be able to feed a large enough pool of candidates. If your company is an SME then it may be more difficult to get enough applicants directly visiting your website.

In this case, you may want to consider one of the following solutions:

  • A recruiter ― can assist your overall sourcing project by dipping into their candidates' pool. Working with recruiters would often mean skyrocketing costs and disputable candidates quality. Another potential pitfall of traditional recruiting is that they usually rely on very manual and outdated screening techniques, which can be flawed by unconscious biases or lack of technical knowledge to identify the best candidates. We have thoroughly studied the main challenges faced by traditional recruiters in an experiment here.
  • LinkedIn ― this ensures wide reach and high volumes. The advantage over a recruiter is to keep the candidate screening process in-house. However, LinkedIn could be very expensive when advertising for many roles at a time.
  • Indeed ― has got a massive audience in the USA and it’s a free tool. It is rather user friendly and it’s quite easy to duplicate roles to source across different geographies. On the other hand, it could have low volumes if your roles are based out of the US.
  • UpWork― this is a freelancer platform and, in general, its audience is more interested in part-time projects rather than full-time employment. If you are looking for an external contractor or temporary workers this is a great platform, as it’s got a wide audience and it’s free.
  • Alooba― Alooba recruiting service can help your company sourcing candidates and overseeing the whole hiring process from the very beginning until you grant an offer. Alooba is cheaper than traditional recruiting and it utilizes cutting edge technology to assess the skills of the candidates quickly and fairly. Alooba differentiates from traditional recruiters because our interviews are carried out by expert data professionals, and not by talent acquisition managers or recruiters. This ensures that the quality of candidates is relevant to the position and the skills that are required for the job. To know more about Alooba please visit

Stage 4 ― Screen

Great so, you’ve gotten to the fun part! You have a bunch of candidates, so what do you do now? In traditional recruiting, you would probably have your talent management department or other non-technical personnel manually screen the CVs and then pass the shortlisted candidates to the hiring manager.

This process is often quite inefficient, especially for data and analytics roles, and it is likely to lead to the problems we’ve described in the introduction. Manual screening can be time-consuming, costly and prone to human error and/or unconscious biases.

At Alooba we’ve carefully studied with an experiment the many issues arising from traditional CV screening and summarised our findings here. It is estimated that the overhead cost of manually screening and shortlisting a single data role can be as high as $15k.

Additionally, non-technical personnel have traditionally struggled with screening candidates for technical roles. This is because most of the time they cannot distinguish a technically qualified candidate from another, as they simply do not possess those skills. Often, the main metric for HR and talent acquisition staff to shortlist candidates is based on a candidate’s CV, their degree and their qualifications. When a candidate's CV does not match some preconceived profile or a candidate’s degree is not recognised, the candidate may be ignored or even discarded. This potentially leads to technically solid candidates being eliminated before even being interviewed. We call them hidden gems. These are candidates which possess strong technical skills that are a good fit for the job but don’t stand out on paper.

Luckily, we have specialized in providing pre-employment skill assessments that can help you and your team pre-assess the skills of hundreds of candidates at once. Alooba’s exercises are written and created by experts coming from a range of well-known industry-leading companies. Our thought leaders work in organizations that include Google, Carrefour, Citi Group, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, British Airways, HSBC, Get Your Guide, PWC, Woolworths, Optus and Westpac Bank.

At Alooba we recommend a mix of traditional hiring practices and integrated skill assessments into the process. We immediately invite candidates with ‘star’ CVs to an interview and simultaneously send them an Alooba assessment test in order to collect information about their skills level. This way we don’t risk missing out on potentially good candidates that could be put off by receiving a test out of nowhere. Whereas for the rest of the applicants, those with CVs that do not stand out, we still invite them to take an Alooba assessment and then we shortlist the best scorers and invite them for an interview. This ensures a fair process and, more importantly, we do not miss out on ‘hidden gem’ candidates.

There are a number of reasons to integrate a pre-interview test into your process, as highlighted in Peter Cappelli’s HBR article. We found that a skills assessment as a first step screening your candidates will greatly improve your process in a number of ways:

  • Screen more applicants, faster― it is estimated an average corporate listing should source around 250 candidates. With an Alooba assessment, you can quickly scale the process and cut time by 55% compared to traditional manual CV screening.

  • Allow HR, TA and non-technical staff to carry out the screening― skills assessments can be carried out directly by non-technical employees that in this case don’t need any analytics skills to run the tests. They can then automatically see the best scoring candidates and how they rank against each other and the expected benchmark score. This frees up invaluable time from data scientists and other technical staff that would normally carry out this task.

  • Eliminate human bias― skills assessment provide a more rigorous framework where all candidates are tested for the same set of skills in an identical way. It is proven and well documented that unconscious bias is consistently present in most traditional recruiting. The most noticeable ones can take the form of gender or minority bias. However, in more technical contexts this can take the form of educational background, years of experience or age. Skills assessments allow candidates to have the same chance to succeed and prove their skills.

  • Skills assessments provide a skill-focused approach― it is well known that CVs are very subjective and are not very good at highlighting neither the actual weaknesses nor the true strengths of a candidate. Skills assessments are capable of precisely determining the areas where candidates are strong or weak. Candidates are able to show their competencies on some particular topic rather than on paper.

  • Increase candidate quality down the application funnel―research is showing how high-quality candidates are often are put off by early-stage take-home tests or case studies. They often drop out at an early stage when asked to sit lengthy tests to prove their skills. Alooba Assess provide a less draining and effective way to check for skills while still providing a sound and rigorous assessment framework.

  • Reduce the cost of recruiting― As we’ve seen, all of these factors generate a huge improvement to the bottom line of a company and of the HR department. You will be able to reduce costs by cutting overhead and reducing time to hire. By eliminating human bias and focusing on skills rather than ‘CV rockstars’ you will increase the quality of your candidates which will improve productivity and decrease churn rate or the chance of a bad hire.

If you need any further information regarding skills assessment or want to know more about the benefits of using Alooba Assess in your recruitment process please visit our website or schedule a discovery call with our team.

Stage 5 ― First Round Interview

After shortlisting the candidates we normally proceed to the first round of interviews. At Alooba we strive to make the hiring process as fast and fair as possible. For this reason, we recently introduced a feature that allows all applicants that scored higher than the Alooba benchmark to be automatically invited to the first round interview. This feature is particularly important because it allows candidates to go from application through test and first interview seamlessly and without the intervention of HR personnel. This not only decreases time-to-hire but it dramatically reduces the unconscious bias factors that lead candidates to be invited to interviews.

The purpose of the interview is to:

  • Give a context of the team and the company. It is very important to describe how the company operates, its mission and its core values. This way candidates can have a sense of the company culture and the team’s structure.
  • Testing for soft skills, fit to the culture and other potentially important personality traits.
  • Drill into their relevant experience, what motivates them, what they expect from the new role and reasons for leaving their current employment.
  • Alignment on salary expectations and other working arrangements.
  • A chance for the candidate to ask questions related to the company and the role.
  • Give an overview of the rest of the hiring process.

This step is quite important as candidates are able to understand the role and the employer’s expectations. In addition, this could be a further screening for candidates with unrealistic salary expectations. Finally, you have the chance to nurture the best candidates and get them excited about joining the company and the role.

Stage 6 ― Take Home Assessment

Having pitched the candidates and validated their skill level and interest in the role it is now time to get an in-depth understanding of the candidate’s skills. Note, this step is not necessary if you believe the candidate already possesses the right skills to perform the job or if the position you are hiring for is relatively junior.

Nevertheless, we advise making it a habit to have a two-part assessment fitting into your hiring process. Alooba offers a wide range of case studies based on real work situations that can be used at this stage with a range of difficulty levels. It is highly recommended to focus this assessment on the work that candidates will be demanded to carry out while working at your organization. This way you can test the skills of your candidates hands-on.

Just beware, there is a thin balance between including enough questions to assess your applicants across an as complete as possible range of skills and the time they will be willing to spend on the test. We’ve found that this is inversely proportional to the seniority of the candidates. In general, the more senior a candidate and the less willing they are to take long assessments.

Another important point is to be aware of where in the hiring funnel you are placing the in-depth assessment. If too early in the process it may be a deterrent to your candidates to continue the hiring process. However, if it’s placed too late you may be wasting precious time interviewing candidates that are not fit for the job. For this reason at Alooba we have found that the right balance is for candidates to sit a high-level skills assessment at the beginning of the process and then a deeper assessment at stage 6 of the process.

Stage 7 - Final Presentation

At this stage, we normally invite those candidates who have performed well in the in-depth skills assessment. This interview is generally a chance for the candidates to present the results of their in-depth assessment and for the employer to ask questions. At this stage, it’s often useful to drill down into certain parts of the assessment that perhaps they haven’t covered with enough detail. Sometimes candidates may misinterpret a question and therefore not fully answer it, so it is interesting to address those during this stage. We have found that having candidates explain their answers helps understand their thought processes and logic. This interview is also useful to further test the candidate's technical communication skills. Something that we really believe in here at Alooba is providing feedback to candidates. This is particularly important at this stage, especially for those candidates for which you decide to not move on in the process, but equally important at every stage of the process. Giving feedback ensures a fair and transparent process and builds trust and credibility not only to the hiring team but also to the whole organization your team represents.

Stage 8 - Offer

This is the final stage of the process. All that is left is to offer the job to the best candidate. We normally don’t believe in asking candidates for references, as we are firmly convinced that candidates have had the chance to show their value from different angles if they got to this stage.


We are delighted that you have reached the final bits of “The Ultimate Guide to How to Hire in Data and Analytics”. We really hope you will find value in the process we have outlined. One of the main takeaways from our learnings and refinements while creating this process is that CV screening in hiring is increasingly becoming redundant. We could go as far as saying that in many cases it is counterproductive to rely completely on CV screening as a first step of the hiring process. As outlined in this guide, we have replaced it with a skill assessment, which makes the process more scalable, fair, fast, efficient and accurate.

To know more about how we hire data professionals at Alooba or how to assess the skills of your candidates, please contact us or visit Alooba Assess.