Data Analyst Interview Questions: Showing You Have the Skills for the Job

During a job interview, data analysts can expect to field a variety of questions. Hiring managers and recruiters are interested in whether a candidate can use common (as well as esoteric) data-analysis tools, and how their analysis has positively impacted their previous employers’ strategies and bottom lines.

As a data analyst, you’ll certainly field questions about past work experience, including the size and complexity of datasets you’ve analyzed. Depending on the prospective employers’ needs and tech stack, you might face questions about your mastery of flat-file databases, Hadoop, Apache Spark, SQL or NoSQL, and other tools and platforms.

Josh Drew, regional director at Robert Half Technology, said data analyst candidates can also expect questions regarding their specializations and future career plans. “If the company has a specific requirement where they’re looking for everybody to get a certain level of proficiency within certain tools, you should be ready to answer questions about your ability and readiness to receive training and development for those skill sets,” he added.

Sample Questions: The Big Picture

  • “What technology tools have you used?”
  • “How did you use data in your last role to help drive the business?”
  • “What was the end goal of the most recent initiatives or projects that you were working on?”
  • “What stakeholders did you interact with on a regular basis? How did you share your findings?”
  • “Did you supervise or manage teams? What specifically was your role within the data team?”

These “big picture” questions pop up frequently. Make sure you can describe how your analysis played a crucial role in your previous employers’ planning and strategies. Come prepared with stories about how you utilized your “soft skills” (such as empathy and communication) to not only lead teams, but also convey your results and ideas to other stakeholders throughout the organization, such as senior executives.

Recruiters and hiring managers want to know you can yield meaningful results for organizations and take a 35,000-foot view on crucial problems. If you can demonstrate that you’re more than capable of abstract thought and in-depth strategizing, your chances of landing the job will exponentially increase.   

With data analytics tools embracing technologies such as artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning (ML), DevSkiller CTO Tomasz Nurkiewicz said candidates should also be ready to answer simple questions about their familiarity with A.I. and ML.

“There are a few very simple algorithms like linear regression, which if someone claims to know anything about like machine learning, they should know what it is,” he said.

Sample Questions: Data Skills

  • “What are natural networks, and how can how can they help in each position?”
  • “What is clustering?”
  • “What is linear regression?”
  • “How has your analysis supported business decisions?”

Drew pointed out that, on both the business and data side, it’s extremely helpful when you can apply a business brain and logic to the data you’re reviewing or assessing. “You want to get across that you truly understand the business and the market that they’re in,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to be able to not just take this information but give suggestive ideas to leadership on how the data can drive the business.”

He said an interview is a chance to demonstrate that you’re naturally inquisitive and really understand the power of this data. “You want a data analyst that has really strong communication skills,” he added. “If it’s simply compiling the data, that’s not necessarily as important. But when you’re sharing and giving business insights and suggestions you need to be persuasive and share the argument behind the data and why you came up with the suggestion.”

Hiring managers will often frame these questions in a certain way; for instance, they might ask whether you’re comfortable talking to executives and sharing insights from data. “That comfort level of sharing ideas and supporting business decisions around the data is extremely beneficial,” Drew said. “This is also an opportunity for you to demonstrate your passion for data and the power it holds.”

Sample Questions: The Future of Data

  • What excites you about data?
  • Where do you think the future of data is headed?

If data analyst applicants just speak about technologies and tools and math, it suggests to the interviewer that they have absolutely no interest in in the business—and that’s a problem, since data analysts are ultimately there to serve the larger business. “I would look for balance—a person who sees a business problem and uses technology to solve that problem,” Nurkiewicz said. “You create value by solving problems with code.”

When it comes to any tests given as part of the interview process, data analysts may expect to be asked to comb through data sets to look for patterns and offer some insights into what they find. These kinds of open-ended questions can reveal how the analyst thinks and demonstrate whether or not they understand the company’s business goals.

“This way you are also making sure the candidate knows what Hadoop or HDFS is and knows how to load data from that file system and then doing some aggregation in the tool of choice,” Nurkiewicz said. “If you are at least moderately proficient with your tools, you should be able to come up with certain relationships.”