The only question that matters when interviewing analysts

Over the last decade I’ve hired for 50+ analytical roles, and interviewed countless hundreds of candidates.

I’ve tried giving take-home tests. I’ve tried in-person case studies. I’ve tried gimmicky and behavioral questions. There’s only one question that I trust any longer to give me a signal for future success.

Most importantly, the question comes from an authentically curious place. So here’s what I ask:

Walk me through an analysis you did, end to end. I’d like to understand where the idea came from, why you chose to work on it, how you structured the analysis, what blockers and/or aha moments you had, your recommendation, and what impact it had on the business.

It’s a long question, so repeat it if needed and have them jot down the sub questions if helpful. Any analyst worth their chops should be prepared to give example after example - and that’s when the fun begins.

Interviewing analysts successfully is a direct function of how analytical you are during that interview. Listen actively, and be prepared to ask lots of questions. Don’t let them skip a step of the story.

At a high level here’s what I look to understand:

  • Can they tell the story of this analysis to an audience that has no context?
  • Were they deliberate about why they chose to work on the project?
  • Did they deconstruct the problem methodically?
  • What challenges did they face and how did they persevere?
  • Was there an insight and recommendation?
  • Was there a quantifiable impact?

Ask clarifying questions. If you don’t understand something, always ask them to explain until you get it. Your job is to learn.

Put yourself in their shoes. Try to imagine what questions or organizational challenges could have arisen during that project and ask them how they managed.

Don’t let them off the hook. Sometimes folks will give you the most recent project they’re working on, for which they don’t yet know the impact. In that case, ask for another example.

You’d be surprised how often many of these questions do not have answers (particularly as it relates to insights, recommendations, and impact). The more senior the candidate, the less you should have to keep the guardrails on the conversation, and the greater the ending impact to the business you should expect. For more junior folks, it’s more understandable to have to interject and ask “why did you choose to work on this'' or accept an answer like - “this was the work that was assigned.”

For the remainder of the interview I simply repeat this question, sometimes in exactly the same way to collect more data, or sometimes with a slight twist. For example, I might ask to be walked through an analysis they ideated themselves. Or, I might ask for a time where their recommendation did not yield the results they’d expected.

Why does this work? Well, because it’s a discussion that resembles most closely the skills that are important for the role. The critical elements of a successful analysis - context, methodology, insight, recommendation, and narrative - are all put to test in this one question. Give it a try next time you interview an analyst.

Image credit: "Colin Clink Volume 1" by Charles Hooton. https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/illustrations/first-interview/

Bobby Pinero

Bobby Pinero

CEO and Co-Founder of Equals. Previously built and led Finance and Analytics at Intercom, from <$1M ARR to $150M+ (20 employees to 600+).
San Francisco