I recently found myself hiring for the position of data scientist. While I had interviewed candidates at previous jobs, I am now in a considerably smaller group with a greater role in the hiring process. Here are a few of my thoughts on the process:
we are reading this.
We read all the resumes sent to us, and all the cover letters (of which there were not enough). In fact, nearly all the resumes were read by two of us. Perhaps this is not the case at larger firms who receive hundreds of resumes for a job (or is that a myth?), but we were eagerly looking for the right candidate, which meant actively researching candidates. Unfortunately some people treat job applications like lottery tickets: an attempt to net a low probability large payoff with minimal investment. Like the lottery, you probably have to apply scattershot to hundreds of jobs to win.
This kind of lottery-ticket application is easy to spot, as no perceptible effort has been applied. A job application without a cover letter, even a few sentences, feels wrong. It's like sitting at a bar and someone tries to pick you up by showing you their car keys and class ring without talking to you. While the cover letter is nominally your chance to personalize your application, it should be sincere, even at the cost of brevity. Continuing the analogy, it shouldn't sound like a pickup line.
blah blah Ginger blah blah blah Ginger
One of the candidates tailored their resume for us, emboldening those skills which we requested in the job posting: Python blah blah blah, MySQL blah blah. I felt a tiny bit manipulated when I realized they had done this, but it made it so easy to see that they matched the minimum qualifications in those areas. It also made it clear that they had read the job posting, which perhaps a few candidates had not. The lesson is that if the hiring manager is going to flunk candidates who do not meet the minimum qualifications, make sure they know you meet them.
Similarly, if there is some perceived strike against you in your history (went to a not great undergrad school, took some time off for reasons you don't want to mention, etc.), you need not mention it in your resume, as long as you don't cover up or lie about it. It will come out later, but only if the hiring party already has a positive enough picture of you that you have gotten that far. During our hiring process, we flunked some candidated because of red flags on their resumes, and they never got to tell us how awesome they are in every other way.
can we hear you now?
Assuming your resume and cover letter were acceptable, perhaps you make it to a few email questions, and then to a phone interview. Believe it or not, it is important that you be heard on the phone interview, and you might want to take it on a landline. We had a few candidates whose first language was something other than English who took the call on cell phones. It was effectively impossible to understand most of what they said. If the candidate was local, and their qualifications looked good, we figured we could have them come by for an interview if the call wasn't great, but there was no budget to fly in candidates from out of state on the off chance they were going to work out. I've had video conferencing interviews with candidates at previous jobs, and these were similarly disastrous: I didn't care what they looked like, and had no need to see their apartment (or the Barnes and Noble they use as a second office), and the video bandwidth meant lowered call quality. If you want to be heard, make sure you are heard.
a four week MOOC class does not qualify you as a data scientist
It is evidently hard to find qualified candidates at the salary we advertised who are not already happily employed. It was easy to get a lot of candidates who were possibly marginally qualified. And while maybe a rockstar or two slipped through our fingers, it was hard to tell whether a given candidate was a competent coder, or had experience with the technologies we needed, or had strong statistical reasoning skills or mathematical maturity and so on. For those candidates still in school, we had little visibility on their coursework or projects; for those in industry, their experience was similarly opaque.
However, what we could have seen that would have indicated some of the things we wanted to know is their public record on github. If you think you want a job in technology, pick up a hobby project and make it public. Within a year you can have a public track record that shows you can architect a project, write code, write documentation for said code, make unit tests, use git, an issue tracker, CI services, and so on. If you start in your sophomore year in college, you'll be a very rare beast indeed upon graduation: the fresh college graduate with relevant auditable experience.