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Standing out as a Data Scientist

Season 1, episode 4 of the DataTalks.Club podcast with Luke Whipps

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The transcripts are edited for clarity, sometimes with AI. If you notice any incorrect information, let us know.

Alexey: Last week, we talked about building data science teams, and recruiting data scientists. Today the topic is slightly different. We'll talk about the recruitment process, but from the candidate’s point of view. We have a special guest today, Luke. You probably know Luke as a podcast host. Usually you hear Luke asking questions. But today the situation is different. Luke takes the guest seat. Luke is not only a podcast host, he is also a recruiter. He's a co-founder of Neural AI, which is a company that specializes in recruiting AI specialists, data scientists, machine learning engineers, and others. Today, Luke will share his experience with us and tell us how data scientists and other data professionals can stand out during the recruitment process. Hi, Luke. Welcome. (1:39)

Luke: Hi. Thanks for inviting me on the show, Alexey. This feels very weird being on the other side of the fence now. (2:29)

Luke’s career and the story of Neural AI

Alexey: Thanks for coming. So, Luke, let's start with your background. Can you tell us how you started your career? How you got into AI and how it led to co-founding your own recruitment company? (2:40)

Luke: Thanks for inviting me on the show Alexey. Hi to everyone who's joined. As Alexey said, my name is Luke, and I'm the co-founder of Neural AI. I've been recruiting in the data analytics space for probably close to 10 years now. That started in the traditional BI and analytic space. Naturally, as things became more prevalent in the industry, like advanced analytics, and data science and machine learning and deep learning, my career transitioned with it. Most people in recruitment — 99% — fell into it. Then most people fall out of love with it. But I've stuck it out for 10 years now. (2:57)

Luke: Neural came around from a couple of different perspectives. One of those perspectives was… I was just about to turn 30. I had two choices that I could have made. I could either continue working for businesses that I have to become a part of and embrace their values and embrace their processes and the way that they work, or… I build something that represents what I believe, what I feel about how recruitment should be done. (3:43)

Luke: Naturally, I went for the second option, and that led us to found Neural. There's a general consensus about what the recruitment industry is. I really wanted to create a business that counterbalanced the bad reputation that a lot of recruitment consultants have. I wanted to create a business that A) is built on the foundation of providing value to the actual community that we recruit for, and B) try and live by something that makes deposits into that industry, not just withdrawals. So, as Alexey said, I run a podcast and I'm looking into running AI events, like seminars, to what this is. Ultimately, I wanted to create more of a community effort rather than, “Hey, we've got jobs, you've got candidates,” or vice versa, “You've got a CV, we've got some jobs.” I think that's very, very old school and very transactional. (4:16)

Luke: For me, as I say Neural was built on the back of wanting to create something different that is value and community driven, rather than just, “Hey, do you want to work on a new business?” So yeah, we started in early 2020. So probably not the best time to start a business in the bits of a global pandemic, but the value proposition that we've got and the specialism in data, and artificial intelligence has really hit the mark. That's a bit about me and a bit about my background. I hope that gives you a good snapshot. (5:16)

Alexey: Yeah. Indeed, what you said about the bad reputation of recruiters – I think everyone can agree to that. Sometimes they just come out of nowhere, callin... but I can tell you that Luke is different from this. And this is really great — what you're doing, like all these podcasts and events – that is really awesome. It's not just a cold call out of nowhere, but actually like a community around that. That's really great and thank you Luke for doing that. (5:52)

Luke: Yeah. (6:27)

Steps in closing a data science position

Alexey: Coming back to your main work as a recruiter – in data science, maybe – I don't know if it's different from usual developer positions, or maybe analysts. But I know that there are not so many good candidates… typically, it's quite difficult to close positions. So, what does it involve to close a position? What are the typical steps? How do you go around that? (6:28)

Luke: It is definitely more difficult than your average kind of development role because – you've probably experienced this as well — if you speak to 100 different people, or 100 different businesses and say, “What is a data scientist?” – you're probably going to get 100 different answers. One of the big challenges for us is – every single position that we work on, is quite different from the last. Every single business that we work with has a definition of what a machine learning engineer does, or what a data scientist does, or what X, Y and Z does. (7:02)

Luke: One of the big problems – or the big challenges of the work that we do is – that every single company is different. That in itself is a challenge, because you need to first understand the problems and the different challenges that those individual businesses are facing and it's difficult to group stuff together when everyone's got a different perspective on stuff. I can't remember the last time I worked on an easy position. Now, I don't think there's such a thing in the data science and AI community, especially at the senior level. But for me, I think our process breaks down into… to just give you a real quick bullet point for what we do. (7:35)

Luke: It breaks down into six key areas. Number one is role definition. Typically, we'll work with businesses to help them define the actual conditions within the business. A lot of companies still struggle with that, because it's still such a new, undefined market. We help companies define the actual positions that they're looking for, and offer guidance in terms of what's achievable. (8:15)

Luke: Secondly, we are heavily network-focused in terms of the candidates that we typically provide. As a business, we don't advertise. We do a little bit, but that's not our main source of candidate attraction. For us, the second point is we would market map the talent pools of people that they're potentially looking for – both from our network and from a headhunting perspective. So essentially, it'd be the people that we know and the people that we don't know. (8:42)

Luke: Thirdly, we would put together a long and short list. The long list are the people that we think could be okay for the role or have quite a lot of crossover. The shortlist of the people that we spoke to, that we know are right for that position. We then deliver the CV and put it into the business. (9:14)

Luke: Following that we would manage that process of recruitment. You've got to think of us as your interview buddy. That's probably a really bad way to describe it. But we manage the process from end-to-end, both from a client and candidate perspective. So an interview preparation feedback, we deliver that. We help you prepare. We highlight concerns or positives in the process. If there are problems or challenges, we tend to bring that to the table, and we will try and overcome them with both candidate and client. (9:35)

Luke: Lastly, when we get to that stage, we manage the closing of the process, both from an offer negotiation perspective, but also from resignation, and any kind of problems that come up in the process. So, we're not a traditional recruitment company, we do everything. The clients work with us on a singular position or two or three positions, but they'll be on an exclusive basis. We will be essentially an extension of that company that we're working with. And that means we run the process in full – from end to end. (10:11)

Alexey: Usually, how many candidates do you speak with? How wide is the funnel? How many people do you have on this shortlist? And how many do people you talk to… you get on the phone? To close one position? (11:03)

Luke: It's different from position to position. Because we work in those kinds of singular positions. Some roles that we work on could be in the hundreds. There's a role that I'm working on at the moment where I'm doing a European-wide search, and I've long-listed probably about 25 candidates across the whole of Europe. It's really, really vast from… 10 to 20 candidates up to 200-300 candidates, depending on the type of position. (11:23)

Luke: As I mentioned this earlier, we don't actively advertise. We don't advertise lots of positions and stuff. So we don't deal with the volume of candidates that you guys at OLX have. To give an example – one of my clients in Munich, for one position, for an AI engineer – they've received like 1300 CVs. We would never look at that amount of CVs. So we're not volume. On average, we probably look between 10 and 20 CVs a day, something like that. That's across all positions that we're working on. (11:59)

Alexey: Well 10-20 CVs per day, still quite a few CVs to look at. (12:47)

Luke: Yeah. (12:54)

Alexey: It’s not the volume that we our recruiters have to deal with – but it's still quite a lot of CVs that you need to look at every day. (12:55)

Luke: 90-95% of the people that we work with – we are approaching. It might not necessarily just be a CV, but it might be: set up conversations with people on LinkedIn and stuff like that. So I'd say “profiles” in general – probably between 10 and 20. But that might be going through someone's LinkedIn or an actual profile or X, Y, Z. (13:06)

Getting recruiter’s attention

Alexey: In these 10-20 profiles, what does usually get your attention? What do you look at typically? When you say, “Okay, I really have to call this candidate.” Versus “Okay, I'm not sure. Maybe I'll talk to this person later when I first deal with these other candidates.” (13:37)

Luke: When we spoke about this before, I tried to look back at some of the old CVs that I've been like, “Yes, they look amazing!” And I will try and substantiate all of these points. So it makes it really easily understandable. I start from the kind of ‘first opening’ of a CV… As a disclaimer for anyone who's listening right now – this is one person's view, and it's very subjective. (14:07)

Luke: I'm a bit of a sucker for good design from an artistic perspective. This is something that your reader will see before they start reading your CV. So I try and live by something – which is: your interview starts as soon as they open your CV, and before they start reading your CV. The first thing that they see is how well-designed your CV actually is. So I always comment when I can clearly see that someone has taken the time to format and design their CV in a way that is really attractive. (14:36)

Luke: This is the representation of you. If I open a CV, and it looks great – I'm instantly interested about what's on the CV. Whereas, if I open a CV and think “Hmm… that looks pretty awful,” it sets a negative tone before someone's even started reading. From my perspective, I think design is a really big part of that. (15:16)

Luke: If we're talking about content specifically… for me, it breaks down into three key areas that I look for, and try and tick boxes in my own head. Again – this is a disclaimer – but businesses pay us to find specific people, so we're probably a lot more critical on the profiles that we're looking at. There's definitely a difference between being an internal talent acquisition and the headhunter. (15:40)

Luke: Number one is, I’ll instantly look for the crossover between the business and the role that they're applying for with the company that they're currently working in. The reason I say that is not because it's a name game, or… It's not because it's all about the business that you work for. But it's primarily to do with the industry challenges that that business is facing, and how well would you be able to actually understand those industry challenges. (16:15)

Luke: For example, if you're a data scientist at Audi, and you're applying for a data science position at BMW, and you're instantly recognized more, because you should understand the industry that you're working in, and the conversation that you can have internally with the business that you're applying for will be a lot higher than someone who doesn't understand that industry. Again, this is not a name game. But it definitely does add value to your CV. When I say, “Right, I'm looking for someone like BMW, or Zalando, or Adidas, or an autonomous driving startup.” The first thing that I see is that you're working in a very, very similar business. That's point one. (16:45)

Luke: Point number two is… It's not just all about that business – It's mainly to do with the use-cases and the actual projects that you're working on right now. I tend to look for how close or how far you are away from the actual use cases and problems that you're going to be working on. Because the clients that we typically work with – they come to us with specific roles, working on specific things. So my first thing is — how close are you from a business perspective? Secondly, how close are you from a use-case perspective? And how much crossover is actually there across those two things? If those two things aren't there – it's actually really difficult… Maybe other headhunters have got a different spin on this, but for me – I think that culturally, you could be great from an alignment perspective, and you probably could be good for that business, but from a headhunting perspective… If we were working together right now, Alexey, and you said to me, “Hey, I need this, this, this, this and this,” and the profile that I gave to you in response to that, didn't have any of that, but I said, “but you’ll really like this person, and culturally, they'll fit in.” Your feedback would be, “That's not what we're looking for.” So again, those are the first two things. (17:30)

Luke: Lastly, I do look for that kind of cultural and industry alignment. This isn't typically the business per se, but it's the type of business that you're working for. If you're working for a huge global financial services business, and you're applying for a 10-man startup company, there are going to be some huge, cultural differences between those two businesses. And for me, I'm like, “Are they gonna get that industry?” And vice versa. If you've had a start-up career, are you going to get working in a big financial services industry? 9 times out of 10, there's so much difference between those industries or businesses that it usually doesn't work. (18:56)

Luke: That's the first thing that I look for… and that's the first thing that kind of pops up. But on top of that... One of the things that really gets me about CVs... Sometimes I'll open a profile, and their tech stack overview, and they – their profile, not their projects – looks amazing, right? And they've got every tech on there, every programming language, TensorFlow, PyTorch – all different use cases. But when I actually look at the projects that they've been working on, those two things are not linked. So it's just buzzword bingo on their CV, but the actual projects — things that are actually done — don't link to that. For me, the second point is – and this is really obvious, but – your projects are related to the tech stack that you’ve got there. You'll be surprised about how many profiles don't do that. Your CV should be a representation of what you're doing. If you claim to know, X, Y, and Z, you should be able to back that up with specific examples of projects and be able to illustrate that in your CV. (19:50)

Alexey: Just to clarify – by your projects, you mean, not necessarily projects on GitHub – but a list of projects that this person has done previously, right? (21:00)

Luke: Yeah. I think it's both. It depends on what level you're coming in… This is the difficult thing, it's all very singular. That might be the case for one person, but there might be a more junior candidate trying to make or break into the industry. Then I would want to see what GitHub projects or personal projects you've worked on, which would illustrate that technical experience and that understanding. (21:16)

Luke: But if you're more senior… if you tell me that you know X – you've got to show me where you've done that, or how you've used that. So the second main point is that I would want to see that the projects that you've worked on are a representation of the tech stack that you think that you understand. (21:43)

Luke: Lastly, this breaks down into three key categories, which is tenure, common themes and growth. If I look at CV, I would want to see that someone had had a good amount of time in the businesses that they've worked in, and not jumped from place to place for an extra 5K K, or just a new change of scenery. As a headhunter, I think, “are you someone who's going to carefully choose the right industry and the right opportunity for you – but are you actually gonna stay there?” (22:08)

Luke: And then secondly, the common themes and growth, it's — have you got a purpose in terms of your career right now? Have you done a huge amount of broad projects? And you go from one data science job to another? Or you are like “I'm really interested in this sector, or industry, or type of clients, and that's where I'm really going.” And growth. I would want to see some progress in their career. If you're a data scientist now, but you were a data scientist five years ago – my first question would be why haven't you progressed? Run me through that. I know, there's gonna be some examples of people that just want to do that one particular position. But I would want to understand those kinds of points. So that's what I typically look for. Sorry if I just threw loads of information out there. (22:48)

Alexey: Let me summarize what you said and then you tell me if I got it right. So first, you look at the design — it shouldn't be completely bad and faceless. Just a bit of creativity will not hurt your CV — to get your attention. Then you look at the industry, where the candidate works. It should be as close as possible to the industry of your client. It also involves cultural fit… If your position is in a startup, then the ideal candidate will have experience working at a startup, right? (23:41)

Luke: Right (24:29)

Project portfolio

Alexey: Then you also look at projects. What is important in projects? Is that they are linked to actual skills. So it's not just a bunch of buzzwords on CV, but actually, for each project – it's clear for you how these skills were used. Finally, you look at people who don't jump too often from position to position. Who have focus. And also you look at career progression. Did I get it right? (24:30)

Luke: Yeah. Just on the use-cases... For me – you can work on recommendation systems in Spotify, or GetYourGuide and then also work on recommendation systems in Zalando. It's about finding balance between understanding those kinds of industries and understanding the use-cases that those industries would typically work on. The thing with data science – it's about understanding the business problem, to be able to apply your skills to solve those problems. (25:04)

Luke: So for me, it's a combination between thinking, “right, do you know the industry?” and “do you know the use cases?” Or — do you know the industry, but might have slightly different use cases? Or — do you know the use cases, but might have a slightly different industry? If it's one of those things where you've got to look at it and balance and think, “well what do they know?” and “where can we make this work?” So it's really different from candidate to candidate. And again, it's super subjective and very singular. But that's typically the stuff that I’ll look for. (25:41)

Alexey: From what I understood, the important thing is to make it clear on your CV what are the use cases you worked on. Then, when the recruiter – like you – looks at the CV, it's immediately clear for them: “Okay. These are things that the candidate worked on, these are the projects.”. These use cases, these are the industries. Then for you, it's immediately clear, “Okay, this candidate is a good fit.” Or “Maybe this candidate is not necessarily a good fit,” right? (26:15)

Luke: Yeah, sure. (26:44)

CV design and structure

Alexey: I also wanted to ask you about design. Usually data scientists are not designers. We don't spend a lot of time using tools like Canva, or Adobe Illustrator, or whatever to come up with an excellent CV, like designers would do. I wanted to ask you what is it that you look in design? How does a good design look to you? (26:44)

Luke: Yeah. I'm not saying that this has to be super colorful. What I am saying is – it needs to be clear. It just needs to look professionally clear. I know it's not a very good way to describe it, but some CVs I open and it's clear that there's been no thought in terms of how to put that together. “This is everything I've done – let's just throw that on to a word processor and let's just send out.” (27:19)

Luke: Design is subjective. I also think it's very dependent on what kind of business you're applying for. If you're applying to an Allianz or a Munich Re – would I advise having a really colorful, cool, techie CV? No. I'd say you need to make that look professional. To capture the audience that you're talking to. Because the moment someone opens your CV, they are judging who you are. If you don't fit the mood of the type of business that you're applying to – be that startup or financial services or whatever – then in that first couple of seconds, it needs to hit home with that individual business. (28:05)

Luke: They need to think – I think it's more of a psychological thing – but they need to think, “that's the type of view of us as a business.” So the question that you need to ask yourself is “what are you trying to portray to the people that you're trying to network with?” Is it ultra-professional banking, insurance, corporate? Which is fine… If you wanted to go that route, then double down there. Or… do you want to work with cool techie startups -- what's their vibe in that community? You need to replicate that with the profile that you've built. I hope that gives you a little bit more color around the design part. (28:49)

Alexey: So it’s not only about how you choose colors, but also how you structure it. So it's not just a brain dump, right? When you just sit down and list all the skills, all the technologies you ever worked with, all the places of work. Instead of giving a brain dump — you structure it. So it makes it easy for the receiver of this information to actually go through this and understand this information, right? It's not about colors. It's not about these beautiful shapes. (29:31)

Luke: Yeah, exactly. (30:03)

Changing jobs too often

Alexey: We have a question. How often is too often when changing jobs? What is currently the average time that the person stays in a job? What would be a red flag for you? (30:10)

Luke: Anything under a year is a red flag. And a year to two years in most companies is about average now. And anything over a two year period — that's a good amount of time to spend in a company right now. But it's not necessarily about one thing that happens. Everyone can make mistakes. I've done it in the past: you join a business, it doesn't turn out to be what you think it is. That's totally fine. But if that's a common theme across the experience you've got — if you've had 12 roles in 12 years, and they've been on average, a year each, that says to me that you, you don't like sticking in one place. (30:26)

Luke: As a headhunter, that is concerning. Because the companies that we work with, they want us to find people that are going to stay in the business, progress, all of that sort of stuff. So I'd say it's more about the consistency of how often you're moving. If you have a really solid career, and it was two, three years at most of the positions you had, but one position — your last position — was three or four months – didn't work out – totally cool. But if it's replicated across every role you've worked in, that that's a concern. (31:20)

Standing out as a fresher / junior candidate

Alexey: I understand. You mentioned that you look for a background in a specific industry. But what about freshers who don't have any background? Do you also work with junior candidates? If you do, what do you look for in junior candidates? (31:59)

Luke: I do work a bit with more junior candidates, but I wouldn't say that's my key focus. The key for me when I look for junior candidates – any candidate actually – is having purpose in their search. I know that sounds a bit fluffy. But there are lots of candidates. (32:22)

Luke: When I open their CV, it literally looks super generic. Generic tech stack, generic kind of overview, generic backgrounds. Apply for anything, no direction in terms of where they want to take their career. My thoughts on this is, if you're trying to break into the industry, it's really difficult to go broad. You'll be most successful if you pick something — you pick an industry, or if you pick an area of data science or machine learning that you're really passionate about, and double down on that. Taking autonomous driving, as an example. (32:58)

Luke: If you're passionate about the industry, then do things that illustrate that. Which would bolster your profile and elevate you above the people that are generic. As a human being I try and live by “aim small, miss small”. For me, I pick an industry and think — what can I do alongside the technical skills and the experience I'm trying to gain? What can I do outside of all of that? If someone opens my profile, even though you're a junior, or you're a fresher, they look at you and think you're probably not there in seniority, but you definitely want to do this, like this is 100% what you want to do. (33:46)

Luke: I'd start going to tech meetups and start going to conferences and start learning about the industry and start learning about it from a commercial business perspective. And all of this I would highlight in your profile. When someone opens it, it's not just “Okay, cool. They know TensorFlow, and they know Python and they know X,” which pretty much everyone knows. You're setting yourself aside from the generic, “do anything” candidate. If you're a junior, and you're trying to break into an industry, find one or two industries that you're really, really interested in and bolster your profile around that industry, because that will give you a better chance of entering that industry. (34:28)

Alexey: As you said, one of the first things you look at is the match between what your client is looking for and what is on the CV. Then for you, if it's clear what the focus of the candidate is, even if it's a junior candidate, then the candidate already stands out from the rest of the candidates, right? Because it's clear that this person really wants to work in this area, which also happens to be the area of your client, right? (35:16)

Luke: Exactly. For me… When people are clearly passionate about something – maybe I look at this from a human perspective – but I want to try and help that person because they clearly want to do this. So for me, I ask any of the clients that I've worked with, there have always been an instance where I'll be like, “Hey, Alexey, I know, this guy is too junior, but trust me on this, this is the type of person that in a year or two years time will be an absolute superstar.” (35:50)

Luke: I don't think you get as many opportunities to do that as a candidate — to get those opportunities for someone to represent you in this way if you approach the market in a really generic way. When you’re just like, “I will do anything,” like, spray and pray. You want people to believe in you. That is getting super cheesy, but when I see someone that clearly wants to do something, I'll go out of my way to try and help that person. I think, “this person in a couple of years will be amazing.” So I'm trying my hardest to help that person do that. So even at a junior level, I'll still look for “what are you doing outside of your masters, or are what you're doing outside of your internships that promote your profile in the industry, or focus that you want to move into?” (36:22)

Tailoring your application to the position

Alexey: So if you really want to tailor your application to a specific position, you need to show that you really focus on this industry – you really like this industry. But is there anything else candidates can do to show that they are really interested in this particular position? Let's say somebody is applying to a position online and they want to make sure they get this position? What are the things they can do for that? (37:17)

Luke: So I'll give you my PC – what’s the right way to do it – and then I would give you what I would personally do. Most companies will probably hate me for saying this. So number one… This is simple and probably some of your listeners are rolling their eyes now. But you absolutely need to read the job descriptions before you apply. I know that sounds really stupid and super simple BUT when you're tailoring your application, you're not doing that to understand what they're looking for. You're doing that so you can apply your skills and outline how you can help them solve those problems. (37:54)

Luke: As a candidate, you absolutely need to do some research before you apply to a business. If you're blanket-sending out your application, there are companies that are getting 1300 or more applications for a role. So you've got two options. You can either throw your hat into that and hopefully something happens. OR you can think, “as a business, what are the problems that this company is facing right now? What are their challenges? How does my experience and what I've done as an individual – how does that link to that?” And “How can you make the distinction between those two things?” So how do you start — how point A goes to point B? “This is how those two things are linked.” (38:45)

Luke: It's not just about the industry or the use cases specifically, it's about how you can link those two things together. First, I try to outline the challenges and problems that that individual company is facing. Secondly, I would put together an email, LinkedIn – however you want to do it – but make it ultra-targeted. And make it super relevant for the reader. So when that message lands with someone, you want to take as much of the work off of their plate as possible. Instead of them having to click into your CV and then try and find that information, I would be like, “Right, this is a challenge that you guys are facing right now, this is what I've done that solves that challenge. Challenge B, this is what I've done. Challenge C, this is what I've done.” (39:41)

Luke: The more you can tailor that and make it very, very specific for that application, the more someone is going to open that and think “Shit, this guy or girl has really taken the time to A) do their research and B) it looks like they know what we're trying to do here.” Make it ultra, ultra targeted. (40:42)

Luke: Thirdly, I would highlight that in your CV. You open their CV, and it doesn't reflect what you're saying in that email. So you need to adjust your CV based on the conversations that you're trying to have with the clients that you're approaching, because that's a representation of your skills and what you've done in the past. If it doesn't link to that, they're gonna say, “Okay, cool, you sent a great email, but actually what are you doing in your experience?” (41:06)

Luke: Lastly, you need to research and approach the right people in the business. Companies will hate me for saying this. I'm not a big fan of throwing my hat into 1000 applications. That's not personally the way that I would do it. If I was going to try and approach a business, I would find the right people that I wanted to talk to. And I would approach them directly. But I wouldn't do it in a blanket way, that's just gonna piss people off. Because people know if you've taken the time to approach them with something valuable that's targeted – if you do that, you'll have a really great impression with that business. If you do it in a blanket way, a lot of the time it will be disregarded, and it will just piss people off. So my thing is – if you're going to approach people directly, which I would. Firstly, I would do it in a really targeted way that that person will know that you've taken the time to do that. (41:48)

Luke: Is everyone gonna respond to you? Probably not. But the people that do and the people that appreciate that sort of stuff will. They’ll be a sponsor for you into the business. To give you an example, a friend of mine recently moved out of recruitment into a software sales job. The way that he approached it — he filmed himself, giving an overview of him as a human being and what he does and his experience and the value that you can bring to organizations. He reached out to sales directors within big software vendors, like Domo, Salesforce – companies like that. And, and he was like, “Look, this is what do and this is why I'd love to work for you guys.” It's all super targeted. So as the hiring managers opened all of these video-CVs, they were like, “This guy's taking the time to do this.” And he had multiple companies come back to him and say, “We've not seen anything like that before. Thank you for taking the time to do that.” And he landed one of the jobs with one of those companies. And now that company uses his approach with the sales tactics that they have. (43:01)

Luke: It's just an example that – if you're going to approach people directly, and do that, make it so targeted. So when it lands with them, they can see you've put the time and effort into doing that. (44:15)

Alexey: Then you really need to focus on a few positions, because there is no way you can do that for 10 on 20 positions – that’s just too much time. You really need to pick an area where you want to focus and then find the companies that you really want to work with, and then approach everyone individually. Right? (44:26)

Luke: Yeah, this links back on to having purpose in your career. If you can segment your purpose and say… Let’s take autonomous driving, for example. It's easy to break down all of the autonomous driving businesses in Germany. If you look at a machine learning engineer – how are you going to approach that? There's 4000 jobs in Germany right now. Where do you start with that? If you say, I'm looking for AD startups in the autonomous drive space in Berlin. That's an easily digestible way that you can say, “This is what I'm going to try and do. And this is the industry and the kind of landscape that I’m trying to do it in.” Everything needs to feed into one another. (44:50)

Going from academia to industry

Alexey: We have a couple of questions on Slido. If somebody wants to change their career, from academia to industry, what can they do? How can they stand out? How can they compete with people who already have experience in industry? Usually, when you're hiring somebody, you already want to have somebody with experience. How can these people – who just graduated, got a PhD or worked in academia – how can they make this transition? Do you have any recommendations for them? (45:42)

Luke: That's something that people struggle with constantly. I think the biggest challenge that I find is that companies push back. The clients that I've worked with – they push back on the fact that the people are coming from those research and academic positions. They don't have the product mindset. I'm speaking pretty broadly here and drawing everyone with the same brush, but… a lot of the time, they have a “research for research” mindset. (46:25)

Luke: They don't have that “commercial-business” mindset. Not from a business strategic perspective. They don't have that “We need to make shit happen. And we need to actually do something, rather than just research. And we have all the time in the world”. It comes down to that different mindset shift of moving out of “Cool. We're doing academic research now. And we really want to find cool answers. And we really want to do it for the research sake,” — which is also extremely valuable — to actually “we're building this product to sell.” Because any business that's not researching, they're there to make money. It's the difference in mindset between academic research to, “we're here to actually build a product to sell to people.” (47:19)

Luke: The mindset is the biggest change, or the biggest challenge you would need to make and would help you transition out of that. That internal narrative that you have about what you do, you need to switch that from that piece to that piece. I can definitely help you with that. If you want to connect to me on LinkedIn, I can talk you through that in more detail. Secondly, if you've got an opportunity to do something internally at an academic institute – to productionize something – do it. Then you've got experience in actually productizing something. There are people that I've worked with in the past that have done that in small terms. So it's not just all research. On top of that, I would start looking at personal projects about what you can do in the background to add on top of the research you're doing. (48:15)

Luke: I would think, “Right, well, what am I researching? How can I apply that in a real world scenario?” And do a personal project on it. That shows me commitment. Because I say, “Look, I know that I hadn't had the production level experience. This is what I've done to counteract that.” When you send your profile to someone, you need to highlight the connection between those two things. So the easiest thing you would do is understand the mindset of the businesses that you're trying to apply for. And secondly, start working on personal projects that would complement the research work that you've been doing, (49:14)

Working just for money — is it bad?

Alexey: Or find a project at university. Some universities collaborate with companies – with the industry – and I think it's a really good idea to try to get in these projects and learn from that. We have another question. Are there people that are really passionate about positions in advertising or marketing? Why does wanting a job for money make you a bad fit? That’s actually two questions. (49:54)

Luke: Maybe. The people that I've seen really accelerate their career quickly and to high levels are the people that have real key focus. There's nothing wrong with taking a job and focusing purely on the financial part. If that's your focus, and that's your goal, go for it. Go and work for McKinsey and work 90 hours a week. That's where you can earn the most amount of money. I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with doing that, and just taking the job for financial benefits. (50:39)

Luke: But it's all subjective. It depends on you as a human. I'm looking at the people that I've seen be really successful and the profiles that I see and think “Shit they're brilliant”. It’s because they've got key focus. Even if that is marketing, there are going to be companies out there, that will be like, “Great. That's exactly what we need.” It's not necessarily all about the industry, per se. It's about having your focus in terms of what you want to do. If that's financial – that's financial. If it's “I want to progress my career,” the quickest way to do that is by having a focus – be that in that industry or that area. Does that answer your question? I hope it did. (51:20)

Alexey: I have a follow up question for that. What is your opinion on people who – you reach out to them and the first thing they ask is, “Hey, but what is the salary?” Is it a red flag for you? Or is it a normal thing? How do you react to that? (52:06)

Luke: I totally empathize with everyone that works in this industry. They're contacted every single day by hundreds of recruiters with shit roles, paying shit salaries. I think it's fair play – do you want to waste your time having a conversation with someone if, number one, they can't pay the money that you need? So for me, it's never a red flag, because I appreciate how frustrating it must be from their side. If the sole focus on their new job search is financial, that is a bit of a red flag to me personally, because you're going to go where the money is. If another company is paying more money than the clients that I'm working with – that's a big concern. (52:22)

Luke: There's a lot of debate in the recruitment world, about how much information you should share in the first approach. I'm on the side of — I'll give you the job specs, the client name, salaries, whatever you need to be able to make an accurate decision on – should we have a conversation? I'll give you that information. Because I don't think you can tell being an honest business if someone asks you a question, and you don't answer it. So for me, it's not a red flag. I think that stems from a lot of wasted time by shit recruiters. (53:13)

Alexey: 90% of recruiters, in my experience, when I ask them “Hey, what is the company?” — they don't answer. So what you're doing is clearly different from the rest of external recruiters. I really appreciate that. (53:54)

Luke: The only reason why they do that — this just highlights how bad in industry recruitment can be sometimes – is that people will put together fake profiles of fake candidates and to extract leads from recruiters that will share that information. In my career, I don't think I've ever – not once – had a candidate and they also say “Oh, well you can also apply directly for the business and cut me out of it” kind of thing. In my career, I've never ever had that. So that's never ever been a situation that I've experienced. (54:12)

Different CV styles and CV in Germany

Alexey: We also have a question from Castella about CV styles. She grew up in Germany and lives in the US and she sees that the styles of CVs are different. Are the CVs that you're getting vastly different? Or most of them follow the same structure? (54:50)

Luke: Germany's got a very distinct style in terms of the classical profile. There's a lot of that. The ones that really stand out for me are the ones that are unique. They take the time to think, “actually, this is a representation of me.” There have definitely been times in the past where someone says, “Oh, what do you think about this? Because this is how you should do it in Germany”. And I'm saying, “Why? Who are the people that are managing the German CV format?” I think it should be a personal representation of you. It should be a personal thing. So yes, and there is, but I would definitely go against it. (55:16)

Alexey: I have a related question. Because in the States, every blog post that you read, they say, your CV has to be one page long. One page for 10 years of experience. In Germany, I've seen CVs that are five pages long, six pages long. I also saw a 10 pages long CV. What is your opinion? How long should a CV be? (56:11)

Luke: I think the ideal length is two pages. I don't think you can get enough content on one page to make it sing. Three pages is borderline too much. But two pages is ideal. That's the balance between having enough deep content that will give me context to what you do, but also limit you in terms of “War and Peace.” Two pages is the ideal number. But if you can keep someone's attention for five pages, then – awesome. But 9 times out of 10, there's a lot of content in there that's irrelevant, and it's overload. So two pages are the dream. (56:47)

Alexey: So it keeps you focused, but also doesn't let you brain-dump everything. (57:43)

Luke: Yeah. (57:48)

Job titles in the CV

Alexey: We have four more questions. Nishant is asking, “Is it okay to write a job title in CV that more closely represents the work they're doing instead of putting the official title?” From my experience, some companies put “manager” in the role. Like “Analytics Manager” and that person doesn't manage any other people. Is it okay if these people, instead of putting an “Analytics Manager” put “Data Analyst” on their CV? It's not the official title that they have, but it follows the industry trends rather than a particular job description in the company? (57:57)

Luke: I think it is, as long as you're not lying about what you're doing. Is it okay to write “Software Engineer” if your job title is “Software Developer”? I think that's okay. Is it okay to write “Lead software engineer” if you're a junior? That's not okay. It's okay to align it, as long as it is not so far past reality that it could be considered a lie. If you are doing those things, but your job title was slightly off, and you're applying for a data science position, and your job title is… something that isn't that, then for me, it's okay to slightly adjust it to hit the mark. But not at the extent of lying. I don't think you should ever lie on CV, but I do think you should align on your CV. (58:51)

Switching from web development to machine learning

Luke: If previous commercial experience in a field is loosely related to data science or machine learning, is it an advantage or drawback? Asking as someone who wants to switch from web developer to machine learning. (59:58)

Luke: You could probably give a better answer to that. I'm not too knowledgeable in the context of web dev to data science field. But I think anyone who comes from a programming background, if you move into data science, that gives you a good platform to be able to learn programming and engineering as a whole. There's definitely crossover and if you've got more appreciation for the wider parts of the organization that you'd have interaction with – so like UX and UI – and that kind of piece, then yeah. It's never going to do any harm. Is it going to be directly relatable? (1:00:15)

Luke: I think what you're asking is — would I look at someone who's come from that background? Or would I think, “Wow, that's great”. I wouldn't. But what I would think is – that's good, because you've probably got a good foundation to learn from. So as long as you've taken the time to learn the other areas in depth then I think that’s always a good thing. But I don't think that will be the thing that will get you the job. (1:01:02)

“What are the other companies you’re interviewing with?”

Alexey: I would add that it's neither an advantage nor a drawback. It's a good thing, but, like you said, not the thing that will get you the job right. Agunjan is asking, “Is it okay to tell recruiters about other companies you're currently interviewing with?” (1:01:39)

Luke: Depends on the recruiter. The reason why a lot of companies do that is because they want to extract information from you to be able to A) gauge where you're at with things. If you're interviewing with me, a company that I work with, and your other companies are Google, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix, and you're interviewing with my company, who's got three people in Hamburg, what's the likelihood of you taking that position? It’s probably quite low. (1:02:07)

Luke: On the other side of that, the old school way of recruitment is that if you tell me when you're interviewing – not me, personally – but I will try and go and get those jobs as clients. So it very much depends on the recruiter that you're working with, and how much you trust that individual. If you think “He wouldn't do that to me. Or she wouldn't do that to me.” If you've got a good relationship there, then there's no reason why you shouldn't… if you can discuss everything, and you can set the landscape about where you're at with things. I believe that being open and transparent is the best thing you can do. If it's a new recruiter off the block, who's just called you and said, “Hey, I've got this job, where else are you interviewing?” Definitely not. The whole recruitment industry is shaking their head at me now and thinking I'm a complete dick. I don’t care. (1:02:52)

Asking for the right salary

Alexey: How impactful is asking salary in the application process? If somebody is asking too low, does it reflect lack of confidence in skills, or shows that this candidate doesn't know the market well enough? What do you think when somebody's asking or a number too low or too high? (1:03:56)

Luke: Too low… If someone gave me a salary and it's 10K under what I would classify as market rate, I'd never put that down to confidence… I've never said, “Oh, they must be slightly not confident in their abilities”. My first go to is “Oh, they're underpaid.” Though I don't think it's necessarily bad, going too low. I don't think that's gonna have a negative reaction to your job search if you're under the market value. (1:04:45)

Luke: It depends on how you frame that. If you say, “I'm only worth this,” then that's gonna come down to a competence issue. If it just turns out that you work for a business that has asked you to relocate into Germany, and now you're paid less than what people in the country would be paid. Or if you've joined the grad scheme, and you've worked your way up. There are gonna be lots of different situations like that. I don't think I'm in two minds about the salary thing right now, because originally in my recruitment career, I always wanted to know what people were on. (1:05:27)

Luke: Now I'm a little bit more mature, and I don't typically ask “What do you earn right now?” If they want to share that information with me, cool. But I just want to understand what they want from their next role and their next salary. So I don't think it would have a negative connotation. I do think it's a negative thing if you ask for too much. Because then my instinct go-to is “Oh, you're just trying to get tons more money. And that's the main focus.” In the data science and machine learning and AI community right now, there are lots of opportunity for good people to earn a lot of money. But if I see someone who's got six months experience, say, “Yeah, cool, I want 120K,” then I'm like, “you're not quite there yet.” So it's more negative from the other side. Lower is, especially if you're still learning the industry, and you're still learning the role, I don't think it's a negative thing at all. (1:06:01)

Summary — what makes a candidate stand out

Alexey: We don't have any more questions. And we are a bit over time. So to summarize or conversation – what makes some candidates really stand out? (1:07:17)

Luke: I thought about this for a while. One thing that really makes candidates stand out to me — it's understanding their purpose, and doubling down on that. Once you do that, everything else becomes easy. If you don't have that, and you're dictated by the market, and you’re like “I'm gonna get a job here. And then hopefully, I'll get one here.” And it’s just a hope that something happens. The candidates that really stand out are looking back at the people that I've worked with, the candidates that I'm like “They are mustard” are the ones that have worked in one – pretty much one – industry, but they've just nailed it. And it's “inch wide mile deep”. That's their focus. In terms of what makes candidates really stand out is having purpose and really working towards that. (1:07:37)

Alexey: Thanks for coming to this event, for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us. Thanks, Luke. (1:08:51)

Luke: No worries. It's a pleasure. (1:09:00)

Alexey: Yeah. So how did it feel being on the other side? Like being a guest in a podcast? (1:09:02)

Luke: Do you know what I really liked? I love the questions, I think it’s really good. I'll be honest, it was a bit nervous, because this is the first time I've been a guest. Definitely nerve-wracking. Because you want to say stuff that people get value from. And you don't come in and say, “make sure that your font is size 10” or some shit like that. You want to make sure that people can take this stuff, and then actually do it and it actually has impact. How'd you feel like it went? Was that good? I'm not so good. (1:09:08)

Alexey: I'm still recording by the way. (1:09:47)

Luke: Vulnerability is a good skill to have. (1:09:51)

Alexey: Well, I guess that's all for today. So thanks a lot for coming. (1:09:56)

Luke: Awesome. If there's anyone listening who wants to send me direct messages, connect to me on LinkedIn. I'm more than happy to look over your CV, give you any advice that you need, and help you direct what you're trying to do. If anyone needs anything, then please connect to me on LinkedIn. (1:10:08)

Alexey: I'll make sure to put a link to your LinkedIn account in the show notes. (1:10:26)

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