I wrote about my start of a job search two months ago, and… well, I have a job!
In fact, for me, finding a job was not that hard. I think I applied to around 50 jobs, more or less (but if I had to guess, I’d say less), and had two interviews. Considering the existence of posts like this on Reddit (also seen below) and the fact that it only took me a month and a half to get an offer for a well-paying (six figures!) position with great benefits (and I have zero years experience!), I feel like I have a good reason to be proud of myself. I guess having (or will have in December) a PhD in mathematical statistics paid off.
For the sake of my own privacy, I will not disclose my new employer (in fact, despite this website being a place to showcase myself, I will be taking down my resume, too). What I will say is that I will primarily be working as a statistician and statistical consultant, and a part of what I will be doing is test science and experimental design, perhaps some research too. At least, that’s what I’ve inferred so far.
This, by the way, is a new field for me; I have studied and worked with econometrics during my studies and previous internships, so experimental design is new to me. Consulting is new to me, as well. I’ve been reading a lot before my start date to learn about these new roles for me, particularly the books Statistical Consulting by Cabrera and McDougall and Statistics for Experimenters: An Introduction to Design, Data Analysis, and Model Building by Box, Hunter, and Hunter. I may share some further details of my studies (such as a side project to learn about factorial designs) in future blog posts.
I’m honestly nervous about this job (which I will start in a few weeks). I don’t think I deceived my interviewers nor that they made a mistake in choosing me (especially after that interview process; more on that later). Perhaps it’s a combination of imposter syndrome and just the butterflies that come with a significant life change such as this. Naturally, I want to do an excellent job with my new and exciting employer, and I don’t want to disappoint. Hopefully, the butterflies will go away soon.
That all said, people read my blog posts to obtain something for themselves, some insight or new knowledge. So I’ll describe my job search and interview experience.
The Job Search
I may have already described this part in my previous post, and I’ll just summarize the search experience. I decided early on that I was not going to stay in Salt Lake City or anywhere in Utah, for personal reasons. So I used several websites to find positions to apply for.
I found Glassdoor the most useful in the search, and it was the website where I found the job I got. Other websites I tried included Monster.com, LinkedIn, TripleByte, ZipRecruiter, and USAJobs for US government jobs. USAJobs was also a great site for jobs, with a uniform system for describing the jobs and applying for them; unfortunately, getting a government job can be hard, and if that’s not what you want, this site is not for you. TripleByte seemed like it was not made for the type of job I wanted. ZipRecruiter didn’t seem to do anything for me as a job seeker (though I hear ads for them a lot in podcasts targeting employers). Monster was laughable, giving me updates for janitorial jobs in NYC that I clearly didn’t want. Glassdoor had great data on employers, including reviews by employees and applicants, salary data, and the "easy apply" button. I did also apply to some companies I was interested in directly. My employer was not one of these companies.
I decided I wanted to live in a major coastal city like Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, New York City, Boston, or Washington (Denver also being on that list, being a large enough city in a state resembling Salt Lake City but without the rest of Utah holding it down). I looked for jobs in these areas with salaries over $100,000 and at companies with at least a four-star rating by employees. The job description also had to resemble what I wanted to do, of course, and list the languages I am familiar with (R and Python). I avoided jobs that looked too much like programming; you may be surprised, but while I’m willing to program, I don’t want to just write code, with that being my primary task. When my interviewers for my current job said, "You won’t be writing as much code here as you did as a graduate student," I said, "That’s great! I’m willing to write code, but I want to write less."
That, by the way, is a tight search for someone with zero years of experience. But I have (or almost have) a PhD in mathematical statistics, which… helps.
In the end, the city I got was Washington, DC. I’ve lived in Washington before, as an intern at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a law and lobbying firm (oh, man, I can’t wait to give some awful task I don’t want to do to some poor intern). I liked the city, and I’m a political person, so I’m quite excited to return. When I lived there as an intern, I feel I did not get out enough; sure, I went to the museums and saw monuments, but instead of joining in on nightlife, I played Civilization V with my roommate (it was fun, but also wasting the city). When I move there early in 2021, I plan to take more advantage of the city. Having the money to do so also helps.
The job I got involved an initial interview that lasted an hour; this was the interview prompting my earlier blog post. The interview was conducted via Zoom, and Zoom interview etiquette is still… being defined (do you wear a tie? should you wear pants even though no one can see them? my answers were "yes" and "no," respectively). But the interview was fine and pleasant, and the people I spoke with sold me on the organization as much as I sold them the idea that I was the right candidate.
The first part of the interview I remember best was the statistician’s equivalent of the "whiteboard" I hear programmers gripe about for programming interviews. I was given a scenario that came in three parts. The first part was a suggestion of a research issue a client was confronting and proposed trials. The interviewers wanted me to talk about the statistical issues potentially involved in the study and how they could be overcome. I was allowed to ask questions; in fact, in learning about statistical consulting, the consultant should ask a lot of questions (watch the YouTube video below to get some ideas for why), and that is what I did. There were no "tricks" per se; the interviewers said what they wanted to see was my thought process. The second part was, "You made your recommendations to the client, and they didn’t listen to you. This is the data set they obtained. [shows data set in Excel spreadsheet] How would you analyze this data?" A big part of this part, one should note, was identifying the "response" and "explanatory" variables that would be relevant to addressing the issue at hand. And finally, there was a scenario where the results would need to be presented to an end stakeholder, and I had to provide a way to explain my results to someone who could be presumed educated and intelligent but was not a statistician. This was the place where interpreting regression models and statistical significance for others mattered.
Other questions were at a more personal level, such as why I liked the job, why I may be good at it, and so on. I don’t have much to say about these questions; they’re standard. But all told, the interview was pleasant, and I felt like it went well.
It did go well. A week after, I was asked to do a follow-up interview. This interview was one where I usually would be flown from my home to DC to interview in person, with them footing the bill. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 concerns, this was not going to happen (my job is remote now, and they’re reluctant to reopen their offices until the pandemic is under control). That said, perhaps this was a blessing. This second-round interview was a full-day, eight-hour interview, meeting several people at the organization. From looking at Glassdoor reviews, this part may also have other applicants too, and I would have met them. I was already stressing somewhat about my interview, and I think that seeing other applicants would have made me feel even more nervous and pressured, as I could be looking at my competition. Since this was done via Zoom, I could pretend that I was the only applicant for the job. That’s much less pressure and allowed me to act more naturally.
Before this interview, the interviewers requested letters from three references, and I recommended my advisor, a co-author, and my former overseer at Voices for Utah Children. The interviewers sent to my references a list of topics they wanted the letter authors to touch on in their letters. My advisor said that these topics, while likely asking something about my technical abilities, mostly concerned my ability to explain statistics to non-statisticians. They also wanted writing samples.
I had to prepare an hour-long presentation on a technical topic, but for a general, educated audience, and I had to ensure there would be time for questions. I spent the week before preparing the interview. I recorded rehearsal videos (which I plan to release eventually) and had my cousin, a PhD student in accounting, watch them; he was my proxy for the kind of audience I needed to address, as he’s well-educated and generally knowledgeable but not a professional statistician and not familiar with the area of the talk.
During the interview, I met with more individuals at the organization. Some just wanted to talk and answer some questions I may have. Some were more direct in their interview questions. I was once asked, "If you had to pick one statistical method to use, what would it be?" (linear regression). I then had to explain what linear regression is and how to do it properly to a hypothetical researcher. Another asked how I would persuade a client who did not want to do any further research (yes, that’s something the job needs to deal with) to do the recommended procedures and not just rely on what they think they already know. There were other statistical scenarios resembling the scenario from the first interview I was presented with and needed to discuss. There were more general conversations about the work environment and what was expected of the task. After my lunch, I gave my presentation, which went well. After two further interviews (one with HR, so less an interview and more discussing conventional employment topics such as raises and benefits), I was done… and exhausted, but not worn down.
I did have another interview with a different company for a role related to financial oversight, and that would work closely with the US SEC. This interview did involve a scenario, that being how I would design an application that would get data for an SEC commissioner that would get her essential information and how I would explain its use. This job seemed more interested in my technical abilities as a programmer and demanded less of my statistical skills. It was a strange interview; I thought it went okay, but not great, yet the interviewer wanted to consider me for other positions at the company. I did agree and was eventually offered nothing. However, I’m not too upset.
A funny story from that experience; I was asked how much I would be expecting to make for the job. I was initially planning on this job being in DC, but it was moved to New York. I listed the lower bound of the job I had applied for in DC as an expected salary, $120,000, to which the interviewer said, "Yeah, that sounds fair, or it could be $130,000 or $140,000." I replied, "Oh, yeah, this is in New York instead of DC, so $130,000 sounds good!"
Here I am bidding down my own salaries… (And that’s just one of my two "screw-ups" in that interview.)
Suggestions to Others
Nearly a month after my long interview, I was offered a job, and I accepted. Here I am now, about to start in a couple weeks, and with my academic career looking to be behind me. I had a goal of no longer looking into the future for the next job. I didn’t want to take a position, like an internship, that was only meant to prepare me for the final job and the start of my career. I succeeded. I don’t know how long I will be at this new job, but I have no immediate plans to leave, nor an expectation that I will leave; I could work in this position for the next 35 years and, assuming I was getting good raises, be just fine.
That feels so good.
With that said, my experience did provide me some insight into how my entire education helped me get this job. By that, I also include my high school debate team and literary magazine, along with my tutoring, my internship at Voices for Utah Children, and my experience as an instructor.
My job wanted a statistician but they were more willing to take for granted that I knew what I needed to know or could learn it. I told them that there were some subjects that I was not familiar with that they needed for this job. They said, "That’s common for us, and many of our new hires don’t know test science specifically; we’re hiring you for your brainpower, not for what specifically you know." What they tested me hard on was my communication abilities, especially when dealing with people who are professionals but not statisticians.
So I guess I would recommend to anyone wanting a well-paying statistics job, practice writing, speaking, and explanation. Math and coding only get you so far. Communication skills get you good jobs.
Will the Blog Go Away?
Well, now that I’m leaving academia, I feel less guilty about blogging. See, blogging felt like a distraction from writing papers and doing research. Now that I’m working a more conventional job (but with much of what comes with academia, like reading papers and attending conferences, and the occasional publication), I feel less like blogging is a poor use of my time.
I don’t know how much I will get into blogging again. As you can tell, my blog posts are long articles, which is never intentional but is the inevitable end when I start to write. That said, I do think I can write more now about personal projects and interests.
So keep an eye out. There may be more coming.
And finally, congratulations to me!