Many times I've been told by a recruiter that I wasn't qualified for the job because I don't have a phD (even though the job listing often says an MS is sufficient)…
You’re about to graduate with an MS in STEM and you’ve completed coursework and personal projects involving data sets and machine learning. You were feeling pretty good about your chances of landing a Data Science role when you hit a wall - you’ve been applying for Data Scientist positions for well over 6 months. You’re hundreds of applications deep, and you just have a few phone screens to show for it… You’re starting to wonder “Do I need it to say PhD on my resume to get a Data Science interview”?
While the Data Scientist job market is competitive, you don’t need a PhD to land an interview - as long as you’re going about the process the right way. Specifically -
First make sure you are applying to the right roles for your background.
Secondly, you need to make sure you have tailored your application to the role … you may be up against people who do have PhDs (even if the role doesn’t state/imply you require one), so what have you done to make sure your most relevant strengths stand-out? For example, have you
Thirdly, you need to complete - and then clearly highlight! - Projects where you’ve used skills/techniques/programming languages etc. that the role requires. The only way you can truly eliminate doubts as to whether your skill set matches up versus a PhD candidate is to be able to show what you’re capable of - and in skills that matter to the Hiring Manager. If you don’t have a PhD then take special care to show that you’re sound on the mathematical concepts behind various algorithms as this can often be perceived as the gap between PhDs and non-PhDs - for example, add a “techniques used and why” section to your read.me write-up on Github to demonstrate your understanding of the math as well as how to apply it.
Overall, there are many ways you can improve your resume and cover letter to compete effectively in the Data Scientist job market. You don’t need a PhD for many roles; but you do need
How to take action now!
Let’s practice the Team Profiling. Take the Job Posting you’re currently applying to (or, if you’re not there yet, pick one at random from a jobs site like indeed.com). Create the following column headings in a spreadsheet (or piece of paper):
Now, use a search on LinkedIn to find “Data Scientists” at the Company. (If you’re struggling to come up with any, try the tips we lay out in this post). For each name, fill in the row of details - as much as you can find/is relevant to any given individual. Complete this for “Data Analysts” and “Data Engineers” too, to make sure you have as full a picture as possible of the data-related roles and team pyramid. Look at the results - how prevalent are PhDs? If they are abundant, especially among more junior and/or most recent hires, there’s a high chance you’ll need one too unless you have very compelling project work; if not - get tailoring that resume and apply! :)
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