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Common Interview Questions for Data Analyst Positions

written by: Winston Smith•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 5/20/2011

If you're trying to land a position as a data analyst, you may want to take some time and look over these typical interview questions. A little extra preparation never hurts.

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    Data Analysts often create charts like this (credit: Tripwire Inc on Flickr) Before you review these data analyst interview questions, you should understand what this career is all about. Data analysts contribute to companies, governments and other organizations in a range of ways. In some roles, the data analyst is focused on marketing issues (e.g. how can the company increase sales?). In other cases, the data analyst will help management make better decisions by constructing "what if" scenarios -- i.e. what would happen to our profits if we increased the price of product A by 5%?.

    The day to day work of data analysts often involves producing reports, graphs and charts to answer pressing business questions. Data analysts are often called to extract data from complex systems and organize this data into useful information.

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    Interview Question #1: Most Difficult Problem

    Some aspects of data analysis are routine, such as producing quarterly reports, but employers want to know if you have the ability to cope with greater challenges.

    • Question: What was the most difficult data question you solved?
    • Answer: Your answer should state the problem, explain your process and what you learned from solving the problem. You need to demonstrate your ability to reason through a problem effectively. Be sure to highlight the impact your problem solving had too - did your analysis save the company money? Or perhaps you helped your manager with an important meeting?
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    Interview Question #2: Data Quality and Data Validity

    Data analysts face the challenge of working with poor quality data on a regular basis. Sometimes the data is incomplete, in other cases, there are errors or other problems. It is the responsibility of a data analyst to be able to work with data of varying levels of quality and validity. In the context of a job interview, here is one way this issue can come up.

    • Question: I am going to describe a scenario to you and I want to know how you would address it. Imagine that you have just been given an Excel file filled with data and you are asked to analyze for unusual and interesting trends. This is a new kind of data that you have never worked with before. What do you do?
    • Answer: Answer this question by leading the interviewer through the steps you would take to work with the data. For example, look for terms and headings in the file that are new to you and ask around to find out what it means. At a more basic level, you could look for errors and gaps (e.g. if you are working with customer data, then you can check to see whether you have birthdates for all customers. If some of that data is missing, you then need to ask whether that is a problem).


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    Interview Question for a Data Analyst #3: Data Analysis Software

    Data analysis requires the use of computers and powerful programs that can sort through numbers quickly. Commonly used data analysis products include Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel, SAS and Stata. Getting the most out of these programs requires an understanding of statistics and understanding the right questions to ask. Based on your education or resume, the interviewer likely assumes that you have a good foundation in statistics but they may want to know more about your technical skills.

    • Question: How would you describe your technical knowledge of Microsoft Access and Excel?
    • Answer: Begin your answer by saying something like Novice, Intermediate or Advanced. Then you should provide a few examples of the kinds of analysis you can do (e.g. PivotTables in Excel or creating databases from scratch in Access).
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    Interview Question #4: Reporting and Presenting Data

    Communicating data in a clear and understandable manner is an essential skill for data analysts. What kind of charts, graphs and other visual aids are you capable of creating? What about commentary? Capable data analysts will often be called upon to write or present their opinion and interpretation about the data they have assembled. Many interviewers want to know how capable you are of packaging and presenting data - after all, companies and organizations need analysis to make decisions, not to simply assemble elegant formulas in Excel.

    • Question: Here is some basic data about our unit's sales figures and some rough notes on trends. How would you present this to our department?
    • Answer: The best strategy to answer this question is to lay out your process. You would likely start with creating some charts and writing up additional notes for yourself. You should also present two or three clear results from the data that will be of interest to the department. It is even better if you can draw on an example where you have made a data based presentation, whether it was at an internship, conference or class.
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    Additional Interview Questions for a Data Analyst To Consider

    The interview questions already discussed in this article are typical questions that an aspiring data analyst would face in a job interview. Many companies will also ask more conventional questions. Be prepared to have positive, concise answers to these questions.

    • What achievement are you most proud of?
    • Why do you want to work here?
    • Where do you see your career five years from now?
    • What is your preferred data analysis software and why?
    • How do you develop your data analysis skills and learn new ways to think about data?
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    Final Thoughts and References

    The interview questions for a data analyst, discussed in this article will prepare you well for an interview in data analysis. If you are unsuccessful finding data analyst job openings, look for related job titles such as: business analyst, technical analyst or analyst. The resources below provide you with further reading to prepare you further for a successful job interview.

    • Get to know Access (Microsoft) -
    • International Institute of Business Analysis -
    • Modern Analyst -
    • True Cost of Compliance: Per Capita Compliance Cost and Non-Compliance Cost by Headcount in USD (Image) -