remote work

A Field Guide to Landing your Dream Remote Data Science Job

Recently, Vicky Boykis, an iconic figure of the Data Science Twittersphere, announced she joined Automattic (the company behind WordPress) as a Machine Learning Engineer.

Automattic is one of the first fully distributed companies and has established itself as a reference on how remote should be done. It has de facto become one of the most visible and most attractive targets for candidates to a dream remote job.

Although this sounds like great news both for Vicky and Automattic, for candidates looking for a remote gig it can also be demotivating as it reminds them they will likely compete with some of the most visible and talented professionals on Earth. But do not lose hope, landing a remote job is still possible.

The following advice is mostly based on my individual experience (I have been working remotely for 4+ years on two different jobs) and conversations with other fellow remote workers. It also includes a story of me getting my current job asking on Discord.

Every remote work article has a mandatory tropical beach picture, so here is one. Photo by Pedro Monteiro on Unsplash

Yes, competition is hard

Let’s not set unrealistic expectations, finding a fully remote, full-time data science job isn’t easy. As stated earlier, you will compete with the most qualified professionals on this planet and there aren’t that many openings a year.

Do not quit your job immediately thinking you will find something in a couple of months because you receive daily job offers for on-site jobs on Linkedin. You should rather set realistic expectations and see this as a long term project with the amount of dedication and disappointment it can convey.

Hopefully, things will start to get easier as many high profile companies like Twitter, Shopify or Slack announced they will go full or partial remote even after the Covid crisis ends.

Start with… your current job

You will read it everywhere: remote work is all about trust, e.g. trusting you will deliver without close supervision. Capitalizing on the relationship you have built with time should be your first approach and there is no better place to start than with your current job.

If your manager is happy with you and your company has not stated firm anti-remote work policies, you should start this discussion.

In 2016, my wife got a job opportunity 500 km away and we saw that as an opportunity to live in a smaller and calmer city with our family. The problem was then what to do with my job. She casually mentioned “You could just ask to work from home” and I felt stupid for not even thinking about it before. Shortly after, I started a conversation with my manager stating, I’d like to start working remotely in a near future and the best thing would be to still do it with them. The stars aligned and one month later, I moved away from Barcelona and started working remotely without the need to look for a new job (but moved to a different team).

This might not be always possible and, even within the same company, it will depend a lot on who you are talking with. In my case, it might not have been possible with a different manager. But the sure thing is that, if you don’t ask, it will definitely not happen.

Use your Network

The second best place to find people who already trust you is your network. There is likely a handful of people you have worked with in the past who appreciated you as a professional, who is now working in different companies and would be happy to work with you again.

Just contact them. Send them a message on LinkedIn, ask about how they are doing, congratulate them on are recent move if relevant and casually mention that you are looking for new opportunities — which ideally would allow working remotely full time. As you have a personal connection, they will give you an honest answer or might even reach out to different people (potentially in different companies) to inquire about potential opportunities.

Ask recruiters

If you have a Data Scientist title on LinkedIn, you likely receive regular offers via LinkedIn.

Take profit of these opportunities to connect with the recruiters and ask if the job can be fully remote. In 99% of the cases, it will likely not be the case (from my experience, although this might change post-Covid) but, it is also a very low effort approach as you just have to quickly answer a message you received.

Recruiters will appreciate you answering them back (they’re not all bad!) and might consider you for a different opening they are working on and is remote-friendly.

Put Extra Love in your Application

Remember that remote positions are highly competitive and companies can receive thousands of applications for a single opening. No need to tell you should make sure you send a top-notch application to stand out.

  • Tailor your CV to the positions. This can apply to any job-hunt, but when you are competing with thousand of other candidates, you have to make sure your CV reflects how good a fit you are for the position.
  • Crack your cover letter or presentation email. Remote work requires strong communication skills. If you are unable to convey why the target company should consider you as a candidate in few paragraphs, this will undermine your application.
  • Find how to connect. Find who your interlocutors at the company might be and what they like. The hiring managers might be active on social networks, have written some articles or books,… Research who they are, their cultural background, their achievements so that you have a better chance to understand how to best catch their attention.

Use the right tools

Although one might first think that there are no differences between looking for an on-site or remote job, there are ways to improve your remote job search:

  • Use the right filters. Websites like StackOverflow have an option to show remote jobs only.
  • Follow the right companies. There are lists of companies hiring remotely and some very visible ones like AutomatticBufferZapierHotjar,… Keep an eye on their job pages in case there are new openings.
  • Look at start-ups. Start ups are more likely to adopt new ways of working as they are building their work culture from scratch (and have less money to lease offices). Websites like AngelList have a wide offering of start up jobs, some fully remote.
  • Look at specialized boards and community. There is a flourishing number of job boards or communities specialized in remote openings (e.g. RemotiveRemoteOK,…). Keep an eye on them and set your alerts, although offers for data science jobs are less frequent than for developers.

Go Freelance

If you are not lucky with your applications, you can still consider going freelance. As freelancers are generally experienced professionals collaborating with companies for a shorter time frame, those are generally keener on letting freelancers working remotely.

Freelance life is of course not for everybody and finding a remote freelance gig is not necessarily easier. You can still test the grounds by creating a profile on platforms like UpWork (or more specialized local ones) and see how easy (or hard) it would be to get some decent first gigs.

Be Creative

Although some people will pretend so, there is no gold standard method to get a job. Some methods that generally work for other people might not work for you and vice versa. Thus, it is recommended to try different approaches and learn from them if you are lucky enough to get some feedback (we can still argue that getting ghosted is a minimum unit of feedback).

Try to contact directly recruiting managers if you can identify them, send applications for jobs that are not listed (companies might get back to you), apply via the company’s online form if it’s your only option although everybody will tell you this never works (it sometimes does, I got multiple interviews and a job this way), in general, try to find the best way to get in touch with people making the calls.

As an example, I got my current job… on Discord! And for a job I was overqualified for.

I was interested in a young startup that was looking for a data analyst while I was looking for a more senior position, ideally at a head/director level. After some research I realized they didn’t have any data scientists yet and that they could use someone with more seniority. Also, they had a link to their Discord server (they operate in the gaming space) where I could directly contact the CEO and introduce myself as a hands-on Head of Data. A couple of calls later, I was hired.

This is definitely not an approach that will work every time, like any type of approach. But this shows that if you are persistent enough and spend enough energy understanding the company you target, what they will need and how to get their attention, you will eventually stick out of the crowd.

Be Persistent

As a final word, remember you only control a small portion of the recruiting process. Even if you send your best application and are highly qualified for the position, there are many factors you do not control: your competitors for the role, personality fit with the recruiters, changes of strategy from the company, budget fit for the role, timing,…

Job hunting is a number game, and this is even more true for remote jobs. You will likely not get a job on your first application, but maybe you will! Just make sure you use a diversity of approaches as those highlighted in this article and do your best on each application to increase your odds of success and land your dream data science remote job.

Originally published on Towards Data Science. Published with author’s authorization.