4 Ways to Pick Out a Great Analytics Hire

If you're going to build a Predictive Analytics Center of Excellence, as Peter Hahn at Zurich North America is, you're going to need a load of exceptional analytics talent. So what defines the best of the best? That's something Hahn has thought about a lot lately.

Hahn, who joined the property and casualty insurance provider this past spring as head of predictive analytics, is recruiting for a data scientist team and a risk insight team -- all levels welcome. "We're recruiting at different levels for each of those teams to make sure we address the opportunities for analytics talent that's out there and in different stages of their strengths development and professional development," he told me in a recent phone interview.

The job candidates who stand out will possess four defining characteristics, Hahn said.

  1. Ability and aptitude. First and foremost, the analytics professionals Zurich hires will have an understanding of the business -- or know how to get it if they don't already have it. "We're not necessarily looking for folks who have years of experience in the P&C insurance industry... but we are looking for people who have the curiosity to understand the business needs and the business opportunities our organization is going after," Hahn said.
  2. Creativity. Zurich wants people who can think creatively about potential solutions as well as the types of datasets and data sources that could inform business opportunities and business needs. "So we're looking for people who are creative thinkers and for those who can push our collective thinking."
  3. Insight-centricity. Zurich's analytics hires will be focused on generating insights. And by this, Hahn said, he means he's looking for people who get excited not only because they understand the business problems and the data sources but by coming up with the solutions to solve the problems and address the challenges.
  4. Communications savvy. Zurich wants people who can translate and communicate the insights that the CoE generates, said Hahn, adding that this is one of his most important criteria. "They have to be able to communicate and influence the broader organization on what the insights are in terms of how they apply to their day-to-day decision making and in a way that's consistent, compelling, and coherent to the rest of the market."

To summarize, Hahn spelled out the type of folks he hopes to find:

So, we're looking for people who understand the business and who have the aptitude to understand the business needs and opportunities. We're looking for people who are creative, and who can push the value of our thinking. We're looking for people who are excited by coming up with solutions and insights. And we're looking for people who are very good at synthesizing and communicating the insights and influencing and working with the broader organization to drive adoption and consistent execution.

Where are the hard skills, you might wonder -- knowledge of a particular toolset or programming language, for example? Zurich, and Hahn himself, are "very open-minded and open-ended on tool requirements," he said. "We believe in equipping our data scientists and our risk insights [teams] with the best-of-breed and best-in-class tools they require to generate the most distinctive risk insights."

That means, if you like to program in SAS using certain techniques, Zurich will support your choices. And if the guy or gal in the next cubicle over likes R -- well that's OK, too.

Hahn, I think, paints a rather compelling picture of the CoE team members he's looking to hire. As analytics professionals, what do you like or dislike about the type of people wants on his data science and risk insight teams?

— Beth Schultz, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn pageFriend me on Facebook, Editor in Chief, AllAnalytics.com

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Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors, Folio.net, and others.

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Re: Talk to me
  • 8/15/2014 11:30:38 AM

Agree , try explaining logistic regression to a stage one organization, as all it knows is BI tools and maybe salesforce and some dashboard stuff.

Re: Talk to me
  • 6/17/2014 12:15:18 PM

Hi Terry, I believe what Michael was getting at is this sort of situation: I'm an analytics professional who is fantastic at figuring out what algorithms to use and creating super sophisticated models that pull in all sorts of data and that generate insight that can drive business decisions -- but I'm socially awkward. I can talk to my manager or a team member about a project, but I am incapable of speaking coherently to a bigger group or folks on the business side. Do I have a role in this increasingly analytics-driven business environment or is my future doomed because I'm introverted? 


Re: Talk to me
  • 6/16/2014 4:11:07 PM

Maybe I don't fully grasp what Michael means by "social communications skills," but effectively communicating up and down the organization is implied in Hahn's description of communication skills. For many there's a fine line where "communicating" tips over into self-promoting or grandstanding, which I don't think is what we're talking about. But there's a right way and a wrong to get the word out on interesting insights and conclusions borne of analytics. And it feels like that base is already covered.

Re: Talk to me
  • 6/13/2014 2:58:01 PM

But do you think work habits are core traits? 

Re: Talk to me
  • 6/13/2014 12:42:21 PM

I completely agree with Zurich's perspective there are certain things training and education can do for an employee. Unfortunately changing fundamental personality characteristics and work habits does not fall into that realm. Assuring the employee has core traits that synchronize with the employee is key to the employee being successful long term. 

Re: Talk to me
  • 6/12/2014 2:18:47 PM

That's a good question, Michael. I would think that in larger organizations, such a person would be able to find a role. But here's the thing, I so often here of the importance of this from hiring managers -- so, will you get hired if you can't talk a good game? I'm not so sure about that. 

Talk to me
  • 6/12/2014 12:10:04 PM

I spent a good couple of hours yesterday deep in conversation with a behavioral specialist (don't ask) and we explored subject of social communication skills -- which are really not as simple and straightforward as they seem. Is it possible that communication skills -- on top of analytical and creative thinking -- are too much to ask for? Is there room for a layer of 'translators' who work with the quants and then present to the LOBs?