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Data job seekers, here’s how to tell the story of your skills by building an effective data portfolio

Mentor Rajvi Mehta shares some tips for designing a "relatable, readable and reasonable" portfolio to help you get a foot in the door of your first tech role.

Data and charts. (Photo by Pexels user Lukas via a Creative Commons license)
This is a guest post by Rajvi Mehta, a senior product data analyst and the founder of the virtual Data Mentorship Program. These views are hers alone.
If you are thinking about transitioning into a data career from a non-STEM background, keep this in mind: Your data portfolio is how you tell your story.

I have worked with individuals who are transitioning in the STEM role for over two years now. One of the common challenges I see is the inability to showcase the right skillsets, both technical and consultative, in a meaningful light in front of the hiring manager. The lack of confidence shown by these individuals is misinterpreted as a lack of experience.

Yet in many cases, these candidates do have experience. It is the lack of effective storytelling that is the root cause of their challenges. That’s where an effective data portfolio — a personal website or other platform showing off your best relevant work, like this — comes in to show off your skills as a data professional.

A good story is relatable, readable and reasonable.

Designing a relatable, readable and reasonable data portfolio

Relatable: Today, every industry has a significant need for a data professional, so keep in mind to play with your strengths. Focus on the industry you want to work in and learn about some common data problems companies in this space deal with. You can do this is by leveraging your network: Ask your peers questions about the biggest problem their teams, organizations, or industry currently face. Build a problem statement that will increase revenue or reduce costs for that industry. There are a million publicly available datasets for every industry out there that can help you.

Readable: In my experience of interviewing candidates for multiple entry-level jobs, one of the biggest pieces of feedback I have provided is the need for simplicity in messaging. Keep your messaging short and concise. A lot of data professionals (including myself) struggle with this!

Reasonable: Your data portfolio should have reasonable solutions, which means sticking to basic algorithms while problem solving. The hiring manager is usually not expecting you to create a totally game-changing solution; they are observing your problem-solving ability. The data portfolio should showcase your ability to solve complicated organizational problems, in a simple, elegant manner.

Free resources you can use to build a data portfolio

Another potential way to stand out is by using some of the freely available but lesser-known resources. Apart from the commonly known resources like Kaggle datasets and Data.gov, some of the other resources that you can leverage are:

  • Forage A free work simulation platform that allows you to work on a real data problem from a leading organization. My coworker at the Data Mentorship Program and a supply chain data analyst, Brandon Philips, swears by it for anyone looking to begin their data journey: “I would recommend Forage because the on-the-job training simulations provide real-world examples that other trainings lack.”
  • Google ColabA simple place to build your code and leverage tools like Python without the need to download Anaconda
  • Tableau Public The free version of Tableau, a popular data visualization tool to showcase your findings in a simple, interactive manner

Remember: Getting a great job in tech that leverages your strengths will come from going the extra mile to tell a good story about what you can do.

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