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I recently made a career switch from marketing to data science. I want to be in data science because marketing gets a bit boring after a while since it doesn't take too much skill to be decent at it. More importantly, I felt working with data and 'facts' was less bullshitty (excuse the language but I can't really think of a different word) than marketing, which in my opinion is often not based on much apart from the personality behind an idea.

Therefore I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that during a job interview yesterday, the (I don't know if it's relevant but male) HR person said I come across as 'sweet' and he seemed to think that was an issue in the sense that I might not be able to stand my ground. I might come across as sweet - clearly I'm a woman (has any man ever been called 'sweet' in a job interview?), I'm 27 and I guess I look quite girly, including a relatively high pitched voice. I can definitely stand my ground as I have proven in my last job, but I dislike constantly having to. I am honest about my insecurities, which is mainly that this is a new area to me so I might need some extra guidance and feedback at the beginning. Furthermore, I stand behind the idea that you should be open to other peoples opinions, so blindly standing your ground no matter the situation is not always best. I do say 'I think' a lot, of which the recruiter said it made me sound less powerful. But all in all, I would definitely not call myself 'sweet' personality-wise, I would rather describe myself as serious, dedicated, ambitious and smart (but he didn't ask about my positives at all). I don't like conflict but I don't go out of my way to please people either.

Since I wanted to be in data science because I thought it would be more about actual skills and knowledge, I kind of feel a little weird about this interview. So I would like to know - is coming across as 'sweet' an issue if you work in data science? Does being in data science take a certain strong personality? And also, is it ok to call someone 'sweet'? It feels perhaps a bit sexist to me - could being a young woman factor into this? What would be similar feedback for males? What would help if this really is an issue?

Also, I am supposed to hear from this recruiter again next week, should I mention something about how I feel about this? He focussed so much on me coming across as 'sweet', he did not even ask about my strengths, so I suspect I won't get another interview.

Perhaps it depends on the job as well , so a little background info on this particular job: it was in Marketing Intelligence Analytics - yes, unfortunately still marketing but you have to start somewhere - at a fairly big non-commercial organization. You're supposed to work in agile marketing teams as the Data Analyst. The job description did not mention too many social skills or personality traits, only analytical skills, such as knowledge of statistics, R and Python. I have been working on that a lot recently, so I guess I checked those boxes. I have had a lot of interviews lately, most of them were relatively successful since I got a lot of second interviews (most are yet to come). I have heard I am 'timid' before (but it wasn't an issue according to them), and I also got rejected once for being too 'modest'. Weird how 'modest' and 'sweet' are good traits in your private life but apparently not at work...

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    "It feels perhaps a bit sexist to me" - agreed. – Bilkokuya Apr 5 at 10:09
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    If somone in marketing can't think of a better word than 'bullshitty', it's arguably time for them to get out of marketing. – Strawberry Apr 5 at 10:14
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    Haha @Strawberry totally true! In my defence though, English isn't my first language, I'm from the Netherlands ;) Which is another reason I wanted to get out of marketing, I would like to live abroad but I would not probably not be able to find work in it. – Eva Apr 5 at 10:21
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    I'm more concerned that there's recruiters out there profiling candidates with subjective characterizations for a role that is ultimately around making objective decisions with data. – selbie Apr 5 at 17:08
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    As a software engineer by chance worked in 3 marketing companies and one newspaper I cannot agree more about the term "bulshi...". Relative to the problem itself I can say you got bad luck. Even if I found a coworker very sweet to get along, good sense tells me to not say anything unless we are very friendly and in a context, it doesn't look like flirting or awkward in any manner. – jean Apr 5 at 19:58
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I don't think there's anything wrong with your personality in the Data Science field, just as long as it allows you to keep working in a professional manner. Teamwork, communication and interpersonal relationships in general are also one aspect to take into account when working in a Data Science project involving multiple people from different backgrounds, positions, departments or even companies.

So my advice would be to get rid of your insecurities and act in an assertive way. In a field like Data Science, where really high skilled workers are few and far apart compared to demand (the subject is just way too broad), you should focus on performing a good job, and making your way up thanks to it.

Anyway, beware of BS on the Data Science arena! It's full of it!

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Your question can only be answered with "it depends".

1) It's perfectly possible that the panel was simply sexist. As a woman, you don't correspond to the stereotypical image of a nerdy data scientist. By pointing that you are "sweet", they actually pointed to that.

I've participated in many interviews myself where feedback was totally sexist and research shows that women face much more feedback of this kind than men. If a woman is self-confident she frequently hears she's arrogant or bossy. If she's friendly, she hears... well, you know what she hears.

2) Now, to play the devil's advocate and give the panel all the benefit of the doubt possible: It's also possible that you come across as very conflict-averse.

MattR correctly points out that being "sweet" is nothing wrong and that communication skills and being personable is extremely important in data science (as in every other field really).

On the other hand, we don't know what "sweet" meant here. If it just meant "friendly", everything is great and 1) is probably true. If it meant "not able to stand your ground"...

Here's where it gets problematic. I don't know the Netherlands but where I live most companies aren't data-driven and good data scientists can't be conflict-averse, as it would make their work very difficult. You frequently need to discuss with people who bring up not data-based arguments and/or put what you said in question although they have no arguments. In the companies I've worked for this was very common and something inevitable. This wasn't anything personal and nobody could avoid it, no matter whether they were accommodating and friendly or self-assured.

Basically, you need to able to react well when the CEO tells you your analysis is rubbish because his "personal experience" doesn't confirm your results. I'm not saying you aren't of course. But, playing the devil's advocate, maybe you gave them the impression you weren't.

The solution is the same, no matter which explanation is true: Just don't care and apply at other organizations.

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My SO is sweet as can be, and competent to the point of being frightening.

The two are not mutually exclusive and anyone who thinks differently will eventually learn a hard lesson as their poor judgment will leave them shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

Do not concern yourself with people who misjudge you, and whatever you do, don't run out and buy a copy of "nice girls don't get the corner office".

Don't waste your time with people who are just wrong.

Work with your nature and use it. A "sweet" personality opens far more doors than it closes, as an easy going personality, and one who isn't a disruption is always welcome. Heck, if you were in front of me as an interview, you'd go to the top of the list even if you were a bit deficient in some skills because you can always be upskilled.

What I don't want to deal with is someone who is abrasive, and someone who is actually "sweet" and easy to work with would make my day. I'd much rather be dealing with teaching someone a few skills, than dealing with a dour, abrasive individual.

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Being in Data Science myself - the opposite it true. Their may be a vibe that you need to be fact-driven in data science, which is true to some extent, but being personable is much more valuable. You can be the best coder/analyst in the world, but if you aren't able to communicate the results or work with people it's near worthless.

So the negative connotation is a red flag for me. If he meant "sweet" as in "personable" or "easy-to-talk-to" than that's exactly what you need to have a successful career in data science. If he meant it negatively, make sure its the recruiter saying that and not the person you'd be working for.

The perfect data scientist performs data tasks well - but more importantly is able to lead the business by using data-driven results and communicate those actions. Getting along with people by being "sweet" (in the purely complimentary sense) is going to be an amazing skill. You're going to do great!

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If you ever feel like people are trying to use you as a doormat or generally being a disrespectful little [insert rather choice words here], the quickest way to set them straight is to stand your ground. Don't be afraid to do this. You usually won't have any problems after this so long as you do it on an early instance.

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