Decisions. We make thousands of them each day, without even realizing it. Turn right or left. Stop on the traffic light. Greet someone we dislike, or avoid their stare. Buy a healthy vegan salad, or fall again for some juicy junk food. Then of course you have professional decisions at work. To take this or that course of action, to make this or that step in the project, to move forward with something or to hold back, to give a negative feedback to your colleague, or to rather keep it for yourself.

Regardless of the type of decisions we refer to, and how big or small they are, it would be foolish to think that we decide rationally most of the time. On the contrary. We use our intuition, follow our emotions, and often we actually pursue with our actions some secret destinations we are consciously unaware of. Having said all of that, there is undoubtedly power in data. The biggest and most successful companies in the world consider the data about their clients their greatest asset, and their multi-billion profits each year speak for themselves…

What I try to say with this lengthy introduction (which I hope you enjoyed reading :)) is that regardless of the job you try to get, or a type of an interview you face this question in, you should try to convince the hiring managers that you put a lot of value on data, and decide according to them as often as possible, rather than relying on your intuition, judgement, experience in the field, or intelligence–regardless of how high it is. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting question right now, including answers for people with no previous working experience, and some unconventional answers that will help you stand out in your interview. Enjoy the list!


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time you used data to make a decision” interview question

  1. I’ve done it daily in my last job of a financial analyst. In my opinion, the financial market is too complex and volatile to decide according to your intuition only, or based on your knowledge. Hence while working on my analyses, I always tried to gather as much data as possible. First of all historical data, because trends tend to repeat, and what happened in the past can tell us a lot about the future. But I’ve also looked for predictions, overall state of the economy, and tried to understand how financially healthy was each company or subject that played a role in my analysis. The more data the better, as long as it is relevant, is my mantra. Once you have enough data you can run your models and draw conclusions, eventually deciding about the final outcome of your analysis.
  2. I remember a good example from my last managerial job. My superior gave me this unpleasant task of letting go one of my team members, since we had to make some budget cuts. There simply wasn’t enough money for everyone. Instead of letting go the colleague I didn’t like personally, I decided to rely on data. Looking at the results of each team member in a long run, both tangible and intangible, and also carefully considering what role each member played in the dynamics of a team, I eventually decided to let go one of them. My decision was 90% data-driven and I was ready to defend it in front of anyone, though of course with people you always have things that just cannot be quantified…
  3. This is my first job application, but perhaps my job search is a great example of a data-driven decision. Of course, with my degree I have many options. Hundreds if not thousands of jobs to apply for just in this area. However, how to choose the right ones? Instead of blindly sending applications left and right, I did my research. First filter was Fortune 500. Only companies that belonged to the list interested me, since I was looking for stability. Then I picked 100 of them that resonated the best with my values and with the types of projects I’d like to work on. Next stage was reading employee reviews on Glassdoor for each of the companies. Next step was checking their career website, understanding what entry level jobs they advertise at the moment, and what they offer to new hires. And so on, and so forth, I eventually came up with a list of 7 companies and 7 jobs I wanted to apply for. The job I am interviewing for right now with you is one of them, and I hope my data-driven approach will bring me success in my career.
  4. The only job I had so far was flipping burgers at McDonald’s. And while you barely make any decisions there--everything has to be according to the manual, I understand very well that behind each process engineered to a perfection is a lot of trial and error and even more data collection. This teaches me an important lesson–to be successful, to become of the best companies in your field, or even in the world, you should rely on data. And you should collect as much data as possible. You can be sure that in my new job with you (if you hire me of course), I want to stick to this principle.
  5. Trying to become a great teacher, I work a lot with data in my classes. First of all, my own data. I try to get feedback from students after every lesson, and make a lot of notes. Which teaching method worked well, which didn’t work at all, and so on. How students responded to this or that impulse during the lesson, and what results they eventually got. What’s more, I try to use data others collected. Talking to fellow teachers, reading research studies, and basically trying to make informed decision based on quality data from various sources, with an ultimate goal of maximizing the potential of my students. That’s my attitude to work, and I want to stick to it in the job of assistant principal which I try to get with you.
  6. I do not want to sound too philosophical, but every decision we make is data-driven. Our mind is like a sponge, collecting impulses non-stop, and evaluating decisions we’ve already made. Now I speak about both conscious and unconscious decisions. Our brain–so powerful and still so mysterious, collects all data, and everything we’ve done and experienced up to this point of our life plays a role in the decisions we are making, even though we may not realize it consciously. As strange as it may sound, even to make a decision to give you this answer (instead of another one), I used data. Without consciously realizing it…
  7. Probably the most important such decision was my decision to stop smoking. And I believe it was crucial that I relied on data, because if I simply decided emotionally that I wanted to quit, without understanding the numbers and how smoking impacts negatively my life and the life of people around me, I would never quit. Or I would come back as soon as there was some social pressure. But because my decision was firmly data-driven, I stuck with it, and for more than five years now I haven’t had a single cigarette. I can proudly call myself a non-smoker now.

So that’s it! I hope you enjoyed the answers, they gave you some food for thought, and most importantly that you know now what to focus on, when hiring managers ask you about data-driven decisions. I wish you best of luck in your interview, and recommend you to check also sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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