C-suite career advice: Lindsey Zuloaga, HireVue

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? "When aiming for a long-term goal in a c-level position, it’s best to drop the ego, be humble, and learn from others."

Headshot of Lindsey Zuloaga, Chief Data Scientist at HireVue

Name: Dr. Lindsey Zuloaga

Company: HireVue

Job Title: Chief Data Scientist

Location: South Jordan, Utah, USA

Dr. Lindsey Zuloaga is the Chief Data Scientist at HireVue, managing teams that build and validate machine learning algorithms to predict job-related outcomes. As an academic researcher with a Ph.D. in Applied Physics, she has performed novel experiments and data analysis, resulting in scientific publications with applications in medicine, sensing, and signal processing. Zuloaga started her data science career in the healthcare space, striving to improve the lives of people with chronic health conditions. At HireVue, she is working to completely transform traditional interviewing with a platform that focuses on understanding more of the candidate as a whole person, including interview responses, coding abilities, and cognitive skills as opposed to just the facts shown on a resume.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Something my dad once told me that has stuck with me and helps with bouts of imposter syndrome is: when someone says something impressive, it is easy to assume that they know everything you know PLUS that impressive thing, but it’s likely there are many things you know that they don’t.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? This would be to not assume that your resume will speak for itself. Don’t get me started on resumes! Suffice it to say that I think they are necessary tools but I wish that by now we would have come up with something better. When I started applying for jobs, I was very naive as to the problems with hiring and the “black hole” that most applicants fall into after spending their valuable time applying for a position.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in tech? Network! I know it can seem exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be. Put yourself out there to connect with others who are doing interesting things and ask a lot of questions. A lot of opportunities can come from people seeing that you are engaged and passionate.

Did you always want to work in tech? I started my path with a focus on applied science, which is technology, so in a way, yes. When I started my PhD in Applied Physics, I was interested in the experimental side but what surprised me is that the part of my work I enjoyed most was writing code to analyse messy data. As I progressed, I became one of the more code-savvy experimental physicists of the groups that I worked with. When I pivoted from academia to tech after wrapping up a postdoc in Germany, working in a lab in industry did not appeal to me at all. Data Science was booming at the time and it was a great fit.

What was your first job in tech? My first job in technology was for a company who ran a remote tutoring platform - an amazing technology but unfortunately wasn’t scaling well and perhaps not in the right place or time. After that, I was a Data Scientist at a healthcare company that specialised in mail order delivery of prescriptions and testing supplies for people with diabetes. It was a great exposure to how complex and messy data can be within companies. Throughout my career, the analytical thinking abilities I gained during my experience as an academic researcher have been invaluable to translate real-world questions into analytical steps and eventually interpretations and stories.

What are some common misconceptions about working in tech? Sometimes there is an idea that working in tech is very cut-throat, involves  long hours and is not welcoming to women. However, that has not been my experience personally, and if you’re in that situation, remember that it doesn’t have to be that way and try to find a new environment. I feel incredibly lucky to have a job that is incredibly intellectually stimulating and gives me flexibility in a way many jobs do not.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? The executives I respect the most are more fixated on learning and solving problems than their title. When aiming for a long-term goal in a c-level position, it’s best to drop the ego, be humble, and learn from others.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I don’t have any, so yes, I have reached them. But seriously, I think goal-setting can sometimes be limiting. Most career paths are not totally predictable and linear.

My ambition is always to work on things that I think are impactful and interesting, and I believe the rest will follow. I don’t know where the rest of my career will lead, but I don’t think I’ll ever have a sense of finally reaching an end – it is a journey centred on finding the challenges I enjoy and growing as a person.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I absolutely do. I have two young children, so flexibility is essential in my life. As difficult as pandemic and post-pandemic life has been for all of us, the silver lining for me is to be able to work from home, save time on my commute and be able to check in with my family during the day.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I wouldn’t change anything. We all have unique histories and experiences that make us uniquely valuable.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? In an effort to make hiring more equitable, companies are eliminating college degree requirements where they can, so I think right now is a really good time to explore the idea of bootcamp certification. Particularly if someone is trying to make a career switch – dip your toes in and see if the field is right for you. Also, secondary education is prohibitively expensive for a lot of people and a certification is a great way to gain access into the field. That being said, if you can afford it, the depth of education with a degree is valuable and will give you an advantage for certain employment opportunities. Data Science is a great example - depending on your background, a boot camp is not going to give you the experience or mathematical intuition that a PhD statistician has, but there is a place for both roles.

How important are specific certifications? In this field certifications are nice to have, but not highly important. I focus more on a candidate’s skills and experience, regardless of where their expertise was acquired. Some people have a lot of education, some have done bootcamps, some have taught themselves online. For technical roles, I trust skills assessments during the hiring process serve as a very good indicator of how accurate someone’s resume is. I’ve had people who sound amazing on paper fail to complete a very simple coding challenge.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? For any role on my teams, an analytical mind, passion, and curiosity are extremely important to me.

What would put you off a candidate? It’s important that a candidate has researched the position and our company – if someone hasn’t done their basic due diligence to prep that’s a huge red flag. We have a highly passionate culture, so feeling strongly about our mission to connect talent to opportunity is an integral part of who we are. It brings us together to accomplish amazing things.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? The inverse of what would put me off on a candidate is my number one piece of advice to succeed in any interview: research the role and practice articulating how your skills and experience make you the right fit for the job.

To research the role, spend time on the company’s website, social media channels, and review sites like Glassdoor. This will give you a good feel for their values, publicised projects they’ve worked on, and who you will be working with. From those sources you can often anticipate (or find) the questions you’ll be asked during an interview. Write down examples that demonstrate how you’re a good fit. The STAR framework - which stands for situation, task, action, result - is a great way to organise during your prep.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Technical and business skills complement each other, so I’d say it’s best to have a mix of both, but the balance certainly depends on the role. As a researcher and individual contributor, my day-to-day was highly technical and I relied on others to understand the business. As I’ve developed in my career, I have had to learn a lot about the business side of things. For me, that knowledge has made what I do more complex and interesting.