With data science and analytics skills in short demand worldwide, there is a heavy focus in companies worldwide on recruiting right.

Consultancy McKinsey estimates that the United States alone could face a shortage of at least 140,000 people “with deep analytical skills” within two years, and there’s no reason to believe Australia will be spared in the battle for talent.

Buoyed by his own internal experiences building up data science capability, Seek’s Melbourne-based global director of analytics and AI, Antony Ugoni, offered up some tips for building analytics capability at the CeBIT conference in Sydney.

“Retaining the right talent actually starts at the first interview,” Ugoni said.

“You obviously want the best talent that you can afford at the time but in all jobs, not just in analytics or IT, there is always an element of mundane, just cranking the handle of the machine.

“You really need to eyeball the candidate right at the start to say, ‘Look we’ve got some cool stuff that we’d really like to do but this stuff needs to happen in the background to keep the business humming. Are you OK with that?’”

In saying that, Ugoni recommends automating or outsourcing ‘grunt work’ where possible so that employees can focus their talent and efforts on some of the more interesting projects.

“From an analytics perspective, wherever possible you should never ever outsource what we call the cool stuff,” he said.

“Outsource as much mundane activity as possible, automate as much of that grunt as possible and keep the cool stuff in-house.”

Ugoni also recommends recruiting people with an obvious passion for big data.

He recommends seeking out “people who wake up wanting to do it” and who might turn their “second last thoughts” before they sleep to the big data challenges of the day.

“You really want people who live and breathe analytics because they will find their own energy,” Ugoni said.

“They’re the people who are going to be working on a particular problem, creating something that the business has asked for, and then say to you, ‘Hey, while I had the hood up I also discovered this thing over here, I’ve kept my ear out for what the business is trying to get to, what the strategy is, and I had this a-ha moment with this other stuff over here’.

“If you give them the opportunity to do that then they become energised.”

Ugoni also looks for analytics talent with some mental toughness.

“We talk internally about the 100-1 rule,” he said.

“Just make [new recruits] aware that [a test of] their strength of character is not around coming up with 100 new ideas, but in coming up with 100 new ideas in the full knowledge that maybe the business can only use one or two.

“How do you pick yourself up and give yourself enough energy to think of the next 100 knowing full well that only one or two of those will get up and running?”

If you’ve recruited well, Ugoni believes it becomes “easy, almost tactical” to put in place plans to aid that candidate’s career progression based on their interests – for example, whether they want to pursue further technical expertise or perhaps to “move up through management”.