How can employers recruit and retain data talents?

How can employers recruit and retain data talents?

Hiring data scientists is not an easy task - and neither is keeping them. The problem lies in a mutual misperception. On the one hand, data scientists get rigorous training in statistics, machine learning, and coding, and enjoy working in a learning environment tackling specific problems. On the other hand, many companies are looking for data talents that ask the right business questions and can rapidly acquire domain knowledge. Business schools have been developing programs over the last years to produce “data ready” students and therefore fill an important gap in the data skills job market. 

Business school students following a data track in their curriculum are technically solid enough to collaborate with “pure” data scientists, and have simultaneously built up business acumen through intensive company-based data cases.  In fact, before digging into data, they learn to ask the relevant strategic questions and project how their solution will bring value after passing through the data and analytics process. They understand the importance of processes, technology and culture and they master data storytelling to convince sponsors to scale their solutions. 

The learning process to master data value creation relies on a strong framework, fueled by on-the-ground experimentations. It is slow and requires many iterations, trials and errors. Data graduates appreciate this and desire jobs that will continue offering challenging data valorisation problems, supervised by inspiring managers. Executives are realising that such supervised, hybrid learning environments are key if their companies want to succeed in becoming data centric. A natural question to ask then is “how do young data graduates see their dream work environment?”.

We are the first to have conducted a detailed survey to highlight the main aspirations of young data graduates. The results allow us to understand what fundamentally attracts them, how they see their future career and what matters to them on a daily basis. This also allows us to provide some key insights for executives and HR on how to better attract and retain data talents. 

It turns out that data graduates are looking for a job where they can overcome interesting data challenges, complete various tasks and, above all, they want to be able to switch between different projects so they can upgrade their skills. Variety and transversality are seen as the fertile ground, rather than focusing too long on a specific topic. Unsurprisingly, data graduates consider the consulting environment as the most attractive; they are less focused on the business sector where they could work and consider large companies as interesting as the tech giants (such as Amazon and Apple), as long as they offer a wide range of projects. Remuneration is not a key argument for young graduates. They are aware of the scarcity of their skills on the market and the associated premium, and they know their remuneration will follow an ascending curve if they develop the right set of skills during their first jobs. More surprisingly, values or mission of their future employer have relatively little impact in terms of attractiveness. 

In a nutshell, young data graduates seek above all to develop their expertise through various projects, in an agile and friendly working environment, supported by managers who have a strong tech skill set.

These insights provide an incentive for many companies to review their talent strategies, which often seek to attract students through communication about corporate challenges or HR benefits. On the contrary, the priority to attract and keep data graduates is to develop a culture of continuous learning, allowing a constant development of their skills, and to organize a 2 to 3 year career path for them that allows them to work on a chain of different projects, gradually increasing their accountability. This can be achieved by building and operating the right ecosystem, going beyond the frontiers of the company and beyond internal silos. 

The role of the managers also turns out to be essential for attracting and keeping data graduates. Engaging them early on in the recruitment process allows them to go beyond employer-branding communication and attract students with solid arguments about the reality of their future job. Developing their coaching and collaboration skills and their agility in transforming data into value-driven initiatives will allow them to become the role models they need to be to grow and nurture their teams.

Building those two pillars at the right pace will prove the best way to match the expectations of young data graduates in the long run.

A few key figures

  • 63% of young graduates consider “learning” as the most important professional value
  • 47% consider having varied and interesting tasks is the first daily priority for their future job
  • 41% consider “career development opportunities” as their top expectation for HR 
  • 83% of young graduates will not pay attention to the company’s mission for their future job


Fabrice Marque, Executive Director, Essec Business School

Jeroen Rombouts, Professor, Essec Business School

Arnaud Gilberton, CEO,  Idoko

Timothy Lê,  General Manager, Idoko

We would like to thank Joris Fayard and Kai-Lin Yang for their support in designing the survey and analyzing the data.

Further information can be found on: 

ESSEC Knowledge on X