Top Skills for Getting a Job as a SAS Programmer

Are you shooting for a rating of “Awesome” the next time you interview for a position requiring proficiency in SAS? Here are the most important things you need to know to ace your next interview for a SAS programming position from the experts at Fladger Associates, a leading executive recruitment firm.

Your resume is the interviewer’s first screening tool

To get a job as a SAS programmer, you will need to submit your resume. Recruiters look for a neat, grammatical, perfectly spelled resume that demonstrates technical growth, career advancement, evidence of accomplishments on the job (even if they are not directly related to programming), and a clear understanding of technical issues relevant to the job for which you are applying.

Inaccurate statements about SAS and other programs on your resume can result in the recruiter eliminating you from consideration. Incorrect use of jargon and misspellings are also red flags. So is the inability to substantiate and verify the experiences you claim.

Higher-level SAS programmers submit proposals and write reports. Your resume should show that you have those kinds of written presentation skills.

Make a good impression in your phone interview

If your resume makes the cut, the recruiter will call you to ask you a few questions and to decide whether and when to invite you to interview in person. It is important to keep your tone positive.

Don’t bad-mouth a prior employer, no matter how badly you were treated. Don’t offer excuses for gaps on your resume, especially if the interviewer hasn’t asked about them. Express enthusiasm, speaking clearly, avoiding profanity and bad grammar, and thank the caller if you are invited to come in.

Write some generic code to show your SAS skills

The best proof of your coding abilities is the code you wrote. But you can’t just copy code you wrote for a class or for a previous employer.

The copyright for the code you write for someone else does not belong to you. This means that you need their prior permission to show it at an interview for another job. And if you work for a large shop, you certainly don’t want the recruiting team to discover they have seen your code before, submitted by colleagues who might be applying for the same job.

Write a new routine that would be relevant for your new job. Be able to defend it, and to show that it is original to you. Be sure you understand why your program produces the desired results. You also need this sample code to show that follow standard operating procedures and coding rules.

Don’t get upset if the interviewer throws you a curveball when reviewing your code. They will be wanting to see how you get answers to questions, not whether your code was “right” or “wrong.”

Be ready to demonstrate your knowledge of SAS in person

Interviewers usually screen applicants for the knowledge of the basics of SAS. The interviewer is aware that good programmers don’t always have good oral communications skills, but you will need to be able to show you are familiar with:

  • Reading and writing SAS and non-SAS data
  • Declaratives
  • Fuzzy merges
  • Arrays
  • Compile, execute, PDV (data step intervals)

You are less likely to be asked about but should still be able to demonstrate your knowledge of:

  • Modularity
  • Macro
  • DATA vs PROC step solutions
  • Innovative techniques

You are almost certain to be asked to describe a specific program you wrote and executed or a complex macro application. The interviewer will be seeking to determine how much you know and whether you can discuss it with your colleagues and supervisors.

Testing, validation, and debugging techniques don’t always come up in job interviews, but when they do, the interviewer may make them the focus of the interview. After all, up to 85 percent of what a programmer does is testing and debugging.

You will be expected to know syntax, but because knowledge of syntax is fundamental to the job, the interviewer won’t spend much time on it. Understanding and using functionality is important. Experience with SAS programming is more important. Knowing how to get the answers to your questions is essential.

SAS programmers should be able to describe how they can organize the requirements of a job, program from them, map to code, and validate the result with SAS features. While the interview is probing your work habits, they will also make conclusions about how you react to supervisors checking your work.

Here are some interview questions taken verbatim from the job interview guidelines published by the SAS Institute. These questions are copied from the SAS interview guide linked below.

  • Name statements that function at both compile and execution time.
  • What does the RUN statement do?
  • Why is SAS considered self-documenting?
  • What statement do you code to tell SAS that it is to write to an external file?
  • What statement do you code to write the record to the file?
  • How would you delete duplicate observations?
  • What SAS statement would you code to read in an external raw data file to a DATA step?

Of course, there are hundreds of possible interview questions to test your basic skills, many of which are provided by the SAS Institute itself. If you can demonstrate your knowledge of the basics, then the interviewer may move on to give you an opportunity to talk about what interests you most about SAS and some of your more interesting experiences using it.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the job the first time you interview

The more you are prepared, the more likely you are to get a job. But you increase your chances of getting hired exponentially when you get your interview through a professional recruiting firm. Let personnel experts screen you and potential employers for the right job at the right time in your career.

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