Robotic process automation (RPA) job interviews: How to prepare

Want to move into the growing job market for robotic process automation (RPA)? Here’s what hiring managers and candidates should know, including sample RPA job interview questions
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Among stats that show growing enterprise use of robotic process automation (RPA), this one is eye-catching: 2,158 – the number of open positions that appeared in a recent nationwide job search for “robotic process automation” on LinkedIn.

Searches on jobs sites like Glassdoor and Indeed produce similar results – somewhere in the order of several thousand – for RPA-related positions. For comparison, a job search on these sites for longer-standing titles and technologies like “software engineer” or “Java” generate more than 100,000 positions apiece.

How you interpret that depends on how you see the proverbial water glass – half-full or half-empty. Here’s a nudge toward the more optimistic view: The “glass” of RPA-related jobs is just now getting filled for the first time. There’s a growing market for IT pros – and process-minded people outside of IT– interested in RPA, and certainly for those already developing relevant skills.

[ Want a primer? Read also: How to explain Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in plain English and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vs. AI, explained. ]

“Adoption is not at a point where hiring managers will find RPA talent with years of experience.”

“RPA is a relatively new field and skillset,” says Karen Reichle, VP of RPA services at Nintex. “Enterprise adoption is not at a point where hiring managers will find talent with years of experience, so they will need to ask the right questions to identify candidates who understand how to scale RPA across an enterprise.”

RPA experience in short supply

That spells opportunity for IT pros and others interested in RPA; until the market matures, it appears qualified job hunters might have an advantage because there simply aren’t a ton of them yet.

“Recruiters face tremendous challenges right now because demand has gotten ahead of supply,” says Chris Huff, chief strategy officer at Kofax. “The demand for RPA or automation leaders far exceeds the number of qualified candidates.”

[ Want to build RPA skills? Check out 8 Robotic Process Automation (RPA) training and certification courses. ]

This isn’t the same old “IT skills shortage” problem, per se. Rather, it’s a function of time – not enough of it has elapsed since companies began kicking the tires on RPA and getting serious about potential benefits.

“This isn’t a capability gap – it’s an experiential gap,” Huff explains. “The market has grown so quickly, candidates simply haven’t had the time to implement, scale, and sustain large programs with proven transformational ROI over an extended period of time.”

RPA job titles: What’s an RPA engineer?

Pair “emerging technology” with “existing title,” and voila – you’ve got yourself a hot new role.

RPA jobs currently go by a range of titles. Some increasingly common ones to date include RPA developer, RPA analyst, RPA architect, and RPA engineer. (It’s a tried-and-true formula in IT jobs: pair “emerging technology” with “existing title,” and voila – you’ve got yourself a hot new role. The debate about “DevOps engineer” hasn’t quieted down yet.)

Could you brand yourself an RPA engineer? As with any emerging specialty, the answer is yes, with some elbow grease, probably including the right projects, courses, and options, such as volunteer work to showcase your skills.

We asked several RPA leaders for some advice for people interested in RPA as a possible career path, and what to expect in the hiring process. Here’s what they had to say (and for hiring managers tasked with adding RPA talent, consider these important perspectives on this emerging market):

RPA job interviews: Business process and unstructured data experience matters

IT pros have heard plenty about the importance of being able to connect the dots between technology and business. With RPA, that’s literally the task at hand. RPA can deliver significant benefits, but it’s not sorcery: RPA won’t automatically improve broken processes, for example.

[ Get up to speed in RPA topics: 7 Robotic Process Automation (RPA) must-reads. ]

“RPA is all about getting technology to solve process or business problems,” says Antony Edwards, COO at Eggplant. “Normally when IT folk prepare for an interview, it’s all about the technology, but when preparing for an RPA interview, they need to ensure that they are learning about business processes and stakeholder management.”

With that latter item, for example, not recognizing and managing the possible implications of RPA on organizational politics is a reason some projects fail. RPA success requires people who see how the underlying technology intersects with people and processes. So your experiences with reshaping business process will be valued.

“RPA is not just automating a spec,” Edwards says. “It’s about understanding what the process is, [and] it’s about understanding the exceptions and stakeholder expectations.”

If you have experience wrangling unstructured data, you're ahead of the pack.

Huff from Kofax describes the fundamental business value like this: “RPA drives business value by automating rules-based tasks, resulting in ‘person-hours’ that can be shifted from lower-value transactional work to higher-value judgment based activities.” (Bolster your understanding with our primer article, “How to explain Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in plain English.”)

To maximize that value, Huff adds, RPA needs structured data. That’s an issue for many organizations. If you have experience here, you’re ahead of the pack.

“The problem is that [roughly] 70 percent of data resides in unstructured format. This presents a huge opportunity for candidates entering the RPA/automation workforce,” Huff explains. “Those candidates that understand how unstructured data can be ingested and transformed into structured format using cognitive capture technologies will stand above their RPA peers and find themselves leading larger digital transformation programs.”

Let's examine what else you should emphasize and prepare:

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.