Business analysts use massive amounts of data and other intelligence to help organizations determine the right strategy. It’s a highly specialized job that demands a solid mix of technical skills (such as knowledge of data analytics tools) and “soft skills” such as empathy and communication. With that in mind, how do you become a business analyst? What do you need to know?
First, it’s important to realize that business analysis is a highly competitive field. According to Lightcast, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, employers posted some 419,295 open business analyst jobs over the past 12 months; the organization also predicts the profession will grow 3.9 percent over the next two years.
Dice’s latest Tech Salary Report places the annual business analyst salary at $101,497—up four percent between 2020 and 2021. Although it’s a highly specialized role, you don’t necessarily need a business degree to launch a career. Let’s dig further!
Do Your Interests Align with a Business Analyst Job?
A business analyst is a bit different than a data analyst, although the roles overlap somewhat in terms of methodology and goals. In addition to crunching datasets for insight, business analysts also interview people throughout an organization for a more complete picture of organizational health and strategy.
Because of that, anyone who wants to make a career out of business analysis needs to really love business, as well as interacting with all kinds of stakeholders. You also need to prepare yourself for rapidly evolving challenges.
Breaking into Business Analysis
As we broke down in another article, you should prepare a plan for breaking into the business analyst field:
Observe how your current company works: Ask questions and watch how your business processes issues, interacts with stakeholders, adopts new technology, plans for the future, and more.
Take on self-directed learning projects: “Learning projects” can sharpen your technical and non-technical skills and build your business analyst portfolio, which is essential when searching for jobs. You can find examples here and here.
Find online courses for necessary skills: You can learn the fundamentals of data analysis and business process by taking free online courses or (if you have the time and funding) enrolling in a boot camp.
Work on your presentation skills: One of the most important skills for business analysts is the ability to communicate detailed findings in an easy-to-understand way. Consider taking a training course in data visualization and/or communicating results before beginning a job search for a business analyst position.
Mentors are great: Business analysis involves a lot of nuance and intuition; for example, you need to craft concrete strategies based on messy data. With that in mind, consider seeking the guidance, advice, feedback and support of an experienced business analyst. But keep in mind that any mentorship is a two-way street; in addition to taking their advice, you should actively listen to their concerns and issues.
Consider certification: Studying for an introductory certification like The Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA) can pay off when it’s actually time to engage in your job hunt. As you advance in your business analyst career, there’s a whole range of certifications to earn to show your skills in key facets of the profession.
What Skills Do I Need to Become a Business Analyst?
Becoming a successful business analyst requires a solid range of skills. Lightcast breaks down the necessary skills for a business analyst position; these are skills that, once mastered, can help you land an entry-level job—and climb higher:
- Customer Service
- Data Analysis
- Process Improvement
SQL is the programming language for relational databases, and it’s necessary for business analysts who work extensively with data. Budgeting, data analysis, and ideas about how to improve business processes are also key.
The next tier is what Lightcast calls “defining skills,” which are the day-to-day skills that business analysts need to fulfill their tasks to the best of their ability:
- Business Analysis
- Project Management
- Business Process
- Change Management
These represent the core of the business analyst position: you must manage and analyze projects and data to achieve key results. Next come Lightcast’s “distinguishing skills,” which are defined as the advanced skills that business analysts can use to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace:
- Microsoft Visio
- User Acceptance Testing (UAT)
- Business Systems Analysis
- Systems Analysis
When applying for business analyst jobs, it’s important to read (and re-read) the original job posting and isolate the skills that the employer wants. Of those skills, list the ones you know on your resume; that will get you past the automated resume scanners and put your application in front of an actual human being. During the job interview process, make sure your answers illustrate how you’ll use your abilities and tools knowledge to help the organization achieve its strategic goals.