How to Get Started with a Career in Business Data Analytics

Our career expert dives deep into the aspects of business & data analytics and provides a one-of-a-kind analysis of how to start a career in this exploding field.


Published on January 21st by Jen Hood. Reviewed by Jennifer Gaskin and Robert Steele.


In This Section


The term “Big Data” was first used in 2005 to describe huge sets of information being generated by internet users and users of other connected systems. Since then, the amount of data generated by the average person on a daily basis has become truly mind-boggling, and there is no sign that things will slow down anytime soon.

In fact, it’s estimated that by the end of 2020, there will be more than 40 times as many bytes of data as there are stars in the known universe.

Most of this data is in some way related to a company, product, service or organization, and companies know they need to adapt to keep up with changing technology and customer demands. One of the key ways they do this is by bringing in experts on managing data and processes. That is where business analysts come in.

Business analyst jobs are exploding in popularity thanks to the unique skills that analysts bring to the workplace. With their focus on using facts and data to drive decision-making, they impact every area of the business. These professionals leverage expertise in analyzing data to standardize operations, predict future performance, and optimize processes and information.

The need for new analysts is clear, but the pathway to becoming a business analyst often is not. That’s because there is no one way to get into analytics. People enter business analytics careers in a variety of ways. We will explore the key steps to becoming a business analytics professional so anyone who is interested, regardless of background, can get started in a rewarding career in business analytics.


Pick a Business Analytics Specialty


Business analytics is a broad field that includes many diverse roles. Business analysts are found in every field, from healthcare to banking and cybersecurity to transportation. With role variety also comes variations in skill and background requirements.

Since the skills and requirements differ by specialty, consider what direction you see yourself going and what types of tasks interest you most. Many of these roles have room for lateral movement later on but may require additional training or development. The roles below are a small sampling of the varied specializations that a business analyst may choose.

Business Analyst

Business analysts study organizations, processes, systems or problems through a business lens. They often run projects to improve each of these areas so an organization runs more smoothly — and more profitably.

This role is best if you:

  • Enjoy working with others
  • Want a moderate amount of statistical work
  • Prefer minimal programming tasks

Cybersecurity Analyst

On the IT end of business analytics, cybersecurity analysts manage computer and network security. They protect data sources from nefarious cyber actors by analyzing and predicting potential flaws and entry points.

This role is best if you:

  • Enjoy working on your own
  • Want minimal statistical work
  • Prefer significant programming tasks

Data Analyst

Data analysts primarily focus on going deep with data sets. These roles may also specialize in a subject matter, such as sales. Data analysts need the most in-depth statistical backgrounds of the analytics roles.

This role is best if you:

  • Enjoy working mostly on your own
  • Want significant statistical work
  • Prefer moderate amount of programming

Healthcare Analyst

Specialists in healthcare analytics use their business analytics skills to improve the quality of care, lower costs and enhance the patient experience. They work with healthcare data and often have specialized knowledge that stems from a medical background, including formal medical education.

This role is best if you:

  • Prefer working mostly on your own
  • Want significant statistical work
  • Prefer a low to moderate amount of programming
  • Have medical knowledge or education

Management Analyst

Management analysts focus on organizational efficiency to increase profitability. These individuals are often employed by consulting firms built on helping other companies reduce their costs and increase revenue.

This role is best if you:

  • Enjoy working with others
  • Want moderate statistical work
  • Prefer few programming tasks

Marketing Analyst

These specialists monitor and forecast marketing performance. They analyze sales information to validate campaign effectiveness and often recommend changes to optimize results.

This role is best if you:

  • Enjoy working with others
  • Want moderate statistical work
  • Prefer few programming tasks

Skill Strength Required for Business Analytics Roles


 Statistics & MathematicsPersonal InteractionProgramming
Business AnalystMediumHighLow/None
Cybersecurity AnalystLow/NoneLowHigh
Data AnalystHighLowMedium
Healthcare AnalystHighLowMedium
Management AnalystMediumHighLow/None
Marketing AnalystMediumMediumMedium

Check out the Careers page for even more careers related to business analysts.


Business Analytics Skills Needed


Once you know the type of business analytics specialty you want to pursue, the next step is outlining the skills you’ll need to develop.

It’s true that each employer or job may be a bit different in terms of requisite skills, but five major types of skills serve as baseline requirements for business analysts.

Problem Solving

Problem-solving skills are at the center of every business analyst role. This includes critical thinking, analytical thinking and creative thinking. Business analysts need to know how to ask the right questions so that the problems they identify are real problems, not just symptoms of other issues.

Visualization

Visualization is another common skill for business analysts. The specific skills needed vary depending on the role. Those working primarily with data will need to create charts, or data visualizations, based on the analysis they’re generating. Visual process flows in tools like Microsoft Visio are common for those whose roles focus on workflow or other organizational matters. On the IT end of the business, wireframes help define systems and integrations.

Distill, Collect, Extract

Regardless of their specific job function, it’s crucial for business analysts to be able to get their arms around the problems they’re being asked to solve. Sometimes referred to as requirements elicitation, this could mean observing users and stakeholders to see how they use (or would want to use) whatever tools or products you are creating, or it could mean interviewing key people at the start of a project. Multiple techniques can go into digging up all the answers and ensuring every requirement is prioritized properly as well as gaining consensus and agreement among stakeholders.

Written & Verbal Communication

As a business analyst, you will be required to deliver a range of documents, from presentation slides to emails to annual reports. Whether you are documenting requirements, creating reports or managing communication across many departments and stakeholders, excellent communication skills will make you a better analyst and one who is able to put your recommendations into action. You will need to ensure that your communication is clear and concise and at an appropriate level for your stakeholders.

Niche Skills

Niche skills can often serve as an X factor when it comes to getting a great job, and it’s often in this area where candidates can set themselves apart. A good way to determine what niche skills might be required in your desired job is to look at multiple job descriptions for the roles or companies where you want to work. Some niche skills tend to be more valuable to employers, which is evident in salary figures. For example, experience in using Salesforce is associated with a nearly 20% increase in average salaries. The chart below shows the increase in salary associated with specific skills compared to baseline business analyst salaries.

This chart shows the increase in salary associated with specific skills compared to baseline business analyst salaries.

How to Build Your Skills


Building skills in business analytics can happen in multiple ways. The two main pathways are formal education and self-directed learning.

Earning a degree in business analytics offers the advantage of being highly structured and taught by experts. These programs also result in certifications or degrees from accredited by independent bodies. With flexible online options available, people can learn at times convenient for them.

Some people choose to create their own custom plan for building business analyst skills. This offers a high degree of flexibility, very tailored to an individual’s goals, experience, and past education. This strategy is also often significantly less expensive. It requires serious self-discipline and enough knowledge of business analytics to identify what needs to be learned. Many people find they do not allocate the time needed to build these skills and those that do may not be well rounded or fully trained.

Self-directed programs in business analytics should only be considered by those who already have a bachelor’s degree. They also may be more successful with guidance from a career coach with specific expertise in analytics. An expert can validate the plan’s thoroughness and offer additional resources and strategies for success.


Formal TrainingDIY
Highly structuredHighly flexible
Choice of online or in-person classesAll learning online
Personal feedback on performanceNo 1-1 feedback
Taught by expertsMust vet each option yourself
Fixed course scheduleTailored to your goals & background
Comprehensive topicsMay not cover all necessary topics
Accredited certification or degreeNo degree, sparse certifications
More expensiveInexpensive or free
Cost commitment means more likely to complete once startedEasy to down prioritize & not finish

Many online tools are available for both DIY learners and those with formal training. Some are free, while others require a subscription. Here are just a few of the best options:

Coursera, edX

Massive open online courses are ideal resources for working professionals who don’t have time to devote to formal education but still need to brush up on existing skills or build new ones. Both Coursera and edX offer programs or specializations in business analytics backed by prestigious universities like Columbia and the Wharton School. Fees vary, though in some cases it may be possible to audit classes for free.

Visit Coursera

Visit edX

Codecademy, DataCamp

While not necessarily directly related to business analytics, both Codecademy and DataCamp offer straight-forward lessons in data science. These can be quite helpful for those who are self-directed learners or who earned degrees but missed out on specific tools, such as Python, SQL, R or machine learning. Basic lessons are free, and monthly plans start at about $20-$25.

Visit Codeacademy

Visit DataCamp

Google Analytics Academy

Specific to the Google Analytics dashboard and tools, the search engine giant offers a handful of free courses to help users learn how to best use Google Analytics for data collection and analysis.

Visit Google Analytics Academy


How to Get Experience


For early-career business analytics professionals, a degree and technical competence in areas required by your employer (for instance, experience with Python or PowerPoint) should be enough to get your foot in the door.

But what really sets an analyst apart is demonstrating an ability to put classroom skills into real-world practice. Companies want to see your analytics skills in action, and proving yourself by being able to tackle actual problems is the key to advancing in your career.

Most job openings in the field are for mid-career professionals. In fact, our data analytics jobs analysis of several job titles in California found that entry-level openings accounted for only 22.3% of all openings in the state.

That means for individuals who are currently studying business analytics, a top-notch transcript may not be enough. An internship is a great option to build skills with a mentor while gaining practical experience, and checking out what’s available in your specific niche at least three months in advance is the best way to get in with a large company.

Of course, not everyone who gets a job today as a business analyst has a degree in the field or even business analyst job experience. It’s common for working professionals to make the jump to business analytics from a different role. The best way for those individuals to find their dream business analyst job is to incorporate relevant skills into the work they do on a daily basis. That could mean analyzing a particular problem at their current employer, using the business analyst tools they’ve learned to make a data-driven recommendation about saving money or time or otherwise boosting efficiency.


Conclusion

Regardless of the path they take to get there, people with a passion for solving problems through the power of data analytics should continue to have a bright career outlook. Big data is here to stay, and harnessing all that information will continue to be mission-critical for almost every organization.


About the Author

Jen Hood, Data & Predictive Analytics Expert. Jen has over 15 years of analytics experience working both with small, local businesses and large multi-nationals. She is our In-House Career Expert for MastersofBusinessAnalytics.com and founder of The Career Force.  You can find here on LinkedinInstagram, and YouTube.


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