What are the most common business analyst interview questions? And how can you answer them? Read on to find out.
If you’re interested in what makes an organization tick, then business analytics could be the path for you. A broad and fascinating role, it has applications across every industry and is an excellent prospect for entry-level data analysts. If you’re interested in using data analytics and other research tools to improve an organization’s processes and systems, all the better!
Read more: What is a business systems analyst?
Let’s presume you’ve landed yourself an interview. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what questions you’ll be asked? While this is hard to predict, one thing you can guarantee is that interviewers will be digging deep to find out if you have the skills, know-how, and grit to do the job at hand.
In this post, we distill the essence of the most commonly-asked business analyst interview questions you’ll likely face. We’ve tried to provide context to help you understand what the questions are really asking and offer some tips on how best to answer them.
- What’s the difference between a business analyst and a data analyst?
- Which qualities are most important for business analysts?
- How would you go about implementing a new business analytics project?
- Which types of business metrics would you use?
- How would you approach working with a difficult client or stakeholder?
- If a client changed project scope midway through a project, how would you resolve the issue?
- Which tools are most important for business analysts?
- What kinds of technical documentation would you use in a business analytics context?
- What business analysis techniques do you consider the most important for the role?
- Wrap-up and further reading
Ready to prepare for that all-important interview? Let’s dive right in.
1. What’s the difference between a business analyst and a data analyst?
It might sound obvious, but an interviewer will want to see if you can grasp the subtle difference between data analytics and business analytics. So what’s the difference? In short, while data analysis underpins business analytics, the latter is more about the practical tasks of running and improving a business. Meanwhile, ‘pure’ data analytics focuses on the more technical aspects of data analysis, such as devising algorithms and using other computational tools to manage and extract insights from big data. With this in mind, your answer to this question might be something like follows:
“Of course, these two important roles share plenty of overlap, but a data analyst is usually less strategically focused than a business analyst. While data analysts are invaluable experts, they concentrate more on collecting, storing, organizing, and making sense of large datasets. Meanwhile, a business analyst uses these insights in a business intelligence context. While they’ll have a strong grasp of data analytics too, business analysts also have that all-important business and IT knowledge, great communication and persuasion skills, and the ability to work with varied stakeholders, from C-suite to technical teams. I like to think of business analysts as mediators—they work with the different parts of an organization that might otherwise not know how best to communicate effectively.”
Read more about the differences between data analysts and business analysts.
2. Which qualities are most important for business analysts?
Once again, this question is designed to see if you understand the skills and traits that will help you thrive in the role. Your answer will tell the interviewers a lot about how you envisage your future position within their organization.
While you should include some of the technical skills you’ll need, the main focus here is to tick off the main soft skills that businesses say they require. There’s currently an ongoing shortage of skills like creative problem solving and communication. ‘Pure’ data analysts might get by focusing on things like data modeling and algorithmic development alone. Business analysts don’t have this luxury!
Business analysts require a wide-ranging skillset, of which technical skills are just one aspect. When answering this question, then, you should anticipate being challenged on how you’ve developed (or, for an entry-level position, will develop) these qualities. Your answer might sound something like this:
“Of course, technical skills in areas like data analytics and IT infrastructure are indispensable for business analysts. These are fundamental for understanding and developing new business systems and processes, but that’s only part of the picture. These technical skills can be learned with a little effort. What really makes business analysts stand out are attributes like leadership, negotiation skills, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. Making challenging decisions, managing teams effectively, and communicating with a wide range of stakeholders rely on these kinds of skills. Without them, the job simply won’t get done.”
Following this, you should explain how you’ve personally developed these skills. This could involve talking about a management position you previously held or an instrumental project you worked on, or it could highlight a position of authority you once held—perhaps running a sports club or scout group. The main thing is to provide an understanding of the traits required, evidence of your skills, and an enthusiasm for developing them further.
3. How would you go about implementing a business analytics project?
Once you’ve covered the basics, the interviewer is likely to probe deeper to see how well you understand the fundamental process of business analytics.
This question may be asked in a deliberately vague or open-ended way, to see if you take the bait and provide the answer they’re looking for. If the interviewer is more charitable, they might just ask you directly about your approach to a problem, or the methods you’d adopt when managing a new project.
The main thing here is to remember that they want to know that you have a solid grasp of the workflow of a typical business analytics project. Talk them through the main steps and be sure to research any particular quirks of the industry in which you’re applying for a job—for instance, pharmaceutical analysts have to abide by more stringent regulatory requirements than many other sectors, so you should factor this into your answer.
Beyond this, you don’t need to go into a lot of detail unless the interviewer specifically asks you to do so. But do your homework so you can expand, if necessary! Your answer might be something like this:
“For me, the joy of the business analytics process is both its simplicity and its adaptability—it can be tailored and tweaked to fit any kind of project. However, I would usually start with a kick-off meeting with the clients or stakeholders. This helps me to understand their business needs and allows them to understand my approach. As part of this, I would conduct an information-gathering exercise (a combination of data collection and preliminary analysis) to help me better grasp their objectives and preferred performance metrics. We would then jointly carry out a preliminary scoping exercise and planning session. Once the project scope is agreed upon, I would conduct more research to create an efficient business workflow that meets their aims, timeframe, and budget, before defining each step in more granular detail. Finally, once I have stakeholder approval, I’d implement the plan, delivering regular progress reports to keep stakeholders informed and to help us jointly adapt the process if needed. The final report would include a measure of the initial objectives against outcomes. This would help to demonstrate the value that the project has delivered. Of course, this is a general approach. Since each project is different, I would adapt the process accordingly for each one.”
4. Which types of business metrics would you use?
In the previous question (which was all about process) we mentioned that the interviewer might delve deeper to test your knowledge of business analytics procedures. Asking which kinds of business metrics you would use is one such question.
Unless they provide you with a specific scenario, there is no one correct answer to this question. A clue to the best answer, though, is the nature of the company you’re interviewing with. For instance, if you’re applying to work with a software product provider, sales revenue is likely to be a significant metric. Meanwhile, a life insurance provider might place more importance on a customer’s healthcare data. The best answer will always be reliant on the company and the type of project you’re working on.
Subsequently, your answer might want to cover a couple of examples:
“Naturally, this depends on what it is the client or stakeholder is looking to improve. On a marketing project, for instance, I’d probably measure open and closed sales opportunities, lead response time, or sales win rates. Meanwhile, if the focus were on improving project management processes, I would likely want to measure things like the project cost, productivity ratio, and schedule variance. Obviously, without more detail, it’s hard to say which metrics are most beneficial to track.
Needless to say, I’ll always keep an eye on the bottom line. Revenue, cost, financial performance; these are always important indicators, regardless of the project at hand.”
5. How would you approach working with a difficult client or stakeholder?
Stakeholder relations and conflict management are vital skills for business analysts. Although they play a part in any job, for business analysts they don’t merely represent occasional problems—they’re tightly woven into the fabric of the daily role. That’s because business analysts work with many different teams with varying skill sets and priorities.
It helps to think of business analysts like translators. They are the go-between between leadership (who primarily speak strategy), IT professionals (who speak technical system infrastructure), and “pure” data analysts (who have an unassailable grasp of the data). While all these groups are experts in their area, they aren’t always necessarily equipped with the creative skills required to communicate with each other. This can lead to conflict. And, as the middle-man, business analysts are often in the firing line!
With this question, the interviewer wants to see how you’d communicate to resolve conflict. Start with an example of how you’ve done this in the past, if possible. Alternatively, tell them how you might handle a couple of different scenarios. Here’s one example:
“I think the important thing is to understand that everyone communicates differently and that conflict usually arises through misunderstanding. My main priority would be to give each stakeholder a safe space to share their views and feel heard. For instance, if one of the leadership team was proving problematic to work with, I’d listen to their concerns and perhaps deduce from this that they feel left out of the process.
To solve this, I would put in place increased reporting to ensure they had a complete picture of each project phase. I’d also increase communication with the other stakeholders, such as project managers and IT personnel. This would ensure they aren’t negatively impacted by the change. My second priority is to meet all stakeholder needs, where possible. If this can’t be done, I would bring all stakeholders together to resolve the issue in partnership.”
6. If a client changed project scope midway through a project, how would you resolve the issue?
This question straddles the boundaries between procedure and communication. It’s asking how you’d handle an issue that could be resolved sensitively but might escalate into a larger problem if not dealt with right away. As such, this can be defined as issue resolution rather than conflict resolution (as in the previous question).
A bit of background might help here. Usually, the first step in the issue resolution process comes before the problem even arises. During the early stages of a project, you will have devised a mechanism for handling change requests, agreed by the client. After this, keep clear audit records throughout the project to act as evidence of any changes in scope. These records will act as a recorded history of the client’s change requests.
Your answer might sound something like this:
“Any change request would follow the predefined procedure agreed by the client or stakeholder at project kick-off. All subsequent change requests are then logged and analyzed to see if they can be accommodated within the current project timeframe and budget. If they can’t, the impacts will be communicated to the stakeholders before any further action is taken.
If the change is too complex to be incorporated without heavily disrupting the project, but the client is still insistent on making changes, I would gently remind them the aim of the kick-off meeting was to identify the business need, not to design the solution. I would then patiently explain the pros of the existing solution versus the challenges and risks of their proposed amendment. Only if these mitigation attempts fail to solve the problem would I escalate the issue to senior management.”
Don’t worry about the end part of this—escalating a business problem is a fairly common procedure, not a sign of failure. The main thing is to highlight that you would take all the necessary steps before reaching this point.
7. Which tools are most important for business analysts?
Next, on to the technical aspects of the role!
If you’re asked a question about which tools you might use, this could imply both technical and business intelligence (BI) tools. The interviewer might be explicit about this, or they may ask which tools you might use for specific tasks.
Even if you’re inexperienced, try to familiarize yourself with common BI tools used in business. Some will be industry-agnostic (i.e. fundamental tools for all data and business analysts, regardless of their particular discipline) and others will be industry-specific (i.e. if you’re working in fintech, there are BI tools specifically designed for the finance sector).
When answering this question, it’s a good idea to start with the basics and then get more specific. Perhaps highlight a few features of each tool, or how you might use them, to show that you’re not simply dropping names! For instance:
“With data analytics being so fundamental to the role, I would always fall back on tools like Python, R, Excel, and SQL to name a few. These are the foundations of good business analytics—they allow me to manipulate and interpret data on my terms, at a granular level, for instance, parsing data, carrying out exploratory analysis, and creating preliminary visualizations.
Of course, I might supplement these tools with some common business intelligence platforms like Microsoft Power BI, Oracle Analytics Cloud, or Tableau. As you know, these are all excellent support mechanisms for big data analytics, data visualization, and reporting. They also integrate with most systems and data sources.
Most importantly, they allow all users—technical and non-technical alike—to access and understand the vital insights that underpin decision-making. A combination of both of these types of tools is important.”
Be sure to research any industry-specific tools that might be relevant to the company you’re interviewing with.
8. What kinds of technical documentation would you use in a business analytics context?
This question probes what you know about the technical documentation underpinning how different business processes are created and carried out. Since your job as a business analyst is to improve these processes, understanding these documents is essential.
If you’ve completed a data analytics course, this might provide you with basic technical skills to collect data and conduct statistical analysis, but it probably won’t cover the business aspects in as much detail. Be sure to familiarise yourself with common technical documents. A few you might want to mention during your interview could include:
- Business requirements document: This outlines, in detail, the business objectives of any proposed solution. It might include a financial goal or other key performance indicators, the expectations of the stakeholder or system user, or the collection of particular data.
- System design document: This describes all aspects of a software system’s design, including the modules and components of the IT architecture, the data it requires to function, as well as the business processes that underpin and define how the system will be developed.
- Functional specification document: A functional spec defines how a software system or other technical tool works, framing this in terms of what a user requires and what input and output parameters should look like.
- Technical specification document: While the functional spec focuses on the user experience, the tech spec defines a system entirely in terms of its inner mechanics, including things such as data structures, relational databases, and algorithms.
These kinds of documents are regularly analyzed to help drive innovation and create a more coherent, efficient, and meaningful solution within a business.
9. What business analysis techniques do you consider the most important for the role?
Here, the interviewer is testing your knowledge of different data and business analytics techniques. While there’s no hard line to draw down the middle, there’s often a slight difference between the two. Data analytics techniques can largely be lumped under quantitative techniques, i.e. they usually analyze measurable data (or numbers). These can be applied to any appropriate data type in the business sphere. For instance, as long as you have two or more data points (bivariate or multivariate data) you can carry out, say, a multiple regression analysis. Similarly, if you’re dealing with time-series data, you could conduct a time series analysis.
On top of these quantitative data analytics techniques (which can be used across business domains), there are also some qualitative, business-focused techniques that you might need to apply. Some of these (often acronym-heavy!) approaches include:
- SWOT analysis: This stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It’s aimed at identifying internal and external factors that impact a business strategy.
- PESTLE analysis: This stands for political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental. It aims to identify global factors that impact a business strategy.
- CATWOE analysis: This stands for customers, actors, transformation, world-view, owner, and environment. It’s used to identify how business decisions will affect various parties.
- MOST analysis: This stands for mission, objectives, strategy, and tactics. It’s an excellent tool for identifying a business need and creating a pathway to solving it.
- Systems analysis: This type of analysis (not an acronym, for once!) is the process of exploring a business’s needs and creating a system/process to meet these.
- Business model analysis: This explores the overarching effectiveness and longer-term viability of a business’s existing structure or model. It takes into account factors like revenue, customer segmentation, risk, strategic planning, and more.
Although this isn’t an exhaustive list (it could go on for a long-time, otherwise!) these are some common analytical methods you should know about before entering the interview.
10. Wrap-up and further reading
So there we have it! A handful of the key business analyst interview questions you might face during the job application process, and tips on how to answer them. While it’s impossible to predict exactly what an interviewer will ask, this gives you a flavor of the direction the interview is likely to go in.
Some fair warning: in addition to these questions, you’ll likely also face some kind of brainteaser. This will be very specific to the job at hand and will be designed to test your math, logical reasoning, or technical skills. It could be framed as a math problem or a practical task. While these kinds of questions might cause a sweat, take solace from the fact they are rarely the deciding factor on whether or not you’ll land the job! They’re simply there to put you on the spot and see how you react under pressure. Can’t hurt to polish up your math and statistics skills, though!
To learn more about the important role that data analytics plays in business, check out this free, 5-day data analytics short course. To learn more about data analytics in general, check out the following: