So you’re thinking about becoming a data analyst—but is it the right career path for you?
The Data analyst job market is predicted to grow by 23% between now and 2031 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics—and companies are prepared to pay extremely competitive salaries.
A job in data promises excellent career prospects, so it’s no surprise that more and more people are looking to switch into the field. However, we know that career-change isn’t just about salary and job security; you also want to make sure that you’re going to love what you do, and be good at it.
So what does it take to thrive in this burgeoning industry? How do you really know if it’s the right career for you? Before you drop everything and commit to a career-change, there are some key questions you need to ask yourself.
In this post, we’ll help you figure out if you’ve got what it takes to become a data analyst—and, perhaps more importantly, whether a career in data aligns with your own goals and aspirations.
- What does a data analyst do?
- Are you a good fit for a career as a data analyst?
- Do you have the right background to become a data analyst?
- Is data analytics a good career move?
- Next steps
By the end of this post, you’ll be much closer to answering that all-important question: Am I a good fit for a career as a data analyst? So let’s find out!
1. What does a data analyst do?
The first step towards deciding if you’re well-suited to a career in data analytics is to understand exactly what the role entails. You’ll find a comprehensive introduction to data analytics and the data analyst role in this guide, but we’ll cover it briefly here, too. Watch this video for an introduction to data analytics, and keep reading to learn more about the specifics of the role.
In a nutshell, data analysts analyze raw data in order to draw out meaningful insights. They then turn these insights into actionable recommendations, enabling the company they work for to make smarter business decisions. As a data analyst, you can expect to do the following:
- Develop, implement, and maintain databases on an ongoing basis.
- Collaborate with key business stakeholders to identify specific business challenges which need to be solved.
- Collect and organize raw data from internal sources (such as CRM databases) and, where necessary, from external open data sources (for example, government portals and tools such as Google Trends).
- Clean the raw data and prime it for analysis.
- Analyze large datasets using the most appropriate technique. You can learn more about the different types of data analysis here.
- Interpret your findings, turn them into visualizations (such as graphs and charts), share them with key stakeholders, and advise on strategies and actions for the future.
As you can see, the role of the data analyst relies heavily on statistical analysis, problem-solving, and communication, so you’ll need to be comfortable with each of these elements. We’ll take a closer look at the necessary skills and qualities of a data analyst in the sections that follow.
At this stage, it’s also important to distinguish the role of the data analyst from that of the data scientist; although they’re often used interchangeably, they are two separate career paths. If you’re not quite sure where one ends and the other begins, we’ve written in detail about the difference between a data analyst and a data scientist here.
2. Are you a good fit for a career as a data analyst?
When considering a new career path, it’s important to think about your innate qualities and intrinsic motivators. Aside from external rewards such as salary, what drives you to reach your full potential? Is data analytics a field that will tap into your natural talents and leave you feeling satisfied at the end of each day? Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Are you naturally curious and inquisitive?
The role of a data analyst is to delve deep into data and seek out patterns and trends. It’s not just about crunching numbers; a good data analyst is like a detective, piecing the story together and figuring out the meaning behind the data. A natural curiosity should drive you to get to know the business and its various challenges—and to find answers.
2. Do you have an analytical mindset and a logical approach to your work?
All of us rely on both intuitive and analytical thinking, but some of us lean more towards the analytical side when it comes to work and problem-solving. If you’re an analytical thinker, you’re more likely to draw conclusions based on facts and information (data!) as opposed to gut feeling or intuition. Do you look carefully at the evidence before taking action? Do you tend to work methodically from A to Z, questioning everything rather than making assumptions? Are you hungry for information when solving a new challenge? If so, it sounds like you have an analytical mind—an excellent asset for a data analyst!
3. Are you a keen problem-solver?
Problem-solving is at the very core of data analytics, so it’s essential that you enjoy tackling complex challenges. A key part of the role is knowing what data is required for a given problem and determining the most suitable method of analysis. If you don’t have the necessary data to hand, you’ll also need to figure out where and how to get hold of it—a problem-solving exercise in itself. If you relish the thought of solving all different kinds of challenges, you’ll find yourself quite at home in this role.
4. Are you interested in business strategy?
Data analysts bring immense value to organizations by showing them how data can be used to make smarter decisions and optimize certain processes. To really excel in this role, it’s essential not only to get hands-on with data, but also to bridge the gap between the numbers and the real-world implications for the business. If you’re interested in how businesses operate and enjoy working closely with key stakeholders, you’re well-positioned to occupy that crucial space between data and business strategy.
5. Do you have an affinity for numbers and statistics?
It may seem obvious, but it would be remiss not to mention that a passion for numbers and statistics is absolutely essential. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert mathematician to make it as a data analyst—all the key tools and techniques can certainly be learned from scratch. However, it is important that you enjoy working with numbers. If your first instinct is to run for the hills when presented with a spreadsheet, a career in data analytics might not be for you. If, on the other hand, you’re not afraid to get to grips with complex analysis, you’re right to be considering a future in the field.
6. Are you comfortable presenting and collaborating?
The true mark of an accomplished data analyst is the ability to present complex insights in an accessible and user-friendly way. As the data expert, it’s your responsibility to make sure that key findings can be translated into action—and that means making them easily comprehensible for non-data experts. Do you have a knack for explaining tricky concepts in a clear and concise manner? Are you a confident presenter and an effective collaborator? These qualities will serve you well in the role of data analyst.
In fact, storytelling is a crucial part of the data analysis process. Want to learn more? Try out this free, practical tutorial on storytelling with data. We show you, step by step, how to craft a compelling narrative for a real dataset, resulting in a polished presentation to share with key stakeholders. It’s a fun exercise, and a great insight into what it’s actually like to work as a data analyst!
If you answered yes to all or most of the above questions, it looks like you could be a good fit for a career as a data analyst. At this point, you may be wondering: Have I got the right background and relevant experience to realistically make a move into the field? Let’s take a look.
Related watching: Check out the following video, in which our own senior data scientist, Tom, goes through the ins and outs of what it’s like to work in data analytics.
3. Do you have the right skills and background to become a data analyst?
If you’re considering a career as a data analyst, you’ll no doubt be wondering if you’ve got the “right” background for the job. If you’ve studied or worked in a role that involves maths, statistics, computer science, information management, or business information systems, you’ll find that you’re well-prepared for a career in data analytics.
However, it’s important to realize that there are many possible routes into the field besides the more typical areas of study and professional experience. Almost every vocation imaginable will equip you with transferable skills that are relevant to data analytics—be it teaching, marketing, customer service, IT, HR…the list goes on! Any role that sees you applying problem-solving skills, managing databases, getting to grips with business operations, or honing your communication skills will set you in good stead for a career as a data analyst. You can learn more about whether or not it’s possible to get hired as a data analyst without any experience here.
It is true that some positions will require a degree in a certain field, but there are also plenty of opportunities out there for newly trained analysts who haven’t necessarily come from a data background. This is due, in part, to what’s often referred to as the data talent gap. As Art Bilger, founder and CEO of WorkingNation, explains:
“I really believe data and analytics might be the fastest-growing job area in this country [United States] over the next 5-10 years because there won’t be an aspect of business, government, or the not-for-profit world that isn’t driven by data and analytics.”
While the need for data experts is growing at an exponential rate, industry experts are concerned that there aren’t enough people to fill these in-demand roles. As such, employers are increasingly looking for t-shaped data analysts who may have started their careers in a different domain entirely. So, if you’re thinking about becoming a data analyst, it’s not so much a case of having the “right” background; as long as you’re interested in the field and can relate to those innate qualities we covered in section two, you can consider yourself a great fit for a career as a data analyst. As for the key skills and tools you’ll need to master in order to become a data analyst, you’ll find a comprehensive guide here.
4. Is data analytics a good career move?
It’s all well and good figuring out if you’re a good fit for a career as a data analyst, but you also need to make sure that data analytics is a good fit for you. Does this particular career path align with your own goals and aspirations? Does it tick all the right boxes in terms of salary, career growth, and general job satisfaction? To help you decide, here’s what you can expect from a career in data analytics:
A competitive salary
Based on data submitted by over 5,000 data analysts in the United States, the average base salary for a data analyst is around $75,000 USD per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for workers in the United States in the first quarter of 2020 was $49,764 per year. So, a career as a data analyst could see you earning a well-above-average salary.
Not only that: Data analysts can expect strong salary growth as they accrue more experience in the field. Analysts with less than one year of experience earn, on average, $70,229 USD per year, while those with more than ten years of experience report an average yearly salary of $87,714 USD.
A burgeoning job market
As already mentioned, there is an ever-growing demand for talented data analysts—not to mention some concern within the industry that there aren’t enough qualified professionals to fill these roles. As of May 2020, a search for data analyst jobs in the US on indeed.com brings up over 12,000 openings—and that’s not taking into account the numerous other job titles that cover similar skills and responsibilities. But is this just a short-term state of affairs? Apparently not. Based on the fact that the demand for data analysts in the US grew sixfold between 2012 and 2017, a LinkedIn Workforce Report estimates that data analysts will continue to be among the most sought-after professions through to 2022 and beyond.
Predictions and projections aside, the reality remains that we will continue to generate and gather huge volumes of data. With the rise of connected devices and data-driven decision-making across virtually every industry, the need for people who can make sense of this data will only grow. Data isn’t going anywhere and nor are data analysts, so this is an excellent job market to be part of.
The opportunity to make an impact
Analytics plays a crucial role in how decisions are made. As a data analyst, you have the opportunity to drive business strategy and have a tangible impact on how the organization moves forward. You’ll get to the heart of complex business challenges, working closely with key stakeholders and using your expertise to advise on the best course of action. In this respect, you’ll have a direct hand to play in the company’s success—an extremely rewarding position to be in.
Data is absolutely everywhere, and there are opportunities for data analysts across a huge variety of industries and organizations. To name just a handful of real-world case studies, data analytics has been used in the healthcare sector to enable asthma patients to better manage their condition, by the likes of Spotify and Netflix to make personalized recommendations, and to help address social issues such as homelessness and unemployment. From hospitals and healthcare to fast food and retail, from finance and marketing to insurance and technology—the possibilities are endless. So, if you’re looking for a career that offers variety, you’ll certainly want to consider becoming a data analyst.
You’ll find further industry insights in this round-up of inspirational, thought-provoking quotes about data.
5. Next steps
As you can see, a career as a data analyst calls for natural curiosity, good communication skills, an affinity for numbers, and a penchant for problem solving. In return, you can expect a competitive salary, a booming and varied job market, and the opportunity to make an impact. If, having read this article, you’re sure that data analytics is the right career for you, check out this step-by-step guide on how to become a data analyst. For a hands-on introduction to the field, try out this free five-day data analytics short course.
Keen to do some further research? Check out the following: