What is Machine Learning Exactly? A Complete Beginner’s GuideSo you want to know how to become a data analyst, but there’s one thing bothering you. You don’t have any industry experience, and you’ve been working (or studying) in a completely unrelated field.
Now, as you consider a big career change, you’re wondering: Is it really possible to make the switch in 2024? And what are your chances of getting hired?
The short answer is yes, it’s entirely possible—and yes, employers will be open to hiring you (even without any prior experience). With the coming normalization of artificial intelligence and machine learning across industries, 2024 is set to be another exciting year full of demand for professionals with an understanding of data analytics. Healthcare, retail, and finance in particular are set to be key industries looking to leverage these technologies—as well as those who know how to use them.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly why and how to become a data analyst from scratch, but a great way to see if the field is for you is by trying our free data short course.
Let’s answer the following topics:
- Is it possible to become a data analyst with no previous experience?
- How to become a data analyst from scratch: Step by step guide
- How can you increase your chances of getting hired?
- What kinds of companies (and salary) can you expect to work for?
- How to become a data analyst FAQs
- What next?
Ready? Let’s go.
1. Is it possible to become a data analyst with no previous experience?
We’ll cut to the chase: It’s absolutely possible to become a data analyst, even if you’re starting from the beginning and don’t have any industry experience.
How can we be so sure?
There are several factors that make the data job market relatively accessible for newcomers:
- The significant and rapid growth of the data market
- The data skills gap
- The value of transferable skills within the data analytics field
Let’s take a look at these in more detail.
The data industry is booming
According to a report by Precedence Research in 2022, the global data analytics market was valued at $41.39 billion USD. That’s more than double what it was worth in 2015. And, from 2020 to 2023, the market is projected to grow at a rate of 30% each year, hitting over $346.33 billion USD.
This rapid industry growth is reflected directly in the data analytics job market. In their Jobs of Tomorrow Report (2020), the World Economic Forum highlights seven high-growth emerging professions, with data and artificial intelligence (AI) showing the highest growth rate at 41% per year. Let’s examine that last part more closely.
Moving through the age of AI
At the beginning of 2023 these AI predictions were supercharged as the global public got their hands on ChatGPT, the first available LLM (large-language model), opening up a world of data possibilities.
Now, knowing which AI data analytics tools to use will become a prerequisite, as well as levelling the playing field for those looking to become a data analyst with no experience. It’s not wonder, then, that courses and bootcamps have started making learning these tools and skills part of their curriculums.
In their 2024 Predictions Report, research group Forester put it best:
So who’s going to make the most of genAI in 2024? Data and analytics pros who invest in the right people, practices, and data strategies.
Ultimately, a burgeoning data market means a wealth of job opportunities for data professionals—and, at present, the demand far outweighs the supply.
The data talent shortage
The data market is growing at a rapid pace, and businesses are desperately trying to keep up.
Data-driven organizations consistently outperform their competitors, so it makes sense that hiring data experts will be an increasing priority across all industries. At the moment, though, we’re seeing something of a data skills gap. In a study conducted by NTUC LearningHub, 93% of working professionals said that their workforce is not achieving optimal productivity due to a lack of data skills.
Miro Kazakoff, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan sums up the issue of data literacy nicely:
“Data literacy has always been a requirement in successful organizations. It’s just that data illiteracy is more obvious now—or data illiteracy just causes more damage now than it used to”
In short: Data analysts are in high demand, putting newcomers in a great position. The jobs are there; as long as you’ve mastered (and can demonstrate) the right skills, there’s nothing to stop you getting a foot in the door.
CareerFoundry graduate Chad Stacey is a great example of this. Having studied History in university, he worked as a tech recruiter until he decided to take the CareerFoundry Data Analytics Program and become a data analyst.
Despite having no prior experience in the industry, he got a job as a data analyst for British newspaper The Telegraph! It’s a fascinating story, and not uncommon these days.
Data analysts rely on a vast array of transferable skills
Aside from the fact that data analysts are in high demand, the role itself requires a vast array of skills—many of which you’ll bring with you from other work and life experiences.
Some key transferable skills that will help you when you’re learning how to become a data analyst include:
- Curiosity and an inquisitive nature
- A penchant for problem solving
- Excellent communication skills (e.g. being good at explaining things)
- The ability to carry out research
- Attention to detail
- Collaboration and teamwork
You’ve no doubt picked up at least some of these skills already—be it at school, at work, or simply by interacting with different people. In the absence of data-specific experience, these transferable skills can help you demonstrate your suitability for data analytics jobs.
And, with employers placing increasing importance on soft skills, it’s certainly worth highlighting these in your applications. We’ll show you how to do this in the next section.
Related watching: Video: Is working in data analytics a good career fit for you?
2. How to become a data analyst from scratch: Step-by-step guide
We now know it’s possible to get hired as a data analyst, even without any previous experience on your resume.
First, though, you need to learn the necessary skills and start to market yourself as a data analyst. Here are some practical steps you can follow to get your career change underway:
1. Complete a project-based data analytics certification
You don’t need a full-blown degree to become a data analyst, but you do need a structured and formal approach to learning the necessary skills. The best (and most flexible) way to do so is through a project-based course. Some key things to look for when choosing a course are:
- A hands-on curriculum that contributes to your portfolio
- Some form of mentorship
- A certificate of completion
- A focus on job preparation and career advice
- A job guarantee
For help finding the right course, take a look at this comparison of the best data analytics certification programs.
2. Polish up your data analytics portfolio
Data analytics is a hands-on field, and employers want to see proof that you can apply what you know to real projects.
If you don’t have any real-world experience, you might be wondering what you could possibly include in your data portfolio. Here are some ideas:
- Take a course that includes projects in the curriculum
- Work on passion projects. We’ve put together some fun data project ideas in this guide
- Volunteer your data skills
You can learn more about how to build a professional data analytics portfolio in this guide.
3. Identify (and emphasize) your transferable skills
As you immerse yourself in learning new skills, it’s easy to forget that you’ve already got a pretty solid skillset under your belt—and that it will add to the value you bring as a data analyst.
If you’re brand new to the field of data, it’s especially important to draw parallels between your previous experience and your new career. Spend some time identifying your core hard and soft skills, and think about how they might be transferred to data analytics.
Perhaps you’ve got a marketing background and are already familiar with some basic analytics tools. Maybe you’re a teacher, which makes you great at explaining things—an excellent skill when it comes to presenting your data insights and explaining what they mean to non-technical stakeholders.
Remember that coming to data analytics from a different background can be a business advantage, too. As Chris Savage, Founder and CEO of Wistia famously wrote on his blog:
“You can’t run a business today without data. But you also can’t let the numbers drive the car.”
Can you see how seemingly unrelated experience will actually set you apart as an excellent data analyst? The trick is to recognize your value and convey it to employers through your portfolio, your resumé, and how you talk about yourself in interviews.
4. Network with other data analysts
I’ve found this to be a constantly underrated step when learning how to become a data analyst. Networking is a great way to learn about new job opportunities, get advice from experienced professionals, and build relationships that can help you advance your career.
How to go about doing it? After building a social profile so that people can find and connect with you easily, try and attend industry events or data meetups, connect with people on LinkedIn, and reach out to people you admire in the field for coffee chats or informational interviews.
5. Stay up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies
The field of data analytics is constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies. Read industry publications, attend conferences (on- or offline), and take online courses to learn about new tools and techniques.
That said, it’s important to recognise that such is the seeming pace of the data sphere it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel left behind. Stop, take a breath, and realise that’s near-impossible to stay on top of absolutely everything. This is why finding your niche or passion, and subscribing to the relevant newsletters, blogs, and thought leaders around this area will help you feel in the loop.
7. Prepare for job interviews
Once you start applying for data analyst jobs, be prepared to answer common interview questions and demonstrate your skills. Practice answering questions about your experience with data analysis techniques, as well as your problem-solving and analytical skills.
Another oft-overlooked thing to concentrate on if you want to become a data analyst is to emphasise your ability to communicate your findings to non-technical audiences. In a huge amount of data roles you’ll be working not just within a data team, but with other stakeholders, internal or external. Employers are looking to see not only that you can devise and carry out data analysis, but also that you can explain your results clearly and effectively.
3. How to increase your chances of getting hired
You’re learning the necessary skills and building your portfolio. What else can you do to increase your chances of getting hired?
In the absence of industry experience, the best thing you can do to sharpen your competitive edge is to recognize the unique value you bring as a newcomer to the field.
This advice comes from Mike McCulloch, Director of Career Outcomes at CareerFoundry, who specializes in coaching graduates through their career change. He points out that, rather than being a setback, having no prior experience in the industry is actually seen as a major asset. As he explains:
“Newcomers don’t come with any of the preconceptions that mid-level professionals do. They see the business and its challenges through fresh eyes, and are therefore able to approach it from completely new angles. They don’t yet know what’s possible, so they ask different and unexpected questions. Not only does this keep seniors on their toes; it also helps the business to find new solutions to old problems.”
There are other advantages to hiring complete beginners:
- Mentorship: It gives senior team members the opportunity to mentor someone, which benefits both parties.
- Investing in employee growth: Another benefit that many companies will appreciate is the chance to train someone from scratch and nurture them for future career growth.
One way or the other, good hiring managers know that employees are an investment, and the best companies will see your newcomer status as an opportunity rather than a setback. Learning how to become a data analyst in 2024 is about being aware of your strengths in a jobs market that’s more crowded than it was five years ago.
Many industry experts have written about why companies should hire entry-level professionals and the benefits they can expect if they do. Bear this in mind both in your job search and when speaking with hiring managers; if you’re well-versed in the value you bring, it’ll be easier for you to talk about it and get it across to others.
Ultimately, it’s all about how you market yourself. In addition to mastering the necessary skills, you need to reframe how you think about your lack of experience. Perhaps it’s not a deficit after all, and will actually help you stand out from the crowd!
4. What kinds of companies can you expect to work for?
Now that you know how to become a data analyst and how to go about landing a job, it’s time to start narrowing down your search. Data analysts are among the most in-demand professionals, and you’ll find that, once you’ve mastered the core skills, you can work in almost any industry.
When you’re just starting out, you can expect to land the job title of “data analyst” or “junior data analyst.” More specialized roles, such as healthcare data analyst, will require some industry experience.
As a newly qualified analyst, you’re likely to find job opportunities in the following sectors:
- Media and entertainment
- Wellness and fitness
- Transport and logistics
…to name just a few! For a more specific idea of the opportunities available to you as a newly qualified data analyst, it’s worth searching for “data analyst” or “junior analyst” positions in your local area. Browse sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor for a well-rounded view of the current job market. Bear in mind that in 2024 the data analyst skillset has split across a wide variety of positions and roles (like “sustainability analyst’ for example), so it helps to search first for “analyst” in job sites and company job boards.
How much do entry-level data analysts earn?
According to data from Indeed, the average base salary for a junior data analyst in the United States is $72,349 USD. That’s considerably higher than the national average income of $53,490, so it’s not a bad starting point!
How much you can expect to earn in your first data analyst job depends on where you (or the job) are based, and the sector you’re going into. You can learn more about entry-level data analyst salaries in this article.
5. How to become a data analyst FAQs
Now that you’ve seen what it takes to become a professional data analyst without experience, let’s go through some commonly asked questions:
How do I become a data analyst for beginners?
First things first, you need to start from the start. Familiarize yourself with the building blocks of data—types of analytics. Next, go through the data analysis process, to understand how the job will work. Look at the data analyst skills necessary, and compare them to what you have already.
Learn more in our full guide to data analytics for beginners.
What is the minimum experience for data analyst?
So many sectors are crying out for data analysis skillsets that there is no one minimal level of experience to get a data analyst job. Work on your skills, get a certification, and build out an impressive portfolio of data projects before you start applying.
Learn more about what you’ll need to reach the level of experienced required in our guide to entry-level data analyst jobs.
Is data analyst a stressful job?
In general no, data analyst isn’t a stressful job. Because the skills are prized, data analysts are usually able to demand healthy salaries and working conditions, such as remote work or being able to work from home, which reduces stress.
However there are so many kinds of data analyst roles out there, in almost every industry, so it’s impossible to say that it’s the same for everyone. Data analysts tend to be problem-solvers, so any stress while trying to figure out a solution is outweighed by the reward at solving the problem.
6. Key takeaways and next steps
The data market is growing exponentially, and the demand for skilled data analysts is growing with it. The important thing if you’re leaning how to become a data analyst, is to have faith in yourself. As a newcomer to the industry, you have plenty of value to offer—and not just despite your lack of experience, but in many ways, because of it.
Ready to get the ball rolling? Here’s a free introductory data analytics short course to ease you in. And, if you’d like to learn more about forging a career in data, check out the following: