Want to use data to make things work more efficiently? Learn how to become a business analyst in this guide.
For anyone keen to carve out a career in data, there are numerous paths to follow. While data analytics involves in-depth technical expertise, if you also enjoy working with people and communicating complex ideas in straightforward terms, you might want to consider becoming a business analyst.
In one guise or another, business analytics has been around since the emergence of the first programmable computers back in the 1940s. In those days, it was a strictly data-driven role. A lot has changed since then. The digital age has given us access to incredible amounts of data. As a result, business analysts have gone from being a fringe role, picking through piecemeal datasets, to a modern must-have for any big business.
In this post, we’ll look at exactly what a business analyst does, why you might want to become one, and, of course, how you might go about it. We’ll cover:
- What does a business analyst do?
- Why become a business analyst?
- What is the average business analyst salary?
- What is a business analyst’s typical background?
- How to become a business analyst (step by step)
- Wrap-up and further reading
Ready to learn more about business analytics? Then let’s dive right in.
1. What does a business analyst do?
Before we delve deeper, what exactly does a business analyst do?
In its simplest terms, a business analyst’s role involves improving an organization’s business operations. This sounds pretty broad, which it can be! But that’s precisely part of the appeal. Specifically, a business analyst’s focus is on reviewing and updating a business’s processes and systems (by which we mean both IT systems as well as broader guiding principles).
In general, data analysts use data to inform all kinds of important decisions, covering anything from sales to social media strategy. While this is much the same for business analysts, they have a single driving force guiding everything they do: seeking out ways to make a business run more smoothly and efficiently.
You can learn more about the difference between business analysts and data analysts here.
The business analyst’s role usually sits somewhere between IT and corporate management. It involves developing evidence-based processes, finding new technologies to streamline the way an organization runs, and reducing unnecessary costs. For all these reasons, business analysts are driven by profit. They nevertheless use data to support the work they do.
With so many tools at their disposal, 21st-century business analysts wield great power. As a result, they can face resistance. Being driven by data is the best approach but it can be perceived as a threat by old-school decision-makers who may prefer to go with their ‘gut feel.’ Business analysts must therefore be personable and gregarious with an unrivaled ability to get their point across. They must be able to sell their views. In this respect, they are much more than just data experts. They must have excellent people skills, as well as outstanding data analytics skills.
What skills does a business analyst require?
One of the great things about business analytics is that analysts are needed across the whole spectrum of sectors, from finance to pharmaceuticals and beyond. While this means the specific technologies, processes, and standards that a business analyst uses will vary, broadly speaking, we can divide their key skills into three main types:
- Strategic business skills: This will involve developing new corporate frameworks and processes, making business cases for change, and identifying new opportunities.
- IT skills: Most business analysts work closely with IT. They need an understanding of the software development lifecycle, as well as how internal business processes blend with technical applications. In addition to understanding common enterprise architectures, they’ll need to be familiar with industry-specific software, too.
- Data skills: Naturally, core data analytics skills are also important for a business analyst. From data collection and processing to database management and design, reporting, and visualization, business analysts need the full range of data-related skills, technologies, and tools. Fortunately, these can be learned over time!
2. Why become a business analyst?
We know what a business analyst does…but is it a rewarding career path? First up, don’t let the admittedly drab-sounding title or complex job description put you off! Being a business analyst can be a highly rewarding role. All you need to start out is an interest in data, a critical thinking mindset, and a dose of enthusiasm to learn. Beyond that, you can pick up all the necessary technical skills.
Here are a few reasons why business analytics can be a highly rewarding career path:
No two days as a business analyst will ever be the same. One day you could be evaluating an IT system’s functionality against your business goals. Next, you might be presenting recommendations to a boardroom of company directors. Following that, you could be working with different teams or digging into data on your own. Each day presents new challenges and problems that require wide-ranging skills to solve. If you prefer variety and dynamism over a job that’s predictable, becoming a business analyst won’t disappoint.
You can work in any sector
While the specific technologies between sectors differ, the transferable skills you’ll pick up as a business analyst are industry-agnostic. After developing the core skills you need to thrive, you can apply these in more or less any sector from healthcare to finance, pharmaceuticals to big tech. This is a real benefit if you like to keep progressing onto new challenges.
It’s an evolving profession
Business analysts have been around for a long time. But as with any data-driven profession, the role has seen rapid evolution in recent years with the exponential growth of data as well as the new technologies we can use to analyze them. As organizations evolve for the changing needs of the 21st century, the role of business analysts continues to grow with the times. Few jobs can boast of being quite so close to the cutting edge.
Measure success with tangible performance indicators
It’s one thing to enjoy a job, another altogether to be able to measure your success with empirical data. The advice you give and the decisions you make as a business analyst will have a measurable impact on the way a business is run. Did that new IT system help boost your profits? Maybe the new sales process you devised actively improved staff productivity? These kinds of metrics provide a tangible link between the work you’re doing and the measurable impact you’ve had on a business. That not only provides a great sense of achievement, but will look fantastic on your resume.
These, of course, are just a few of the reasons you might choose to become a data analyst. But there’s one question we can answer more definitively, and that is: How much do business analysts earn?
3. What is the average business analyst salary?
It could be your dream job, but if it doesn’t pay well, is it worthwhile? Luckily, that’s not something you have to worry about in this case.
We’ve sourced business analyst salary data from several job and salary comparison websites to provide an estimate of how much you can earn. Based on US-centric data:
- The average US business analyst salary according to Glassdoor is $75K
- The average US business analyst salary according to Indeed is $77K
- The average US business analyst salary according to Payscale is $62K
- The average US business analyst salary according to Salary Expert is $95K
- The average US business analyst salary according to Salary.com is $77K
While these estimates vary and don’t take into account things like differences in job title, taking an overall average we can determine that the mean salary for a business analyst in the United States is approximately $77.2K. Pretty great, huh? This offers a solid guideline to work with when entering the job market.
Of course, in reality, how much you earn depends on factors like your experience level and the sector you’re working in. As such, you might want to use this figure as a target rather than a starting point, especially if you have limited experience.
In general, though, even entry-level business analysts can earn a comfortable living. With a basic data analytics qualification and an understanding of core business principles (ideally with some practical experience,) you should be in a good position to land that first job.
For more in-depth salary insights, take a look at this comprehensive business analyst salary guide.
4. What is a business analyst’s typical career background?
Do you have a suitable background to become a business analyst? Naturally, a specialized job like business analytics requires some kind of qualification or certification. This will demonstrate that you have the fundamental data analytics skills needed to do the job. Beyond this, your professional background isn’t necessarily that important. In many cases, coming from a non-business background can even benefit you, as it means you’ll be bringing a unique perspective to the role.
This said, some areas lend themselves particularly well to a sideways step into business analytics. One of these areas is IT. Awareness of various systems architectures, software development lifecycles, and other technical know-how will be a big help. If you’re not familiar with any of this, there are online courses that can teach you the necessary skills. Things like Excel, Python, SQL, and Tableau are all useful tools to learn.
If you’ve recently graduated or don’t yet have technical skills, don’t fret. Entry-level roles (especially those in larger organizations) usually offer some training to get you up to speed. This is because each role tends to have very organization-specific requirements. For most employers, traits like curiosity, problem-solving, and team working are more important than the technical aspects, which can be taught.
Finally, if you’re taking a sideways step from any other business-related role where you had to design, overhaul, or simply adhere to business processes, then this will be hugely beneficial for getting up to speed. In short, there are few limitations—beyond technical skills—for becoming a business analyst.
5. How to become a business analyst (step by step)
Hopefully, by now, we’ve convinced you that business analytics is a diverse, fascinating field that is worth considering as a career path. If you want to go down this route, it will require a little work, but here are some important steps to help guide you.
1. Get an undergraduate degree
One of the first steps is to get a degree, something even entry-level business analysts usually require. The good news is, your area of expertise can be pretty broad. While your degree will ideally relate to areas like business management, accounting, IT, or data analytics, it’s not a deal-breaker if you’ve already got a degree in a different field. You can also supplement your degree with additional certifications, as we’ll see in step 3.
2. Supplement your studies with additional courses
If you lack a technical degree, then supplement your skills with additional courses. This is good practice anyway and you should always be looking for opportunities to develop new skills. Develop the fundamental technical skills you’ll need, such as how to use various data viz and business intelligence software, as well as programming languages like Python or R. You should also take an active interest in things like process design, financial planning, and accounting, and other business-related topics.
3. Get a certification
In 2021, the idea that a formal degree is the only path into a job is a bit of an outdated one. Following the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, companies and organizations face great upheaval in the way they do business. This sudden change in the business landscape also means that there’s a huge skills shortage. Subsequently, companies tend to be more pragmatic about helping people upskill for business analyst roles. For example, the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) offers industry-recognized certifications. Obtaining one will demonstrate that you have the prerequisite skills needed to become a business analyst. If you become a member, they’ll also offer plenty of additional support. You can also start with a data analytics course—we’ve reviewed nine of the best data analytics courses available in this guide.
4. Obtain practical experience
Business analytics is a broad role. As you learn the ropes, you’ll likely realize you’ve incorporated aspects of business analytics into past and present roles without even knowing it. If you’re planning a career change but aren’t quite ready to apply for jobs, why not hone your skills in your current position? Data analytics can be applied anywhere. Whether you work in marketing, sales, or administration, your job likely incorporates or is shaped by some kind of business process. How could it be improved? Apply your fledgling skills (and your curiosity!) to figure it out.
5. Reach out to other business analysts
Perhaps you know a data analyst or business analyst personally? Maybe you follow someone relevant on social media, or had a mentor on a course you took? Either way, if you have questions, it’s always better to ask someone who already works in the field. A professional business analyst might be able to help you prepare for a job interview or give you an idea of salary expectations. They may simply be able to answer your burning questions about a particular aspect of the role. You’ll be surprised by the help people are willing to offer as long as you ask for it!
The main thing to focus on is ensuring that you’ve covered the basic requirements of any job description. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to start applying. Even if you don’t have a technical background, don’t be put off. A fascination with problem-solving and a scrupulous eye for detail are both good places to start. Beyond that, you can learn. Even the most senior business analysts had to start somewhere!
6. Wrap-up and further reading
In this post, we’ve explored the evolving role of business analytics. We’ve touched on how it differs from data analytics, why you might want to pursue a career in the field, and how to kick-start your journey.
While business analytics is a varied and challenging role, this is why most people choose to go into the field. If you love making an impact, take a scientific approach to problem-solving, and enjoy working with people, business analytics could be for you. Combining an obsession with data, a fascination with systems design, and an extrovert’s love of working with people, business analytics may not be for everyone. But if it’s for you… it could be perfect.
Find out more about data analytics with this free, five-day data analytics short course. For more data analytics topics, check out the following posts: