How to Become a Business Analyst Without Breaking the Bank
Are you wondering how to become a Business Analyst? Your timing couldn’t be better. The Business Analyst job market has been on fire for several years and shows no signs of slowing down. This career field will likely grow between 11% and 15% through 2026, making business analyst careers the sixth-fastest growing job in the United States. To take advantage of this timely opportunity, professionals need to understand how to transition into business analysis.
Many internet sources offer advice on capitalizing on this lucrative job market, but most will try to convince you that opting into their offer will get you there. Rather than outlining an abstract how-to process, let’s look at three true stories of people who succeeded in business analysis through radically different approaches.
Last Updated October 2019
Business Analysis Techniques for Discovering Requirements, User Stories, Features, and Gherkin (Given-When-Then) Tests | By Tom and Angela HathawayExplore Course
From geeky developer to empathetic Business Analyst
Tom was a developer. He reveled in code, learned over 20 programming languages, and built a reputation as one of the best in his field. He was happiest fiddling with tech and getting computers to perform challenging tasks that his colleagues claimed were impossible. Tom had a knack for spotting programming issues, so a major computer manufacturer hired him to debug their operating systems. Like many developers, he was uncomfortable in social situations and had difficulty relating to people.
Seven years and many, many lines of code later, Tom became frustrated with his applications’ lack of user-friendly features. People often complained that the user experience was overly technical and incompatible with the “real world.” As Tom was brilliant at spotting bugs in code, he decided to apply this same skill in the user community.
As he conversed with users, he discovered that communicating with people was much more challenging (at least for him) than creating genius programs no one could use. He decided to extend his skill sets to become a System Analyst/Designer.
A quick learner, Tom attended a series of classes on Systems Analysis and Design. Shortly thereafter, he found a job as a Systems Analyst to define the requirements for a major insurance application. Tom quickly realized he lacked the skills to define IT requirements from a business perspective. To address this, he read profusely on how to elicit requirements, facilitate requirement gathering workshops, and communicate effectively with the user community. Without even realizing it, Tom had become a successful Business Analyst.
So what was the secret to his success? He focused on addressing his weaknesses, which in his case, were the communication skills necessary to excel as a Business Analyst. He used a number of psychology assessments such as Myers Briggs, SuperTRAC, Big 5 Personality Test, and StrengthFinder II to identify his strengths and see where he needed to improve. He found that what he learned about himself helped him read the nonverbal cues of others during interviews and workshops.
Thanks to Tom’s innate interest in technology, keeping up with the evolutions of the IT industry came naturally to him. Many would consider his path to be a “bottom-up” approach to becoming a Business Analyst.
From subject matter expert to Business Analysis star
Angela was a talented insurance underwriter. After 11 years in the industry, she had worked her way up from Payment Processor to Underwriting Supervisor and Trainer for the subsidiary of a major insurance company.
Although Angela had no background in technology, she was a fast learner. Seeing this, her boss asked her to spearhead efforts to automate the subsidiary’s business processes. After talking to a few software development companies, Angela realized she had a lot to learn about computers, what they could and couldn’t do, and how to know which IT solution was best for her company. Angela had people skills in spades, along with business expertise. What she lacked was technical skill.
Fortunately, Angela was an avid reader. She began reading books on computers and programming and even enrolled in evening courses on information theory. She bought a computer with which she taught herself basic programming skills. During this process, Angela came to realize that becoming a developer was not her idea of a good time. However, after all her studies, she felt ready to begin working with an independent consultant hired by her parent company to automate the underwriting, claims, and finance department.
Over the next several months, Angela became an expert at defining business needs and developing exhaustive (and exhausting) acceptance tests to ensure the application met all business and stakeholder requirements. Her collaboration with the consultant ultimately brought the project to a resounding success. The experience Angela gained from this project intrigued her so much that she parlayed it into a full-blown business analysis career. She now develops and distributes business analysis books and courses.
Becoming a Business Analyst in today’s environment
Richard had a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. While working as a Contract Manager, he took many self-paced courses online and learned how to model business processes, analyze business needs, communicate with stakeholders, and design a business. He acquired a plethora of technical knowledge about business analysis processes and problems in IT, but he lacked confidence and still wondered how to become a business analyst.
Richard found an experienced Business Analysis teacher, author, and consultant offering online coaching and signed up for a free e-mentoring evaluation session. He and the coach clicked immediately. The coach told Richard he had the necessary technical tools and soft skills to be a Business Analyst. However, he lacked the confidence to apply what he had learned.
After three months of weekly coaching sessions, Richard decided to take the plunge. Within a couple of weeks, he landed a temporary job as a Business Analyst for a bank. He continued receiving coaching and was so successful the bank offered him a permanent position. But by this time, Richard was confident enough in his new profession to decline the offer. He instead accepted a Business Analyst position from a company that better matched his lifestyle.
Richard had both the requisite technical skills, people skills, and finally, the confidence to succeed as a full-time Business Analyst.
Where do you start?
As you can tell from these stories, Business Analysts come from various backgrounds. Learning how to become a business analyst requires professionals to look at their current experience and skill sets to decide what steps to take next.
In today’s world, an increasing number are college graduates with degrees in Business Analysis or Business Analytics. However, many were software developers who wanted to pivot. Others were business professionals that wanted to uncover how information systems would best support their organization. Because Business Analysis is a bridge between technology and its users, professionals from both sides are welcome.
Many organizations — especially large ones — require a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience before they will consider you for a Business Analyst role. On one hand, that makes sense since communication is a core skill for Analysts. Excellent oral and written communication skills are essential to succeed. Presentation skills are also highly regarded because you have to present the results of your analysis to senior management, mid-level managers, and IT developers. These are transferable skills that many learn in college. However, as you can see from Tom’s, Angela’s, and Richard’s stories, this is not the only initiation path.
The roles of Business Analyst and Project Manager tend to overlap. In many organizations, Project or Product Managers have to define business requirements. In other companies, a User Experience Design specialist or even a Subject Matter Expert would complete this task. Technically, it is a job for Business Analysts. For this reason, many roles can benefit from business analysis skills. Some organizations currently require basic business analysis skills as a prerequisite for any managerial position.
Do you need a certification to get a business analysis position?
The short answer is “not necessarily, but it certainly does not hurt your chances.” Having trained, coached, and mentored tens of thousands of active and future Business Analysts, we maintain that anyone can become a Business Analyst if they really want to.
An upcoming post will address the current drive toward business analysis certifications like the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) and why they are important. We will also cover current certifying organizations like the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) and the various certificates these organizations offer.
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