How to Become a Data Analyst from Scratch
The business of data has undergone a digital transformation. First came computers, along with increased automation. Then the internet. And now we are living in the ‘smart’ era, characterized by increased interconnectivity, cloud storage and the Internet of Things (IoT).
One of the results of this seismic shift has been the increased production of data. We’re talking massive amounts of data produced every minute of every hour of every day, by businesses all over the world. Our ‘big data’ society has created considerable benefits for managers and business owners, with the potential to discover business insights that were simply not possible before.
Last Updated November 2023
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All this data has led to a demand for people qualified and skilled enough to interpret it, analyze it and present insights to improve business performance. That’s where data analysts (sometimes referred to as business analysts) come in. Keep reading for the ultimate learning path guide detailing all the skills, knowledge, and training you need to become a business intelligence analyst.
What do Data Analysts do?
To put it simply, data analysts are responsible for analyzing and drawing insights from the data and resources that a business or organization uses. This can include internal, competitor or other third party data.
In general, data analysts engage in 4 main types of analysis:
- Business modeling — identifying market conditions, business direction, and defining policies to suit
- Strategic planning — highlighting challenges, industry trends, and the shifting needs of a company
- Process and workflow design — optimizing business workflows and standardizing them across the company
- Systems analysis — interpreting data to highlight areas where IT and tech systems can be improved
There is a high demand for data analysts at the moment, and it’s growing twice as fast as other in-demand jobs in the USA. The picture is similar across the world.
Another good reason to consider a career as a data analyst is the impressive salary. Indeed and Google research shows the average salary to be $92,467 in the USA. Also worth considering is the fact that the more value you can add to a business in terms of skills and knowledge, the more you can earn. Which makes sense when you realize that data insights have the power to considerably boost productivity and profits.
So, how do you become a data analyst and take advantage of the favorable employment opportunities? This complete guide will walk you through the steps you need to take.
Steps to Becoming a Data Analyst
1. Get Qualified
Most Data Analyst (Business Intelligence Analysts) positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a business-related field such as administration, accounting or finance. Degree courses in information systems or STEM subjects are also accepted by many employers.
However, a bachelor’s degree may not be enough to land a job on its own. You’ll also need to demonstrate some specialist skills to stand out amongst the other candidates. This could be in the form of a master’s degree in a relevant subject – Master of Science in Business Analytics for instance.
An alternative way to gain qualifications and demonstrate skills is to enroll in specialist e-learning courses. More and more employers are recognizing and valuing these qualifications, as they realize that the level of highly-focused knowledge and skills obtained through e-learning can be beneficial to their business.
2. Develop Skills and Knowledge
As previously mentioned, to further your skills and knowledge you can enroll in a master’s degree course that will teach you most of the general things you need for the role. An increasingly popular route is to study online or e-learning courses to gain more focused skills.
Most employers specify the following skills for data analyst positions:
- Computing skills – Proficiency with MS Office software, especially Excel. May include programming languages and frameworks such as SQL, C#, Java, Oracle, etc.
- Analytical skills – The ability to interpret and analyze data to highlight problems or areas for improvement in the operations or processes of a company.
- Research skills – Critically evaluate reports and documents to inform analysis. Observe operations, and interview employees and stakeholders within a business to gain valuable insights.
- Organizational skills – Able to collate and keep track of large amounts of data and information. They must also organize their time well and prioritize tasks effectively.
- Problem-solving skills – Identify the problems within a company, then work on devising potential solutions drawn from research and data.
- Communication skills – Data analysts must demonstrate strong verbal and written communication skills. They will be expected to write reports, action plans and present insights in a clear way, as well as attend meetings and give presentations.
- Negotiation skills – Data analysts will often find themselves in disagreements over the necessity of taking certain business actions or making pivotal decisions. The priority of actions may also be a contentious issue within a company. The data analyst is expected to negotiate, and possibly mediate, with various parties and present their findings in a clear way to resolve disagreements smoothly.
3. Gain Work Experience
Work experience is a crucial part of becoming a data analyst, and landing that first job. If possible, it’s a good idea to try and get some work experience alongside your studies. This means finding part-time paid or intern work within a company or volunteering to help non-profit and charity organizations.
Alternatively, another way to gain experience is to enroll in courses that include workshops in which you work on real-life projects. This will allow you to focus on developing specific skills.
Here are some examples of the types of activities that qualify as good work experience for a data analyst:
- Analyze business data to identify cost-saving opportunities – A major role of a data analyst is to find ways to reduce costs or highlight new opportunities.
- Evaluate IT systems and highlight improvements – Most businesses understand the need to stay up-to-date with technological change and rely on data analysts to find areas for optimization.
- Evaluate current business systems and devise strategic plans – By analyzing business data and industry trends, then drawing conclusions, the data analyst can help direct companies to the most profitable opportunities.
Make sure you don’t pass up any opportunities to develop your experience level and build a strong portfolio of successful projects, regardless of how big or small.
The skills required to become a successful data analyst are highly specialized and constantly evolving. If you embark on a career in business intelligence, you’ll need to continually update and renew your skills and knowledge. These skills will position you as a data expert, with data science and analysis skills to turbocharge business performance and your career.
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