If you’ve got a decent working knowledge of IT systems, the ability to work well with a wide range of professionals and simply enjoy finding ways to make things work more efficiently, then a business analyst role could be for you.
Indeed, if you can communicate the benefits of complex technical concepts to organisations and then work with them to implement the necessary changes, your skills are already in huge demand.
So, whether you’re fresh out of university or an experienced professional looking for a change, read on: this is how to become a business analyst.
1. Research the Profession
As with all potential career decisions, it’s important to do your research. This will give you a clearer indication of what you’re letting yourself in for, including any downsides.
Business analysts play a key role in the way organisations devise their strategies, acting as a bridge between the technical and business expertise of their employer. This includes analysing and interpreting relevant data (known as business intelligence, or BI) and conveying to stakeholders how this information can affect decisions going forward.
As a result, it’s hugely important to not only have a good understanding of relevant IT systems and practices but also the ability to translate to non-technical colleagues and clients how these systems can improve their operations. This requires strong communication skills and a clear idea of the organisation’s goals and culture.
Business analysts are also expected to possess knowledge and experience in a particular field or industry, such as financial services, energy or retail. Many analysts then utilise this subject matter expertise to offer their services on a consultancy basis, too.
The responsibilities of a business analyst are clearly defined as:
- communicating effectively with colleagues and employers to understand the motivation and direction of the organisation as a whole
- building relationships and taking on feedback from external clients and stakeholders to develop and improve services
- understanding and employing advanced data analysis tools and techniques in order to put forward strategic suggestions and potential improvements based on quantifiable information
- understanding and surveying the IT resources and processes required to implement changes and recommendations
- collaborating with senior management and other internal departments to effectively implement changes and recommendations, as well as provide ongoing support
- delivering reports and presentations to key stakeholders in order to document and convey your findings and suggestions
Essential Skills and Qualities
In order to be suitable for this role, you’ll need to demonstrate the following:
- superb communication skills, including the ability to ‘translate’ complex IT concepts to non-technical audiences
- the ability to motivate and inspire openness to change
- the ability to work under pressure and to deadlines, often on several projects at once
- a passion and aptitude for creating and implementing solutions
- excellent analytical skills and the ability to quantify suggestions
- a passion for business development
- a good understanding of information technology backed up by relevant qualifications
Working Hours and Conditions
Business analysts operate within normal working office hours (ie: Monday to Friday), but it’s important to remain flexible. It’s highly likely that you will work extra hours and possibly weekends, as well, especially when there are deadlines or strict timeframes.
Depending on your role and the size of your organisation, you may be expected to juggle several projects at once, which can be time-consuming and stressful; there may also be travel involved, dictated by the need to work closely with clients and external stakeholders away from your office.
Organisations are always on the lookout for skilled and experienced business analysts, with attractive salaries on offer as a result. In the UK, for example, entry-level analysts can expect to start on around £26,000, moving up to around £35,000 with experience. Experienced analysts and consultants can expect to be earning anything from £40,000 to £50,000+.
Salaries are slightly higher in the US: graduates can expect to start on around $49,000, rising to around $96,000, although it is not uncommon for experienced analysts at top companies such as Microsoft, Accenture and Google to be commanding $100,000+ pay packets.
In addition, freelance consultants can expect to earn around £350 (or $500) per day for their services.
2. Get the Qualifications
Most organisations require applicants to possess at least an undergraduate degree (although this can be waived if a candidate demonstrates relevant work skills and experience). Typically, this will either be in a business-related or technological field. Alternatively, interested parties can pursue external certification, such as the Foundation Certificate in Business Analysis (CBS) in the UK or the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) exam in the US.
On the whole, though, there is a wide variety of pathways to becoming a business analyst. Many make the transition from related IT fields, such as software developers and data scientists, as well as from professional services fields like accountants. Familiarity with project management concepts such as Agile and Waterfall are hugely beneficial here, as are industry standard certifications such as CRISC and CGEIT.
3. Land Your First Job
Business analysis is a highly competitive field but, on the plus side, it is possible to find work in nearly every sector and industry possible. For entry-level applicants and graduates, many companies offer internship opportunities that can be invaluable for gaining experience and building important contacts, whereas public and private sector organisations are constantly advertising for competent and experienced professionals.
Much of your job search success will likely depend on your own industry interests and level of expertise. Wherever you apply, ensure that all the basics of your application are up to scratch, including your CV, cover letter and interview performance.
Always check the websites of the companies you are interested in working for to scope new and upcoming opportunities and also keep an eye on industry-specific websites; some good examples are:
4. Develop Your Career
Much of your initial work will involve gaining experience on projects and building up your authority in a particular industry, but once you have a proven track record you can begin to branch off and specialise in a particular area, such as data analysis.
Many companies also offer the chance to progress to senior level and even potentially take on a director or executive role; after all, the broad range of applicable skills that you will acquire over your career will make you well-suited to a position in the boardroom.
Much of the work that business analysts do is based on techniques and practices that are evolving constantly; therefore, it is important to stay up to date with trends and developments in data analytics, information systems and project management. This will form a large part of your ongoing professional development and it’s highly advised to be proactive in these areas.
It’s also recommended to become a member of a professional body which can assist in this training and offer the opportunity to undertake further qualifications. The IIBA is the most prominent international organisation, although the Chartered Institute for IT (BCS) in the UK and the Project Management Institute (PMI) in the US also offer useful advice and training programmes.
As with many positions where business development and IT merge, job outlook is currently stable. In the US, for instance, growth predictions are on course to stay in line with the average. However, going forward much depends on the role of technology – particularly the development of artificial intelligence (AI).
Due to the human aspect of the role and the need to communicate effectively with others, companies still need multiskilled analysts who can manage both sides of the data/relationship coin. But if AI can become sophisticated enough to negate this, then the future of the business analyst role could potentially be vulnerable in the medium to long-term future.
Until that day arrives, business analysis remains an interesting, well-paid and sought-after profession that is open to individuals from a range of professional and academic backgrounds. If you are a good communicator, possess a strong analytical aptitude and enjoy finding ways of doing things better, then you could be a natural fit. And with organisations always on the lookout for such individuals, why not consider making the move?
Are you a business analyst? What advice would you give? Let us know in the comments below…