Do you care about organizations and how they work? Do you have an eye for detail—always searching for ways to improve internal processes? Do you want to see businesses achieve their full potential? If the answer to these questions is yes, then working as a business analyst could be a career fit for you.
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Since they make data-driven business decisions, prototype products and make IT recommendations, business analysts (sometimes known as management analysts) are central to the operations of several large companies—with a number of professionals boasting desirable salaries to match. But how do you become a business analyst, and what should you expect once you’re hired?
Who Is a Business Analyst?
Business analysts are increasingly crucial to successful business operations across a variety of industries. Acting as a bridge between the business community and technical solutions providers, they ensure new IT projects are designed and implemented properly. Whether developing a new database or boosting a firm’s cloud capability, business analysts are responsible for guaranteeing that projects meet business objectives and boost the company’s bottom line.
Because they’re so integrated into the world of IT, business analysts often keep abreast of new technology, knowing what’s on the horizon and how it could support a firm’s people and processes. At the same time, they anticipate broader business challenges before they appear, being as comfortable in the boardroom as they are in the tech department.
Finally, business analysts keep an eye on how completed projects are progressing. From preventing hacks to tweaking the backend, their work keeps going.
What Does a Business Analyst Do?
With a number of overlapping responsibilities, business analysts are always busy. On any given day, they might be asked to complete a wide range of tasks similar to what management analysts do. These include:
- Identifying opportunities for improvement in business operations and processes
- Meeting customers and users, as well as subject matter experts and other stakeholders, to understand their IT needs
- Prototyping and modeling products and processes
- Designing or modifying business or IT systems
- Solving business problems and designing technical solutions
- Documenting the functional and technical design of an IT system
- Working with system architects and developers to ensure the system is properly implemented
- Helping to test the system and create system documentation and user manuals
- Facilitating workshops to establish shared understanding among diverse stakeholders
- Understanding when a system is out-of-date and organizing replacements
Overall, business analysts have varying degrees of technical know-how. The benefit of this approach is that they can often see the big picture—the scope of the challenges within their industry. On the other hand, some come at the same problems with extensive knowledge of IT processes. And then there are those who are comfortable in both camps.
Certain roles (like business systems analyst) may be much more technical than others (PDF, 154 KB). So, when you’re looking at job descriptions, examine the fine print first or be ready to brush up on your coding skills.
Steps To Become a Business Analyst
Though every journey is different, becoming a business analyst generally requires you to complete a number of steps. Let’s examine them in turn.
1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
A bachelor’s degree is usually the first step to becoming an entry-level business analyst, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Though there are no specific requirements about what you study, having a background in finance, business, economics, finance, marketing or psychology may prove useful.
Please also note that while you normally only need a bachelor’s degree to become a business analyst, some employers may expect prospective candidates to have completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) too.
2. Pursue an advanced degree in business analytics, data science, statistics, computer science, information management, finance or economics
To pursue a business analytics position at a management level—or even higher—you may need to complete an advanced degree. Consider enrolling in a master’s in business analytics or a master’s in business administration program to distinguish yourself in a crowded field. These programs generally only take one year to finish.
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3. Fine-tune your technical skills and business capabilities
Beyond taking formal business analytics courses at a university, candidates may explore other avenues to expand their technical skills—unsurprising, given how important IT is to the profession. Though there are many potential areas of study, here are some common choices available at boot camps across the country:
- Statistical analysis software (e.g., R, SAS, SPSS or STATA)
- SQL databases and database querying languages
- Programming skills (if possible)
- Survey and query software
- Business intelligence and reporting software
- Data mining
- Data visualization
- Database design
Remember: It’s always wise to keep an eye on emerging technology, too. You never know how recent developments could help your business clients.
Business analysts also take time to hone less technical skills. From getting comfortable with analytical problem-solving to effectively explaining complex technical subjects to lay audiences, there’s plenty to focus on. That’s also true when it comes to creative thinking—questioning established business practices and brainstorming new approaches to data analysis—as well as grasping broader industry pain points.
4. Consider additional certifications or courses for business analytics professionals
You can earn certifications to help demonstrate your core skills, learn about the latest variants of software and technology, or start specializing. In particular, certifications may help if you’re interested in advancing to a new position after you’ve been working for a while. Though employers may not require specific certifications, getting one in your chosen area of focus may help highlight your competency.
You can gain qualifications from a number of industry bodies, including the Institute of Management Consultants, the International Institute of Business Analysis and the Project Management Institute. Though valuable, both for your skills and reputation, these courses aren’t for everyone. Some are only available if you’ve completed a master’s degree, for example, or worked in business analytics for several years. If you do qualify, you’ll likely have to pass an exam before receiving a certification you can show to employers.
A number of supplementary courses are also available online from universities. Generally lasting weeks, these programs cover a range of topics from checking warehouse inventories to harvesting spreadsheet data. Whatever you study, modules are often self-paced, meaning you can bolster your education while continuing to work. In short, decide on a focus and then make it happen!
Traits of Business Analysts
Focused on both business and technology, business analysts are comfortable in a range of work environments. Here are some common business analyst traits, according to O*NET OnLine. Remember that this isn’t an exhaustive list.
Communication Skills: Understanding client needs. Explaining changes to management. Problem-solving with IT. Communication is central to a business analyst’s day-to-day—so it’s important to hone your spoken and written skills as you start out in your career.
Technical Skills: Business analysts are comfortable in the world of IT. In practice, that means they understand the latest software, what it can do and any limitations it may have.
Analytical Skills: As the name suggests, finding practical solutions to theoretical problems requires analysts to be deeply analytical. After all, one part of the job is analyzing data, documents, user input surveys and workflow—all sharpening business practices.
Decision-Making Skills: Responsible for the implementation of complex IT systems, business analysts often make important calls. Those who plan to pursue a business analyst career will have to assess complex situations, receive input from stakeholders and then promptly select a way forward.
Managerial Skills: Whether planning project scopes or directing staff, handling changes or forecasting budgets, one thing is certain: Business analysts often employ project management skills.
How Much Does a Business Analyst Make?
Though the job isn’t highlighted by name, the BLS reports that management analysts (synonymous with business analysts) earned a median annual salary of $87,660 in 2020. The highest earners earn significantly more, with the top 10% making more than $156,840. Geography is also an important factor.
According to the BLS, for example, management analysts in New York earned a mean annual salary of $113,560 in 2020 compared to $92,550 in Wisconsin.
Business Analyst Job Outlook
According to the BLS, the demand for management analysts is due to grow by 11% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Once again, it’s important to understand that this varies by location.
Wherever you work, you’ll be expected to handle a number of responsibilities. From interpreting trends in sales and purchasing to making predictions about future consumer behavior, business analysts are trained to use data to help businesses and organizations succeed. Working in tandem with other departments, including market research, product development and top-level management, business analysts contribute to a corporation’s overall strategy—both internally and externally.
Business Analyst Professional Organizations
Need professional assistance? Want more information? There are a number of business analyst professional organizations, so reach out if you have any questions!
- International Institute of Business Analysis
- Association of Business Process Management Professionals International
- International Institute for Analytics (IIA)
- American Statistical Association
- SIGMOD (ACM Special Interest Group on Management of Data)
- Digital Analytics Association
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Business Analysts FAQs
Still have questions about becoming a business analyst? Here are some commonly asked questions and answers to consider as you gather information about the field and the profession:
How do I become a business analyst?
There are various ways to become a business analyst. You may want to determine your career goals as a first step—then choose the skills you’d need depending on your desired role. Common skills for business analysts include analytical and communication skills.
What are the qualifications required to become a business analyst?
The qualifications for business analyst positions vary depending on the organization and an analyst’s career goals. A bachelor’s degree is typically required for most business analyst positions. However, a master’s degree in business analytics may be useful for more advanced roles.
What are the steps to become a business analyst?
Everyone’s path is different, but there are a few common steps you may take to become a business analyst—the first of which is earning a bachelor’s degree. Depending on your career path, you may need other qualifications, including certifications or an advanced degree.
What is the career growth for a business analyst?
According to the BLS, the demand for management analysts (the same as business analysts) is due to grow by 11% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the national average. However, this growth varies depending on where you work and which industry you focus on.
Last updated April 2021.
This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA.