Necessary Skills for Database Analysts

Despite an ever-increasing number of specializations within the Big Data space, there’s still an overwhelming need for traditional database analysts. Much of the current hiring is for junior and mid-range positions, so candidates can expect salaries anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 for starters.

According to Janine Davis, principal at Fetch Recruiting, “Database analysts have to straddle both hemispheres of their brains.” If you’re currently seeking work in the field, you may want to exercise your brain’s left hemisphere by engaging in all things SQL, and expand your right hemisphere by illuminating your interpersonal communication connectors.


Critical thinking, math skills and a commitment to details constitute the basic skill set necessary for the technical end of the database-analyst field, but true success involves using all these skills in concert to collect, organize, analyze, interpret and then transform the data found inside of an organization.

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Whether your analysis goal is simple (collect customer-credit ratings) or complex (chart trends over an extended period of time), you can generally take these three steps in order to extrapolate that data:

Query by SQL: Some form of SQL will likely serve as your main tool, suggests Rob Byron, a partner in WinterWyman’s IT search group: “You want to be somewhat of a SQL guru and be able to write certain queries.”

As a baseline, he added, database analysts must at least have the ability to write detailed specifications for the data they want, which an engineer can subsequently retrieve.

ETLs Manipulate the Information: Database analysts transform, mold and bend the data found inside of an organization into new information. As a result, another essential skill is the ability to easily move and manipulate data. Tools such as SQL server’s SSIS and Oracle’s Data Integrator (ODI), as well as SAP Data Services and SAS Data Management, can help you accomplish this.

Interpret and Report Data: Once you’ve queried and manipulated the data, you’ll need to deliver a report. Know your reporting tools. Byron thinks a lot of analysts can get away with using Excel as a data-dump; for those who want more advanced platforms, however, there’s Tableau, Spotfire, Crystal Reports, SQL Server Reporting Services, SAS and more.

Don’t Forget Soft Skills: “The right hemisphere [of the brain] provides the special sauce that takes the bits and bytes and turns it into actionable information to drive a business,” Davis said, adding that a great database analyst “needs to understand what makes a business tick, and in turn what data will contribute to the best ticking possible.”

Byron also noted that, if you look at job descriptions for database analysts, most mention a business-facing role, which means meeting with users “and understanding what their pain is.” That means a need for good verbal and written-communication skills. While speaking with non-technical people about data, it’s imperative that an analyst knows the audience, and translates any professional jargon into plain English.

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5 Responses to “Necessary Skills for Database Analysts”

  1. Nightcrawler

    I’d have loved to have done this type of work, and I feel I would have been very good at it. However, there are no entry-level positions to be found.

    I was told by my university’s career counselor that I should apply for receptionist jobs. When I asked her what the career path was from receptionist to data analyst–because I don’t see it; they are completely unrelated jobs–she couldn’t answer me.

    I shouldn’t read articles like this. They bother me. I know I could have done this type of job, but I’m stuck doing clerical work for $10.00/hour or less, with no hope of getting out.

    • Nightcrawler and everyone in your situation,

      If you know how to learn, it’s not too late for you. Get on Youtube and watch an introductory series on data analysis, then watch series on on SQL, SAS, Matlab and Excel, for data analysis. Once you do that, check out a free course at MIT’s Open Courseware, Stanford’s Open University, and/or Khan Academy, to bolster your stats skills. If you don’t know how to code, then Google has a free coder university online. The tools are out there. You have to give up a little sleep for a while and work nights learning new skills. Then re-write your resume and post on every job board you can, especially Startupers, Hired, Indeed, and Cybercoders in addition to Dice, Monster, etc.

      • Shale,

        Wow, great advice! I was aware of MIT’s Open Courseware, but Stanford’s Open University and Khan Academy I had no idea about. Also, thanks for the Startupers website — I had not heard of that one previously.

        Nightcrawler, I am a product of learning mostly everything I know on my own as well as having some formal college education. I buy books and invest in my knowledge base, but I also use YouTube and any other free resources I can to increase what I can do.

        One of my female friends hated computers but she loved art and design. She wanted to go into something related to those fields, but without computer skills, she was sunk in the more modern age (back in 2001), so she took a Web Designer’s course, which lasted 3 months, and she received her Web Master certificate.

        She has no other skills in anything computer related than to design websites using HTML/CSS/XML code and/or Photoshop and she was making around $85,000 per anum as of 2004.

        What it boils down to is your desire to learn something and prove that you can and will be the best fit for this job. As Shale has mentioned, there are plenty of free resources out there to capitalize on — all’s it takes is the desire to do so…

        I wish you best of luck in your job search and self improvement.


  2. Ceylon

    Call Centers can start you slowly on the path… Customer service–> help desk or desk top support,
    Then take courses that teach you the languages/skill sets required. With I.T. there are Tech Schools devoted to only what you need to get certain certifications… Once in the “door” so to speak, move on to acquiring your Computer Science Degree (Associates, then Bachelors) if you want to move up the ranks.

  3. Nighcrawler, SHALE is spot-on. It is rarely discussed, but one of the most valuable IT skills is the ability to teach one-self a new technology. Good interviewers will need to know if you have been spoon-fed your knowledge or if you clawed it out of a book or website yourself.

    May I make the following suggestions?

    1) Read 1000 job ads on a meta job board like indeed sorting by posting date, since three or four contracting firms will post the same job.
    2) Pick a target job and list the skills you don’t have but need. A typical BI job will list SQL, SQL Server 2012, SSRS and SSIS.
    3) You’re going to have to ignore the fake job ads that want a decade of experience in three different databases, T-SQL, PL/SQL, Java and four different web development frameworks, DB2 database administration plus expert knowledge of the client’s internal car leasing and insurance application along with SAP with a Masters degree in logistics. Don’t be discouraged. These ads are like Taylor Swift–everywhere, hard to ignore, but ultimately not for you. Oh, the haters gonna hate, hate, hate… true enough.)
    4) Now learn SQL. Don’t waste time posting here until you can write a correlated subquery, a query that unions three tables, uses a left outer join, a common table expression and a group by clause. You should know the character functions to convert a NULL column value to some specific value, combine two columns in one string, extract the last few characters from a column, and detect that a column includes a string (like “Dr.”). You will need to write a query that runs anytime during the month that only selects rows dated in 2015 up to and including the last day of the prior month. You should Google “What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating-Point Arithmetic” but not be intimidated–use the web to learn why you can’t expect a query to work that says “where myfloatingpoint = yourfloatingpoint”. Pat yourself on the back.
    5) Now that you know SQL basics, try to answer any real-world question using public data sources or the Azure marketplace. Then use SSRS to format the data into an understandable report. How about average health care expenditures by age in the U.S.? Post the report as a PDF or Excel spreadsheet on your free linkedin profile and tell your contracts you learned SQL and started learning SSRS. Then post here to tell us what you learned.
    6) Now you can start calling the contracting companies to say you’re making $10 an hour now and want to make $20 an hour by running reports for someone. Yes, you’ll hear that all those jobs need Access, but ignore that and move on to another recruiter.
    7) Repeat with SSIS until you get a better job.

    If you’re looking for a BI career, you show know that almost every major vendor has either free or virtual lab versions of their software to capture developers. Oracle, Microsoft, Informatica, Qlikview… is another free college education site to add to the good list SHALE provided.

    I would wish you good luck, but I’ve found that luck has nothing to do with it…it’s just a lot of hard work.