How to Become a Business Analyst

Although businesses have been collecting massive amounts of data for some time, many are just beginning to effectively analyze datasets to make sound business decisions. According to a global survey by research firm Gartner, 91 percent of organizations have not yet reached a “transformational” level of maturity in data and information—which creates an opening for any technology professional interested in how to become a business analyst.

Business analysts are professionals who use current and historical data and other intelligence to map out strategies that drive efficiencies and positively impact the top and bottom lines. They must use tools and highly specialized skills to analyze massive amounts of company and industry data. And they must utilize their “soft skills” (such as communication and empathy) to convey the results to internal and external stakeholders.

Given the rising popularity of business analysts, it’s no wonder that employers have posted 318,672 open positions for the role over the past 12 months. And Dice’s latest Tech Salary Report places the annual business analyst salary at $101,497—up four percent between 2020 and 2021.

Best of all, you don’t need a business degree or specific domain knowledge to enter this high-paying field. Here’s a look at the top requirements and the steps to making a successful transition to become a business analyst.

Confirm Your Career Choice

A business analyst’s role involves much more than analyzing data and reporting. For instance, sometimes a business analyst needs to evaluate the effectiveness of an existing business process by interviewing stakeholders or reviewing business rules. Or to effectively implement a solution, they may even need to write procedure manuals, explained L.N. Mishra, BA program leader, author and trainer.

Professionals who thrive as business analysts have a passion for identifying potential improvements in practices and operations and helping an organization achieve its goals. They welcome the opportunity to tackle new, diverse challenges and deliver a complete end-to-end solution. For instance, today a business analyst may help determine everything from which products to sell, how much to sell them for, and who to sell them to.

Plus, they need to have an unquenchable thirst for learning and developing new skills. The goal posts are always moving, says Jade Moran, who transitioned from management information analyst to business analyst and was recently promoted to Data Insight Team Leader at Progeny.

This means that the typical business analyst role is not for everyone. You have to actually like meetings and writing, and because change can be difficult, you also need to be capable of handling conflict and tense situations and challenging the status quo. You need to be able to see the big picture and the details. In short, successful business analysts are part detective, part data guru and part psychologist.

Master the Technologies First

Those who want to become a business analyst tend to come from two different backgrounds: those with programming and/or data analytics experience and those with a basic understanding of the role as well as the curiosity, passion and drive to solve business problems.

However, regardless of background, you can’t perform the basic duties of a business analyst without learning the technologies first.

Start with the basics like the Microsoft Office suite including Excel. Then learn one tool or app from each of the most common categories that business analysts use to perform various steps and techniques in the process, such as requirements gathering and management, business process diagramming, data gathering, data analysis, SWOT analysis, collaboration, data visualization and presentation, and so forth.

Given the ongoing migration of data to the cloud, it also helps to have basic knowledge and understanding of how to access, mine and analyze data stored in the cloud, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure.

The roles, responsibilities and tools may vary from domain to domain, but as long as you can show employers that you’ve mastered a handful of tools (and have the right mindset), most will let you learn additional tools on-the-job, Moran added.

6 Ways to Learn the Fundamentals and Land Your First Job

How can you master the broad range of skills to contend for a business analyst position?

Start in your own backyard: Start in your own company by observing how business works and learning the key concepts, activities, business rules, processes, stakeholder interactions, technology and management practices that drive success. See if you can spot potential opportunities and the internal and external factors that affect performance, risk and efficiencies, Mishra suggested.

Take online courses: Learn critical fundamentals like data analysis, business processes, process improvement, process modeling, how to solve business problems, tools and more by taking free online courses or enrolling in a boot camp.

Complete learning projects: Completing learning projects can help sharpen your technical and non-technical skills and build your portfolio. Find examples here and here.

Hone your presentation skills: Business analysts need the ability to communicate detailed findings to line managers one minute and high-level overviews to executives the next. Knowing your audience and how to get their buy-in can help you land your first job. That’s why Moran recommends completing a training course in data visualization and/or communicating results before beginning your initial job search.

Get a mentor: One of the best ways to learn the nuances of the role (such as the behaviors and collaborative techniques that encourage discussion or foster an open mind) is by seeking the guidance, advice, feedback and support of an experienced business analyst. And since a business analyst needs context and organizational know-how to analyze data and help guide businesses improve outcomes and software, the right mentor can help you acquire specific domain knowledge, too.

Prepare for certification: Studying for an introductory certification like The Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA) is a great way to introduce yourself to an employer, show initiative and sincere commitment to becoming a high-performing, high-impact business analyst.