With the massive amount of data produced every second (nearly 100 zettabytes in 2019 and 2020 according to estimates by market researcher IDC) and the continued investment by corporations large and small to expand their data operations and harness this information to drive growth and performance, business analytics remains an attractive career field.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), relevant professions in the field could see 11% to 23% headcount growth by 2023, well above the 5% growth rate the BLS forecasts for the US labor market as a whole. Because of this demand, business analysts can expect an above-average salary: Salary.com’s current estimate of $79,770 means business analysts typically earn almost 75% more than the 2021 median annual income of 45,760.
While a career as a business analyst has clear upsides, for many the path into this career is less clear. For this reason, we’ve developed this step-by-step guide to show you how to become a business analyst. We’ll cover what exactly a business analyst does, the skills needed to succeed, relevant options to gain expertise and experience, and how to put it all together and land an offer.
What does a business analyst do?
Working from particular business needs, business analysts employ data analysis to extract insights from large data sets in order to support business decision-making and solve business problems, like how to increase revenue, cut costs, increase market share, or expand into a new market entirely.
Typically, this means leveraging one or several of the four core types of data analytics (descriptive, diagnostic, prescriptive, predictive) to analyze data sets, interpreting these findings, and then communicating these findings to multifunctional stakeholders, often through data visualization.
Within the job category of business analyst, however, there are many specializations. A business process analyst, for example, deploys analytics in order to streamline business operations. Management analysts might also focus on streamlining operations, but a management analyst can also focus on identifying growth opportunities or strategies to increase revenues. A market research analyst instead specializes in analyzing consumer bases and markets to inform business and product decisions. A business intelligence analyst might also analyze consumer behavior and markets, but isn’t limited to these areas: they can also produce intelligence products to assess business performance, for example. Finally, a financial analyst assesses different investment opportunities and makes recommendations based on individual or business requirements, risk tolerances, and financial goals.
Many online publishers also consider computer systems analyst to be a business analyst role, in actuality a systems analyst focuses far more intently on designing and implementing information systems without performing the kind of quantitative analysis characteristic of business analysts.
To learn even more about what a business analyst does, check out our dedicated article to that topic, where we go into detail using real-world job descriptions.
How to become a business analyst
Step One: Get educated.
The first — and most important — step to landing a business analyst position is to start building out your business analytics skill set. To be able to carry out the responsibilities of a business analyst we introduced above, you need an interdisciplinary mixture of soft and technical skills, including:
Computer science and information technology skills, including the ability to perform analysis using Excel, query databases using SQL, and, often, code using Python or R programming languages
Statistical analysis skills, including optimization, regression, cohort analysis, factor analysis, time-series analysis, and cluster analysis. Learn more about these here.
Data management skills such as data collection (including data mining) and data cleansing and preparation
Data visualization skills, including using Tableau to create dashboards and other visualization
Advanced skills, such as machine learning modeling for big data sets
Business and industry expertise
Soft skills, including project management, communication, teamwork, leadership, and critical thinking
Though this set of skills can be intimidating if you’re just getting started, the good news is that there are a host of great educational programs that can offer you the opportunity to start skilling up, including bachelor’s programs, master’s programs, bootcamps, and short courses.
Business Analytics Bachelor’s Programs
Aspiring business analysts who have graduated high school and have the time and money to pursue a four-year degree.
While some schools will offer specific business analytics majors, students who ultimately want to go into business analytics often major in a related field like computer science, applied mathematics, economics, or business. Either way, students interested in pursuing business analytics can leverage a bachelor’s degree to learn most, if not all, of the skills listed above.
A bachelor’s degree is a time-tested way to gain access to high-paying professional job opportunities, especially in technical fields. Earning one also allows you to pursue a master’s degree or doctorate in the future.
From data provided by educationdata.org, the average in-state bachelor’s degree from a public university costs $102,828 over 4 years, while the average bachelor’s degree from a private university costs $218,004.
For more on business analytics bachelor’s programs, check out our guide to business analyst degrees.
Business Analytics Master’s Programs
Individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree and are looking to transition into a business analytics career or advance in a business analytics career they’ve already started.
Business analytics master’s programs offer more advanced and specialized training in business analytics, as well as the opportunity for students to apply what they’ve learned through a capstone project.
Graduate study opens doors to senior business analyst positions that offer more responsibility and higher compensation.
There are also many online and part-time business analytics master’s programs that can allow students to continue to work while pursuing career change or career advancement.
Master’s of science degrees in the US average $61,200 according to educationdata.org.
Business Analytics Bootcamps
Individuals looking to get an offer for an entry-level business analyst, data analyst, or data science role without pursuing a time- and cost-intensive degree.
While there are some business analytics-specific bootcamps available, aspiring business analysts often seek out data analytics and data science bootcamps, which offer training in a roughly equivalent skill set. These generally run three- to six-months, either part- or full-time.
Bootcamps are unique not just in offering training geared towards helping attendees gain an offer for an entry-level job, but because they also offer comprehensive career services such as resume review and interview practice to help attendees towards this goal.
Bootcamps are a less expensive, shorter, and more flexible alternative to traditional degrees.
The average bootcamp cost $11,727 in 2020. Many bootcamps also offer payment deferral plans, income-share plans, or even money back guarantees. For these, make sure to read the small print to ensure you are eligible.
Business Analytics Certificates, Certifications, and Other Short Courses
Those who are contemplating a career in business analytics or already have some skills in business analytics and want to learn more from the comfort of home.
Offered entirely online, business analytics certificate programs and other short courses offer either a broad overview of business analytics or deeper training in just one area or skill.
Certification programs give students the opportunity to take an exam that attests to their mastery of a particular skill.
Business analyst certification programs and other short courses are more flexible and targeted than bootcamps, ensuring efficient education for those who already have experience working with data.
Certificates and certifications can be displayed on resumes and LinkedIn profiles to assist in recruiting.
Certificate and other short courses range from free to several thousand dollars. Some providers, like DataCamp and Coursera, offer training for a flat monthly fee.
To learn more about these kinds of programs, see our article on the best business analytics courses online.
Step Two: Get experienced.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking to start a career in business analytics, education is usually only half the battle: you’ll also need to demonstrate sufficient work experience, even though you might be applying for an entry-level job. Luckily there are several ways to gain this experience:
An internship can offer a unique perspective that traditional classroom learning cannot replicate: a firsthand look into the inner workings of an actual business. As part of their undergraduate or graduate education, many students seek out one or multiple internships during their summer breaks. Certain academic programs may have established relationships with local industries, which can assist in securing internships for their students. Alternatively, internship opportunities may be posted online, either through a company's career webpage or on job boards such as LinkedIn or Indeed.
Independent or Collaborative Projects
Another way to complement your educational achievements is through independent or collaborative projects. In fact, many bootcamps and degree programs will culminate in these kinds of projects. By developing a varied project portfolio, you can give hiring managers and recruiters a glimpse into the kind of work you would produce for them. Often, an aspiring business analyst, data analyst, or data scientist will showcase their portfolio on a personal website, which can also give them the opportunity to define their personal brand.
Freelancing and Pro Bono Work
If you’re looking for projects to populate your portfolio, one way is through freelancing and pro bono work. Both can give you the chance to apply what you’ve learned and explore different industries and types of companies, which can provide you useful data as you continue your career search.
Join a Business Analytics Club
Many colleges and universities have business or even business analytics special interest clubs that can expose you to kindred spirits and new ideas.
Step Three: Get polished.
Once you have obtained relevant education and developed your professional experience, it’s essential to showcase your skills and abilities to potential employers in the most effective manner possible. Along with a compelling portfolio, your resume should tell a persuasive story of your past experiences while also laying the groundwork for future success. Since you will be applying for business analytics jobs, make sure that entries are appealing from a business analytics standpoint: try to always quantify your impact, including a baseline so recruiters and hiring managers can see just how much value you added.
In addition to demonstrating your business-savviness in your resume, it’s also important to tailor your resume to the specific role and team you are applying for. By highlighting the most relevant aspects of your background, you can increase your chances of landing an interview. Furthermore, practicing how to articulate your story in a way that highlights your unique value proposition can help you shine during the interview process.
For additional guidance on optimizing your resume and interview skills for data analytics and data science roles, see our resume and interview resources.
Step Four: Get busy.
After perfecting your resume, your next step is to land an interview. While it may be tempting to blast your resume to every potential employer, it’s important to maximize your chances of success by building and then utilizing your professional network to develop leads and potentially gain referrals. Sometimes, having an insider can be the key to ensuring your resume is seen and you receive an interview opportunity. At the very least, a robust professional network means you’ll have a never-ending supply of career advice.
Of course, the interview process doesn't end with securing an interview. Typically, you will need to pass multiple rounds of interviews with potential colleagues at various levels of seniority. Additionally, you may be required to complete and present a take-home project, which allows the employer to assess your skills and determine your suitability for the position.
Step Five: Profit.
We’ve covered exactly what a business analyst does and the skills they need to have, as well as how you can develop these skills, gain practical experience, and present all of this to hiring managers and recruiters in a way that can convince them that you are the right candidate for the job. Despite how well you do this, you might not get the first, or even the third, job you apply for. But if you keep at it with enough diligent effort and patience, you have a good chance of succeeding and landing an entry-level position. Of course, your first business analyst job won’t be your last. For more on what to expect down the road, see our article on the typical business analyst career path.