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What is a Business Analyst?

As the amount of data produced both inside businesses and in the world at large continues to grow, these businesses are increasingly turning to business analysts to provide insights that can help streamline operations, improve customer relationships, optimize the allocation of resources, and inform big-picture strategy. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects anywhere from 11% to 23% headcount growth over the next decade for the occupations it tracks that overlap in responsibilities with those typical of a business analyst, compared to around 5% growth for the US job market as a whole.

This strong outlook, together with an above-average salary ($79,770 compared to the $58,260 the average American earned in 2021), has many interested in a business analytics career. But is it right for you? In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about what a business analyst does, what skills they need to succeed, and how you can get started.

What are a business analyst’s typical responsibilities?

A business analyst’s responsibilities will vary substantially from one company to the next: while many business analysts perform the functions of a data analyst with more emphasis on business goals and strategy — indeed, the two roles are frequently confused — others focus on product, operations, marketing, or even human resources. Regardless of the particular application, the business analyst’s core purpose is the same: to leverage data analytics to develop insights that support business decisions and improve business processes

At a large corporation where a business analyst is distinguished from a data analyst, this might mean supporting business objectives like increasing revenues, decreasing costs, expanding a market, or entering a new one entirely, while at a smaller company a business analyst’s might blend into that of a data analyst, with both serving as generalists concerned both with the day-to-day and the bigger picture.

Along with data analysts, business analysts are frequently confused with business intelligence analysts. While they share a similar core skill set, they ultimately serve different purposes. While business analysts seek to directly support business decisions and improve business processes, a business intelligence analyst supports this work more indirectly by focusing on developing dashboards and informational reports.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get a better idea of what a day in the life of a business analyst might look like by looking at the responsibilities of a business analyst working to support the food services company Aramark at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati:

Business Analyst, Paycor Stadium – Aramark


  • Leverage consumer analytics to understand customer purchasing and dining behavior at Paycor Stadium. 

  • Identify key consumer segments and summarize data-driven findings in a visual way that resonates with a variety of stakeholders and audiences.

  • Analyze business performance data from a multitude of sources to identify opportunities to improve operations and recommend data-driven action plans.

  • Lead the creation and development of key performance reporting to multiple stakeholders.

  • Identify opportunities to create and meet consumer demand.

  • Generate ad-hoc analyses to measure the outcome of short-term strategies. Work with cross-functional teams to define insights and analytics required to measure success.

  • Independently own programs that measure customer satisfaction, loyalty, and delivery/execution of the Food, Beverage and Guest Hospitality experience.

As you can see, a business analyst must be able to wear many hats: not only do they need to design and execute analytics projects at a variety of scales using a variety of data inputs, but they need to be able to share these findings with internal and external stakeholders using compelling data visualization and storytelling. In the next section, we’ll dive deeper into the skills needed to succeed as a business analyst.

What are a business analyst’s typical skills and qualifications?

To succeed, a business analyst needs to possess the following skills to greater or lesser degrees depending on the particular position:


It’s crucial for a business analyst to have a solid grasp of Excel for basic data analysis and Structured Query Language (SQL) for data manipulation and retrieval from databases. Additionally, a senior business analyst will often have skill in a statistics-specific programming language like R or a general-purpose programming language like Python, especially if they are working with machine learning.

Analysis techniques

Business analysts often must be able to utilize analysis techniques from all four common analytical domains: descriptive analytics, diagnostic analytics, predictive analytics, and prescriptive analytics. Especially important techniques include regression analysis, factor analysis, cohort analysis, cluster analysis, and time-series analysis. See our deep dive on business analytics for more.

Analytics process

Business analysts must be familiar with all common steps of the analytics process, including data collection, data cleaning, and data mining.

Data visualization

Being proficient at analysis is not enough: successful business analysts must also be able to create compelling data visualizations (including dashboards) to communicate insights to diverse stakeholders.

Soft skills

In addition to these technical skills, soft skills like communication skills, project management, teamwork, critical thinking, and leadership are critical for success.

Business and industry expertise

Business and industry expertise are also crucial for the successful business analyst. An analyst is generally expected to have a handle on business fundamentals in areas like marketing, operations, strategy, sales, human resources, and/or finance to be able to align their analysis with business goals and communicate effectively with multifunctional teams. For the same reason, many companies expect their business analysts to have a thorough understanding of their industry.

To develop these skills, many — but not all — business analysts follow a traditional educational path, first earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field like finance, business, statistics, or computer science, and perhaps then even pursuing a business analytics master’s degree, either online or in person. Increasingly, however, there are alternative options for those who wish to retain flexibility, haven’t followed a traditional educational path, or don’t have the time or money to pursue a traditional degree. These options include business analytics bootcamps, certificate programs, and other short courses. We’ll dive into these options at the end when we make suggestions for how you can get started on your business analytics career path.

In addition to educational qualifications, your typical hiring manager will have a requirement that business analytics job candidates have previous work experience, even if they’re applying to an entry-level job. Below are the desired qualifications for someone applying to the business analyst position at Aramark. As you can see, Aramark is looking for someone with existing experience in analytics and facility with many of the key software for business analysts:

Business Analyst, Paycor Stadium – Aramark


  • Bachelor’s degree required in Mathematics, Statistics, Accounting or Finance or another scientific discipline. Master's degree a plus.  

  • Minimum of 3-5 years of experience in an analytical function preferred.

  • Superior analytical ability and spreadsheet modeling skills are required. 

  • Excellent written and verbal skills and the ability to interface with multiple levels of management are essential. 

  • Strong organizational, project management and time management skills

  • Ability to effectively communicate findings, analysis, implications, and recommendations to varied stakeholder audiences

  • Extensive experience with the Microsoft Office package, specifically a high level of proficiency with Excel and PowerPoint

  • Experience in developing in BI Tools (Ex. Qlikview, Qlik Sense, Tableau) a plus

We’ve covered the basic responsibilities you would have as a business analyst and the qualifications you would generally need to land a job — but just how many of these jobs are available, and what can you expect to earn if you find work as a business analyst? We’ll dive into these questions in the next section.

Above, we provided data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed impressive growth for positions similar to the business analyst role. Unfortunately, the BLS doesn’t collect specific data on business analysts, so while this data is authoritative and very likely directionally accurate, it doesn’t necessarily give a coherent picture of the outlook for business analysts.

Thankfully, Zippia has leveraged research, interviews, and analysis of job postings to arrive at data specific to business analysts, and their results are quite positive. According to their findings, the current average salary for an entry-level or junior business analyst is $69,642, a figure that has seen 8% growth over the last 5 years. Looking ahead, Zippia projects 14% growth from the current headcount of 166,606 by 2028.

avg jr business analyst salary growth

Source: Zippia

But most (all!) young professionals dream of moving past their entry-level position and up the career ladder. Luckily, according to Zippia, as a business analyst you can expect your salary to grow with you. As of 2021, mid-level business analysts made an average of $74,431 annually, while the average senior business analyst salary was $88,000. If you land a position at a big tech company, you can expect to earn even more: the average business analyst salary at Meta, Apple, and Google is currently around $125,000.

Check out our guide to expected salaries for professionals with a MS in Business Analytics.

If having read this far the combination of a booming job market, high salary, and impactful business analysis has made a business analyst career path appealing to you, your next question might be how to get started. In the next section, we’ll cover your options.

You’re interested in becoming a business analyst: what’s next?

As we noted above, if you’re interested in becoming a business analyst there are a variety of ways to get started depending on your particular background and preferences. We’ll give a brief overview of each below before directing you to our specific guides for more.

Business Analytics Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Bachelor’s degrees in the US are typically four-year undergraduate degrees in which students declare a “major” or area of focus that will determine their course of study. Those interested in business analytics usually major in fields like computer science, statistics, business, finance, applied statistics, or economics. On average according to, students who pursue a bachelor’s degree at a private university in the US can expect to pay $218,004 to do so, while students pursuing the degree at a public university will pay significantly less, around $102,828.

For more, see our business analytics bachelor’s program guide.

Business Analytics Master’s Degree Programs

Business analytics master’s degree programs are typically one- to two-year graduate programs — either on campus or online — during which students will undergo advanced training in business analytics concepts and skills. Often, students will have the opportunity to apply this training through an internship or capstone project. Though business analytics master’s degrees are still expensive, averaging $61,200 in the US for private universities and $29,150 for public universities, those who pursue the degree see it as an investment, either because it will allow them to break into the lucrative field of business analytics or move up in the field if they are already in it.

For more, see our business analytics master’s program guide.

Business Analytics Bootcamps

For those looking to land an entry-level position in business analytics quickly and relatively inexpensively, business analytics bootcamps are a great option, with a relatively inexpensive average cost of $11,727 in 2020. These bootcamps offer comprehensive instruction in the basics of business analytics while also offering extensive career services to help students find suitable job placement.

For more, see our business analytics bootcamp guide.

Business Analytics Certificate Programs

For those seeking even more flexibility and time- and cost-savings than a bootcamp would offer, or those seeking training in just one or several business analytics skills, business analytics certificate programs can be a great option. These online programs range in price from free to several thousands of dollars and award students a certificate upon completion that can be displayed on LinkedIn and resumes.

For more, see our business analytics certificate programs guide.