How to Become a Business Analyst 2021 (New Grad) — Background + Skills

Part 1 of A New Graduate’s Guide to Becoming a Data/Business Analyst

What degree should I have?
What experience should I have?
Skills (to be continued in the next post)

Introduction

This is the first blog in a series titled “A New Graduate’s Guide to Becoming a Data/Business Analyst”.

This series is written to help recent college graduates learn how to become a data or business analyst, particularly ones who are graduating during the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than being comprehensive, this guide focuses on the tips that were most useful to me and that I either didn’t see at all or didn’t see much on the internet when I was looking for a job.

I followed most of the advice in this guide. If I had spent 1+ more months searching for a job, I would have followed the rest.

I’ve split the guide into 5 digestible parts and linked to each at the bottom of each post. There are many things I didn’t include — among them, how to write a connection request on LinkedIn, how to learn Python, or what you can get out of attending online networking events. While these things are important, I trust that my readers will find good advice on this on their own.

I spent a lot of time reading blog posts and going to events that promised to tell me how to find a job in data analytics. Most of them had good advice and a lot of them had the same advice.

Just keep in mind:

  • There is no one, perfect way to get this kind of job. There are many paths to many jobs that could be a great fit for you.
  • You need to work hard and focus on the right things. A job won’t just drop in your lap from thin air — you need to look for the job, find it, and work hard to get it. Spend your time on the right things — endless hours of Python practice won’t get you a job, but building projects with Python will get you a job.
  • That said, there is a certain amount of luck involved in finding a job.

I graduated from a small but prestigious liberal arts college in May 2020 where I finished my senior year remotely in my parents’ basement. Up until March, my post-grad plan had been to travel the world for an entire year. I still intend to do that, but I’m not sure when anymore. During college, I double majored in Computer Science and Politics. I didn’t think much about my career beyond the fact that I wanted to find a job where I could combine both of my majors in some way or another.

I spent about 3 months working on projects and gathering information about how to become a data analyst. About 2 months after I began applying for jobs, I got an offer. This series comes from reflections on that (very recent) time. Some of the things I write about in this series took me merely hours to learn whereas others took me more than a month.

This is a guide to becoming a data/business analyst. Most materials on “How to Become a Data Analyst” appear to be geared towards early to mid-career professionals looking to jump into tech.

This guide is aimed at recent graduates of Bachelor’s degree programs or undergraduates looking for a job during their senior year. I didn’t see any advice geared towards my life experience during my search for my job, so I hope this finds people who feel represented by it. That said, most of this advice applies to everyone.

In this series of blog posts, I’m going to take you through how I went from “I think I want a job that combines computer science and people” to an actual Business Analyst job with a major international corporation.

So, let’s get started.

What degree should I have?

This guide assumes you just completed your Bachelor’s degree. Since nearly all data/business analyst positions require one, that’s a great start. Ideally, your degree is in a field like Computer Science, Mathematics, or Economics, but non-STEM degrees are also fine, despite what the job listings might imply.

What kind of experience should I have?

Summer internships are great, but if you didn’t do any, don’t sweat it. (I didn’t do any internships.) Paid research experience, particularly in a quantitative field, will definitely help. But as long as you did something during your college summers and someone paid you to do it, you should be plenty qualified for an entry-level data or business analyst job.

For some perspective, I spent my summers between college the following way:
Freshman: Canvassing for an environmental advocacy group (paid)
Sophomore: Volunteering at a meditation retreat center in the Colorado mountains (unpaid)
Junior: Computer Science research on-campus (paid)

Since two of these experiences were paid, I got to put them on my resume as “experience”. It’s okay to include job experience that:

  • happened a long time ago (3 years prior in my case), and/or
  • does not seem directly relevant to the job you’re applying for

It’s best to have at least 2 job experiences listed on your resume. If you have more, that’s great!

Skills

I’ll go in-depth into SQL in a different post, but here are the main skills you’ll want to have as a data or business analyst:

  • basic to intermediate Python or R
  • advanced SQL
  • a good sense of different statistical tests and how to use them
  • familiarity with at least one of Tableau, Looker, or Microsoft Power BI (Tableau offers a free student license, by the way)
  • communication skills

I would skim other people’s blog posts for a more in-depth list, but this covers the main stuff.

Python. It shows up much more frequently in job listings and it’s easier to learn. But if you love or already know R, don’t spend time learning Python just to get an Analyst job. R is perfectly substitutable for Python in this context.

They are visualization programs that work with a variety of data representations — everything from comma-separated files to SQL databases. They won’t do chi-square tests, but they’ll help you make histograms and line graphs and just about every other low-key statistical visualization under the sun. If you need to do any sort of complex calculation, do it in another software or transform the data before giving it to the software.

If you don’t already know how to use them, don’t sweat it. Pick one (I’m partial to Tableau) and do a project where you use it for your analysis. Here’s the one I did to teach myself Tableau. Be sure to teach yourself how to make a simple business dashboard in addition to whatever project you end up making.

You can totally teach yourself what you need to know. In May, I had never heard of Tableau. Before the summer was over, I had taught myself Tableau well enough to impress interviewers and make dashboards for my job.

A note on communication skills

The nice thing about a data analyst/business analyst job for non-STEM majors is that they value your communication skills. So as long as you can demonstrate that you’ve taught yourself the technical stuff properly, likely through a few impressive projects and maybe a beautiful website, you can probably get this job. I know that many others in a similar position have done it — why not you?

— — — —

Part 1: How to Become a Business Analyst 2021
Part 2: Skills and Projects You Need to Get a Data/Business Analyst Position
Part 3: How to Network and Use LinkedIn to Find a Job
Part 4: How to Use Professional Groups to Find a Business Analyst Job 2021
Part 5: How to Keep Your Sanity During Your Job Search

I write about computers (shout out to my CS degree!) and also about having emotions as a twenty-something. Professional me: elianagrosof.com. DM @elianasquared.

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