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how to become a business analyst

The business analyst career path

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Posted by: Lucid Content Team

If you love exploring the inner workings of businesses—maybe you enjoy the founding stories of famous companies or are obsessed with how startups become successful—you might love a career as a business analyst. This career is predicted to be in high demand over the course of the next decade, so if you enjoy dealing with processes and helping things run smoothly, a business analyst role may just be a great career choice.

But what exactly does a business analyst do? And is it the right fit for you? Below, we’ll take a deep dive into the business analyst career path so you can decide for yourself.

What does a business analyst do?

A business analyst actually does exactly what their title describes: they look at all the processes and systems that make up a task (or an entire business) and see what can be improved. So, for instance, if a company knows they want to improve their customer service, but they don’t know where to start, a business analyst may begin by interviewing stakeholders and determining what requirements need to be delivered. It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what a business analyst does because they’re often involved in multiple projects and don’t specifically do one thing. 

In general, a business analyst has three major responsibilities:

  1. Gather opinions
  2. Determine priorities
  3. Improve processes

A company might hire a business analyst for a specific task—such as the customer service example above—but your company might also hire a business analyst to look at the entire business and determine what changes should be made.

What skills does a BA need?

However your company (or prospective company) defines its business analyst role, there are a number of core skills business analysts need to be successful.  

Interpersonal skills–Building relationships is a core component of the BA role. You’ll need to work with a range of stakeholders with many different communication styles and determine what people are really asking for.

Self management skills–For the most part, BAs are left to their own devices. They’re normally left to set their own due dates within the larger project and they need to delegate tasks, speak to the correct stakeholders, and determine their own plan of attack. If you’re not a self-starter, a BA job might not be a good fit for you.

Open to feedback–Once you’ve developed a solution or have handed over a deliverable, you’ll need to both accept feedback and defend your work. This can be intimidating, since feedback often comes from some of the most prominent roles in the company, so it’s important to have both the humility to accept criticism and the self-confidence to stand up for your work.

Organization–At their core, BAs love organizing. They often take big concepts (like how an enterprise operates) and break them down into more easily understood processes that can then be examined, critiqued, and optimized. Organizational skills are crucial because there will be so much information headed your way that will require proper organization if you’re going to make sense of it all. 

Technical skills–While many business analysts benefit from knowing coding languages, it’s not a complete necessity. You’ll need to work with technical stakeholders, though, so you’ll need at least a fundamental understanding of technical processes.

Problem solving skills–This one should go without saying since business analysts are essentially brought in to solve problems. As a business analyst, you’ll be given an often complicated problem to solve (or several complicated problems) and then be required to utilize critical thinking skills to solve them.

What are common BA job titles and what do those roles entail?

IT Business Analyst–Assists in improving hardware and software systems that drive a company's data infrastructure and operational efficiency and assists in reducing operational expenses by analyzing costs and expenses.

Business Planning Analyst–Responsible for forecasting, modeling, analysis and account service. Provides analytics on various market influences that affect overall revenue and margin for each account, proactively manages forecast and inventory flows to mitigate potential EOL inventory issues and short shipments, and provides ad hoc analysis for sales, customer, and VP of Planning.

Business Management Analyst–Interprets data and analyzes the results using statistical techniques and presents findings to management. Increases business efficiency through developing, maintaining, and monitoring marketing business processes.

Senior Business Analyst–Constructs workflow charts and diagrams, studies system capabilities, and writes specifications based on current and future state. Adept at translating high-level business needs into user stories and explaining detailed technical concepts at a high level. Collaborates with developers, product managers, subject matter experts, and users to communicate the proposed solution vision and analyze tradeoffs between usability and performance needs. Finally, devises solutions based on business problems. 

A day in the life of a BA

So, if you were to pursue a career as a BA, what would a typical day look like for you? Let’s say you’ve been asked to help the A+ Company implement a frictionless payment system across their ecommerce site. To do this, you’ll need to gather as much information as you can about the way the payment system currently works, figure out what requirements various stakeholders have, and then determine what solutions you’ll suggest the A+ Company implement.

On a typical day, you’ll start with a daily standup meeting where you’ll share what you worked on the day before and any roadblocks you may be encountering. You’ll also hear what others are working on, which is valuable for collaboration opportunities. Then, you’ll likely meet with a stakeholder—say, the VP of Customer Service—to gather her requirements for a solution and hear what issues she has with the current payment system.

Then, you’ll likely meet with the IT team to better understand technical requirements and perhaps even brainstorm what the ideal solution would look like and how it should be implemented. From there, you’ll get to work documenting your findings, researching available solutions, and perhaps even looking at what payment systems competitors are using. Finally, you’ll round out the day setting up interviews with real customers to learn their pain points and frustrations using the current method of payment.

How much can a business analyst earn?

According to salary.com, a business analyst living in San Diego can expect to earn anywhere from $73,000–$90,000 per year. That sum will vary depending on location, experience, and specialty. If you have an advanced degree, you will also have the ability to demand higher pay.

Tips for charting a career as a business analyst

If you think becoming a BA is the right choice for you, you’d do well to get an M.S. in data analytics, business administration, finance, or accounting. Since business analysts tend to work in technical roles, it would also be wise to obtain experience with computer programming. After you get your undergraduate degree, get some work experience. If you’re able to work as an intern during college, that will give you a leg up, but there are plenty of entry-level business analyst roles out there.

It is possible to get a BA certificate instead of attending college, but do your due diligence when investigating these programs. Make sure they’re reputable and have a track record of helping students get great jobs upon graduation. Also, if you would like to pursue senior BA roles out of college, it would be wise to get a masters degree in business analytics or similar roles. A MS degree will help you be immediately competitive in the job market.

Business analysts are valuable members of an organization who possess remarkable critical thinking skills and add tremendous business value. If you like a good challenge and enjoy problem solving on a large scale, this may just be the career path you’ve always dreamed of.

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