This continues our IT Career series. These are designed to introduce you to the variety of career options in information technology and how you can get started.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates approximately 876,000 business analyst positions will need to be filled between 2010 and 2020, and Canada’s Information and Communications Technology Council is equally positive about the growth of the career. Understanding how to become a business analyst means understanding exactly what type of business analysis work you are suited for and want to do. Business analysis occurs in almost every department of a medium or large company, including finance, operations, human resources, and information technology, and preparation for each type of job is slightly different.
What Does a Business Analyst Do?
Business analysis always involves analyzing data and presenting information in the context of change management within an organization. The exact work performed and knowledge required depends on the position, and business analyst titles include business systems analyst, financial analyst, operations analyst, data scientist, business consultant, and business systems architect.
Operations research analysts assist production-based organizations within an enterprise by applying statistics and analysis, along with some reporting and technical skills, to help business leaders make decisions. Financial analysts guide business leaders in decision-making with assessment of financial performance factors, including stocks, bonds, revenues, and margins. Market research analysts usually work with customer-facing departments including marketing, sales, and customer service to gather and analyze market data to make product and service decisions. These are all examples of business analysts in areas of an organization that are on the business side.
Business analysts with more specific technical skills often work closely with IT departments and technical vendors. The International Institute of Business Analysis lists a number of technical-oriented positions, including business requirements analyst, business system analyst, functional analyst, service request analyst, and agile analyst. Individuals in these positions act as liaisons between business and technical departments, helping to ensure new and current technical solutions meet business requirements. They might also create and maintain performance and systems reports, work with teams to build and implement solutions, and help drive continuous improvement.
Where Do Business Analysts Work?
Business analysts work everywhere. Some top employers hiring business analysts, according to PayScale.com, include J.P. Morgan Chase, Boeing, Target, Amazon, Accenture, Cisco, and PNC Financial Services Group. In just that list, you can see that financial, government, retail, eCommerce, human resource, and technical companies all hire business analysts. As a business analyst, your potential career choices are fairly wide, although if you can draw on previous experience within a specific industry, it’s possible to increase your chances at landing a job or pay increase.
How to Become a Business Analyst: Experience and Education
Your path to becoming a business analyst will depend a great deal on where you are in your current career. If you are a student, then opting for a four-year degree in business systems analysis (for technical roles) or even an associate’s degree in business applications (for operations or reporting roles) is a good step. Remember to consider exactly the type of work you want to do and speak with college advisors or hiring managers in the niche to find out what type of degree they regularly look for.
If you are already working and want to make a small career change or enhancement, then consider first where your experience is and whether you want to leverage it. If you’ve been working as an accounting and data-entry clerk, your experience with finances might lend well to a financial analyst position, but that’s only true if you want to remain within the financial sector.
If your experience can be applied to a business analysis position, next ask yourself whether you need to return to school. Someone with another type of two- or four-year degree and a lot of experience might be able to work their way into an analysis job without returning to school. Some employers require a specific degree or certification, though, so it’s important to understand all the options. In most cases, you won’t need a professional license or certification to work for an employer as an analyst.
How Much Do Business Analysts Earn?
PayScale.com notes that the average annual salary for general business analysts is around $58,900 per year. At the high end, analysts are reporting earning as much as $90,000 per year, and lower-range salaries are in the $40,000 range. The BLS reports higher averages for specialized analysts. Financial analysts report a median salary of approximately $80,000 while operations research analysts report a median salary of $78,600. Pay obviously depends on the type of field you work in, how specialized you are, and how much experience you have. Any way you slice it, though, business analysts are earning at least as much as middle managers in many organizations, often without the headaches associated with supervising others.