2024 Guide

How to Become a Business Analyst

BrainStation’s Business Analyst career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in business analysis. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the in-demand skills you should learn, the best training options, career paths in business analysis, how to become a Business Analyst, and more.

Become a Business Analyst

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To become a Business Analyst, you must have key data analysis skills and an ability to glean insights from data sets.

It’s no secret that the way we do business is evolving – it’s been changing for decades, and the rate of that change shows no sign of slowing down. Just the opposite: today, more businesses are learning to adapt than ever before.

At the center of this great shift are Business Analysts, a category of jobs that comprises responsibilities from systems and process analysis to project management to software development and everything in between.

Essentially, Business Analysts are the people who provide the insights that help companies manage change.

The full scope of potential changes a business can make is wide, so a Business Analyst job description can be just as wide. But at its core, the goal of a Business Analyst is the same no matter their level of seniority or what market they’re in: to identify and define solutions that will help a business thrive.

As you’d imagine, information plays a big part in this goal – sourcing information, analyzing it, understanding what’s meaningful and what isn’t, using it to make predictions and devise actionable goals, and finally, communicating all this to others.

More specifically, it’s Business Analysts who critically examine a company’s organization and how it manages business processes, who implement its technical solutions, who look for new business opportunities, and who determine whether the benefits of a given action outweigh its costs.

Because business analysis impacts virtually every facet of an organization, there’s almost no position working for a company that doesn’t relate to it in some way or another.

If you’re working for a business, you’re probably doing some form of business analysis role already.

And if you’re looking to move into full-time business analysis jobs, that’s good news: it means that however limited your training in business analysis per se, you still have some experience with it, and that can serve as an entry into the field.

For some people, this could mean learning more about business analysis and applying that knowledge to their current job – to command a higher salary, or even obtain a promotion. For others, retraining could be the first step to a new career as a full-time Business Analyst. Still, others may already occupy a senior executive position and simply want to grow their field of expertise, to improve their effectiveness at the job they already do.

How to Become a Business Analyst in Six Steps:

  1. Learn business analysis fundamentals
  2. Take a data analytics course
  3. Work on projects to develop your practical data analytics skills
  4. Develop visualizations and practice presenting them
  5. Develop a Business Analyst portfolio to showcase your work
  6. Apply to relevant Business Analyst jobs

1. Learn Business Analysis Fundamentals

The first step of any career journey is to get familiar with what your desired position entails, and with the field as a whole. The basic idea behind business analysis is quite simple – identifying a business’s needs and problems and turning them into opportunities for growth.

Of course, the types of problems Business Analysts work to resolve are nearly endless – just one reason that the list of jobs that require business analysis skills is so long: Systems Analyst, Process Analyst, Business Architect, Management Consultant, Requirements Engineer, Product Manager, Quality Assurance, and Data Scientist, to name just a few.

All these jobs require business analysis skills, and where an employee doesn’t have those skills, they’ll be working directly with a Business Analyst who does.

Business Analyst Fundamentals

  • Identifying business needs turning them into opportunities for growth
  • Market analysis for untapped opportunities
  • Data modeling
  • Budgeting and forecasting
  • Providing insight into IT strategy, communications, HR and training, supply chain, process management, and more

But while you’ve likely had some exposure to the ideas underlying business analysis through your work experience in a related field, you’ll need to turn those impressions into a clear understanding of data analysis principles before you commit to a career-changing decision.

That means doing a bit of background research on the different ways Business Analysts can contribute to an organization – market analysis for untapped opportunities, data modeling, budgeting, and forecasting – and to an organization’s IT strategy, communications, HR and training, supply chain, business architecture, and process management.

Most Business Analysts possess a bachelor’s degree – often in business administration, finance, accounting, statistics, or computer science or programming – and for many people, this degree may be the most logical first step in getting some exposure to business analysis theory. For those looking to make a mid-career transition, this might not be feasible.

Even with a degree in something completely unrelated, it’s still possible to acquire an understanding of how businesses operate, either through formal training or more informal means.

What really matters is that when you begin to learn the specialized technical skills you’ll need to become a Business Analyst, you have a clear understanding of how (and where) those skills can be applied to improving a business’s bottom line.

2. Take a Data Analytics Course

Business administration becomes business analysis when you start looking at hard data. That data is the source of the insights Business Analysts use to define, study, and solve problems.

You might even say that a Business Analyst is, in many ways, a Data Analyst whose skills are laser-focused on improving a business’s operations. In fact, the primary distinction between the two roles is that, unlike Data Analysts, who are primarily looking for significant patterns within data, Business Analysts are only interested in what those patterns can do to further a business’ goals.

Comparing Business and Data Analytics

  • Data Analysts primarily look for all significant patterns within data
  • Business Analysts look for data and patterns that can further a business’ goals

That’s why taking a Data Analytics course can be a crucial step in becoming a Business Analyst.

As a business conducts more of its operations online, the amount of data at its disposal skyrockets. It’s now possible to measure – with extreme precision – metrics that gauge a business’s operating costs, performance, traffic, sales, and overall efficiency. But this data doesn’t turn into recommendations by itself.

To do this, Business Analysts need a firm grasp of techniques used in data analytics, as they either work hand in glove with Data Analysts or perform data analysis themselves.

In a coding bootcamp focused on data or similar course of study, you’ll gain a comprehensive overview of the entire data analytics field.

Studying under the direction of a professional instructor ensures there are no gaps in your training, and that the time you spend studying is dedicated to the areas you’ll really need to know.

You’ll even have the opportunity to work on projects where you’ll apply data analysis skills to real business case studies.

3. Work on Projects to Develop Your Practical Data Analytics Skills

With a clear idea of business fundamentals and the skills to analyze reams of data, you can begin practicing your ability to apply your new expertise to real business problems.

Try putting together practice projects that touch on all the different ways data analysis can be used to grow a business: researching your competition and market opportunities, establishing the parameters of the data you need to collect, gathering and cleaning that data, and modeling and analyzing it using custom-built algorithms.

Depending on your career goals, your practice projects should include not only different types of business solutions, but also different types of data – mining structured data, text and images, audio, or even video to perform statistical analysis, identify causality and make predictions.

As you go, you’ll also be practicing not only the technical, analytical, and business skills you’ll need as a Business Analyst, but the soft skills you’ll need too, including:

  • Decision-making and weighing alternatives
  • Interpersonal and communication skills
  • Time management and organization
  • Persuasion and professionalism

What Is the Key Objective of Data Analysis?

  • Researching competition and market opportunities
  • Establishing the parameters of data you need to collect
  • Gathering and cleaning data
  • Modeling and analyzing data using custom-built algorithms

4. Develop Visualizations and Practice Presenting Them

Brilliant analysis doesn’t count for much if you can’t communicate your insights to others. For this, Business Analysts rely on strong written communication skills, but also on the ability to turn data into beautiful charts, graphs, and other visualizations, and even interactive dashboards that allow others to query and interact with the data you’ve compiled in a user-friendly way.

Types of Data Visualization

  • Charts
  • Graphs
  • Interactive dashboards

Using programs like Tableau, PowerBI, Bokeh, Plotly, or Infogram, practice building your own visualizations from scratch, finding the best way to let the data speak for itself.

Excel also comes into play even during this step: although the basic premise behind spreadsheets is straightforward – making calculations or graphs by correlating the information in their cells – Excel remains incredibly useful after more than 30 years and is virtually unavoidable in the field.

Visualization Tools

  • Tableau

  • PowerBI

  • Bokeh

  • Plotly

  • Infogram

  • Excel

Creating visualizations is just the beginning. As a Business Analyst, these visualizations serve an important role in presenting your findings to your coworkers – to make the case for a given course of action.

These communication skills may come naturally to you, but if not, you can improve with practice.

Start small, if necessary, delivering presentations to a single friend, for example, before moving on to colleagues.

Eventually, you should be able to develop a hypothesis from its initial concept, figure out the best way to communicate your conclusions to others, and ultimately see that your idea is effectively executed.

5. Develop a Business Analyst Portfolio to Showcase Your Work

Once you’ve acquired these key skills, it’s important that you display them by putting the projects you’ve developed and the code you’ve written (even as part of your coursework) up on GitHub or a similar online portal to show what you can do and begin building your professional portfolio.

An ambitious and well-executed project that you pull off on your own can be a great way to demonstrate your abilities, impress potential Hiring Managers, and help your portfolio stand out from the pack.

5 Tips for Business Analysis Projects

  • Pick a facet of business analysis you’re interested in (real-world or a current problem at your job)
  • Ask a question about it
  • Gather the information you need to analyze the problem
  • Resolve it with data and numbers and document your journey
  • Visualize your findings and present it to colleagues

Pick a facet of business analysis that you’re really interested in – possibly even a real-world problem you’ve faced at your current job – ask a question about it, gather the information you’ll need to analyze the problem, and try to resolve it.

Document your journey and present your findings – beautifully visualized – with a clear explanation of your process, highlighting your business analysis skills and creativity. And if you can point to real-world outcomes that improved a company’s bottom line, that’s a part of the story you’ll want to tell using numbers.

6. Apply to Relevant Business Analyst Jobs

As mentioned above, the number of different job titles that potentially fall under the umbrella of “business analysis” is vast, including everything from Business Analysts proper to any one of the following – and, rest assured, there are many more:

You can safely assume that business analysis skills will be required in any one of those positions. But before applying, you’ll want to research a bit more about the job, as well as the company itself and what it does. What are the company’s priorities, and do they play into your strengths, goals, and career plans?

And, as with any job search, it pays to network. There are professional organizations you can join – notably, the IIBA – and both real-world and digital networking events are regularly posted to sites like EventBrite and Meetup.com.

Remember, these events are for building relationships, so focus on making meaningful connections, not trying to spread your resume around, and don’t be afraid to follow up.

Business Analyst Roles

  • Data Analyst
  • Functional Analyst
  • Quantitative Analyst
  • Research Analyst
  • Systems Analyst
  • Enterprise Architect
  • Process Architect
  • Business Solution Architect
  • IT Project Coordinator
  • IT Lead
  • Process Coordinator
  • Management Consultant
  • Product Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Compliance Manager
  • Chief Information Officer

What Is a Business Analyst?

A Business Analyst uses data analytics and other tools to evaluate and improve business processes and requirements, deliver data-driven recommendations, and find other opportunities to improve efficiency and add value.

A Business Analyst must understand the priorities of both business leaders and users alike while balancing ideas for improvement with an understanding of financial realities. In many business analysis jobs, they might also use data sets to improve products, hardware, tools, software, services, or processes.

Business Analysts look at how data fits into an organization’s larger operations – including aspects that aren’t captured by large sets of data such as organizational structure or workflow protocols.

Data Analysts define, collect, clean, model and analyze data of all types. Often, but not always, this is done in order to identify information that will help businesses make better decisions.

Business Analytics vs Data Analytics

Since data is a core element in both jobs, it can be confusing for some to determine what’s the difference between a Business Analyst and a Data Analyst.

A Data Analyst’s work consists of defining, collecting, cleaning, modeling, and analyzing data of all types; often, but not always, this is done in order to identify information that will help businesses make better decisions.

Data Analyst job responsibilities include:

  • Researching to identify opportunities for growth
  • Data requirement gathering to understand what information is needed
  • Data collection
  • Data cleaning
  • Modeling and analyzing data to identify significant patterns and trends
  • Presenting findings to other members of the organization

While business analysis includes a great deal of data analysis, it considers a broader context for that data. A Business Analyst looks at the way that data fits into an organization’s larger operations – including aspects that aren’t necessarily captured by large sets of data, such as organizational structure or workflow protocols.

In that way, Business Analysts are fundamentally Consultants, making data-driven recommendations and working with measurable initiatives to monitor change and gauge success.

Business Analyst Responsibilities

  • Sourcing and analyzing business information
  • Understanding what data is meaningful and what isn’t
  • Making insightful predictions
  • Devising actionable goals
  • Communicating insights and goals to others

What Does a Business Analyst Do?

Although the demands of a specific business analysis role will vary depending on their industry, seniority, and specific job role, most Business Analysts spend their time conducting research, analyzing data, gathering information to understand business requirements, developing clear and actionable strategies, and ultimately communicating those strategies to stakeholders.

Typically, you will find all of the following tasks included in a Business Analyst job description:

  • Leading ongoing reviews of business processes and the business model and leading the development of optimization strategies
  • Evaluating and improving business processes, anticipating requirements and business problems, unearthing areas for improvement, and leading the development and implementation of solutions
  • Staying up-to-date on the latest process and IT advancements to modernize systems
  • Performing requirement analysis
  • Working closely with stakeholders, clients, technicians, and managerial staff
  • Effectively communicating insights and plans to cross-functional team members and management
  • Gathering, documenting, and sharing important information from meetings and producing useful reports
  • Allocating resources and maintaining cost efficiency
  • Ensuring solutions meet business requirements and needs
  • Leading project management initiatives, developing project plans, and monitoring project performance
  • Updating, implementing, and maintaining procedures
  • Prioritizing initiatives based on business needs and requirements
  • Monitoring deliverables and ensuring projects are completed on time

Business Analyst Qualifications

Business Analyst qualifications can vary, as you can establish a Business Analyst career from a variety of different backgrounds, but many Business Analysts have a professional and educational background in a related field like business, data analytics, or computer science.

Other important factors to qualify for a Business Analyst job include skills training, business analysis certification, and domain knowledge.

When it comes to work experience, those working in a Business Analyst role now tend to have previously held positions relating to business, analytics, data science, IT, or HR.

Employers typically expect several years of professional experience working within a business in some capacity – not necessarily as an Analyst, but in some kind of role where you would build your business acumen, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and gain a strong sense of what a business needs to succeed.

That speaks to what employers are really looking for: business analytics skills.

The most important qualification for Business Analysts is to be able to prove you have a rare combination of technical and soft skills — especially good communication skills and analytical skills — to thrive in a Business Analyst position.

Because there are no consistent qualifications for Business Analyst jobs, hopeful career-changers who feel like they have the right transferable skills sometimes find success by looking for entry level Business Analyst positions and rounding out their skill sets on the job.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Business Analyst?

While it may be difficult to become a Business Analyst without a degree at all, there is no specific degree you need to be a Business Analyst.

If you’re looking to pursue a business analysis career, it might help if you have a bachelor’s degree in a related field like:

  • Business administration
  • Computer science
  • Accounting
  • Financial analysis
  • Enterprise architecture
  • Data science
  • Information systems
  • Operations management
  • Logistics
  • Human resources.

That said, employers for business analysis roles will typically prioritize your work experience, professional certification, and other skills training ahead of your academic background.

And although it will likely be required to have a bachelor’s degree even for entry level positions, it is unlikely that you would need a master’s degree to qualify for most jobs in the business analysis field.

In fact, no degree is sufficient to land a job as a Business Analyst without these other qualifications.

And because business analytics is such a specialized field, few degree programs even impart all the necessary business analysis techniques and skills needed for a job in the field.

Further, given how quickly technology changes and best practices evolve, skills retraining is a must to stay on top of those changes — and that’s part of why business analysis certifications have become such an important piece of the puzzle for many.

A Business Analyst certification can show employers that your skills are up-to-date, validate your expertise with a specific area of business analytics, and demonstrate generally that you are committed to continuous learning. Certifications can also correlate to a higher Business Analyst salary.

Another reason that the type of degree you have likely won’t affect your Business Analyst career path? Work experience in the right field will often be seen as equivalent to a degree in the eyes of some employers.

For example, multiple years working in IT or writing technical documentation can be as persuasive as a computer science degree.

After all, nothing demonstrates your ability to effectively harness your skills on the job than a proven history of doing just that.