What qualifications are needed to be a business analyst?
One way to think of Business Analysts (BAs) is as force multipliers who increase the overall efficiency of the organisation by identifying inefficiencies. However, the role usually carries a broader mandate and BAs need to possess a wide variety of skills to execute their roles effectively.
A Business Analyst’s main job is to gather information and then analyse it to find errors, patterns, trends and things of that nature which can add value to a business. The role diversity comes from the wide variety of functions that this can be applied to. For example, BAs in sales and marketing might look at consumer preference to spot the need for a new product. While BAs in operations might focus on bottlenecks and wastage etc.
BAs can be both generalists and specialists depending on where they are working. They must be flexible, analytical and good communicators. In the next few sections, we look at the academic requirements, professional certifications and soft skill requirements for BA roles. For an in-depth look at Business Analyst Job Descriptions, please visit the following article on Job Descriptions.
An Undergraduate/ Bachelor’s degree in a related field is usually required. What constitutes a related field can be subjective since BA roles differ significantly from industry to industry and even from company to company. It’s entirely possible for some BAs to focus on finance, while others focus on operations, and yet others look exclusively at the IT projects.
Given this variation in job requirements, the academic requirements for BAs can vary as well. Though, courses which focus on numeracy, modelling, analysis, technology and such fields are generally considered standard. Business degrees are common and preferred although other analytical courses can work as well. A Master’s Degree in a relevant field would further add value to a Business Analyst’s CV and there are quite a few professional certifications as well which we cover next.
There are various certifications applicable to the Business Analyst profession. Many of these are offered by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).
The Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA) is ideal for students and newcomers just starting their careers and looking to get their foot in the door at an entry level role. The certification provides a basic understanding of enterprise change management, business process and designing/ deploying solutions.
The Certificate of Capability in Business Analysis (CCBA) is the next level designed for professionals with 2-3 years of relevant experience. The course is suited for individuals with a basic understanding of how business processes work and how to evaluate them. CCBA focuses on real-life cases and can make for a strong CV point for those looking for career advancement. To see more tips on how to create a CV for a BA role, see the following article on BA CVs.
The IIBA offers many advanced and specialized certifications as well. The Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) is for seasoned professionals who have more than 7,500 of prior BA experience! There are specialized ones like the Agile Analysis Certification which has been designed specifically for business analysis in agile work environments. Such certifications are obviously not designed for newcomers, but they highlight the potential for career growth and specialization in the field. Specialists are almost always highly sought after and get paid more.
In addition to IIBA, many other organisations offer professional Business Analyst certifications as well. The Project Management Institute offers the PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA) certification which is also designed for somewhat experienced Business Analysts.
Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door for Business Analyst roles. Companies usually have internship opportunities that are publicised through campus boards or company websites etc. The idea behind offering these internships is that companies can assess the candidate’s performance while she is working for the company in some capacity. This tends to be far superior to what can be achieved in a written test, an interview or even through references. It also allows the candidate to check if she fits in the work environment and likes the role.
Good BA roles might require some prior work experience. Fortune 500 companies will either look for 2-5 years of prior work experience or pick candidates from top colleges and evaluable them via an internship program. Candidates looking for such roles would do well by spending a few years to learn as much as possible about these roles working with smaller companies or exploring internship opportunities in larger ones.
What skills do business analysts need?
As the name itself suggests, BAs need to have an analytical approach to problem-solving. What differentiates a great BA form a good one is her ability to examine the information and make better analytical judgments on that information.
The ability to spot patterns
BAs spend a lot of time pouring over spreadsheets, trying to find patterns that suggest a clear trend. For example, is the department suffering because a task is creating a bottleneck in the process flow? Can efficiency be improved by changing the procurement strategy for some component? Does market research suggest a changing preference amongst the consumer that the wider industry has just not recognised yet?
Business Analysts can really add value to their business by spotting these patterns and suggesting enhancements to address them. There is really no limit to how valuable such insights can be and this really gives BAs an opportunity to outshine others.
The ability to drive others
Being driven is an important skill in business applicable to every role. But the ability to drive others to achieve your goals is even more important for certain roles. Business Analysts rely on data and insight from other departments. They must spend hours in meetings, over calls or sending out an email to gather data – which is not just numerical in nature but can also consist of subjective assessments.
This reliance on others means that BAs’ must be sociable and can get what they need from others. Their success depends on it.
Creative presentation skills
No amount of analysis will be worth anything if it is not presented to the people who must eventually act on it. The insights that BAs produce is used by top management, department heads, and others to drive efficiencies and eventually percolates throughout entire departments. They must present information in such a way that it is easily understandable, the important bits pop out and the potential improvements are made quantifiable and measurable.
Modelling skills are a core requirement for a BA job. An analyst might spend most of her day doing modelling and their proficiency can make a significant difference in their overall performance. However, it is a skill that is usually developed over time while on the job and a few courses can help expedite the learning process. This is a very important quality of life skill to have.
Business knowledge and soft skills to acquire it
Since Business Analysts focus on various business functions, they would not be able to do their jobs well if they didn’t understand those functions in the first place. This experience may be acquired through on the job learning but usually requires an inherently curious mind and the ability to probe others for information in a non-intrusive way. Business Analysts that can get such insights from domain experts and use that in their own analysis will add a lot of value to their analysis and be rewarded accordingly.
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