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Career Path: How to Become a Data Analyst

If you enjoy working with raw data, have a natural flair for mathematics and possess good communication skills, then you may want to consider becoming a data analyst. A career in data analysis provides the opportunity to work in different industries. It also offers a lot of growth opportunity. With the world expected to generate almost 50 times more data over the next decade, the demand for data analysts is on the rise

Getting Through the Door

To get an entry-level position as a data analyst, you’ll need demonstrable technical skill in data analysis. This includ...more

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Career-building content for Data Analysts

We've collected tons of information on salaries, compensation, negotiation and more. See even more on our blog.

Why Your Career Narrative Is Just as Important as Your Work History

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Career Path: How to Become a Data Analyst

If you enjoy working with raw data, have a natural flair for mathematics and possess good communication skills, then you may want to consider becoming a data analyst. A career in data analysis provides the opportunity to work in different industries. It also offers a lot of growth opportunity. With the world expected to generate almost 50 times more data over the next decade, the demand for data analysts is on the rise

Getting Through the Door

To get an entry-level position as a data analyst, you’ll need demonstrable technical skill in data analysis. This includes knowledge of statistical concepts as well as key areas like data warehousing, data mining, data cleaning and data visualization. You’ll also need to be familiar with statistical methods and software packages like SPSS Statistics

Education and Experience

While most recruiters prefer candidates with a Bachelor’s degree, strong technical skills and several years of experience is sometimes enough to get an entry-level job. That said—having a bachelor’s degree is likely to help you in the long-term when you’re negotiating for a better pay or applying for a senior-level position.

Boost your qualification by pursuing a college degree in fields like mathematics, economics, statistics, computer science and business information systems. A graduate degree in fields like Business Analytics or Data science will score you even more points. If you’re currently not ready for college, you can learn more about data analysis by reading books and signing up for courses on online platforms like Udacity and Coursera.

Working as a Junior Level Data Analyst

Working as an entry-level analyst, your duties will likely include offering support to senior level professionals. At its core, data analysis involves analyzing massive amounts of raw data while organizing data sets and performing statistical analysis. You’ll be tasked with navigating databases and interpreting numbers. Good communication skills and an attention to detail will help you rise up the ranks. Depending on the size of the company, you may be expected to collaborate with other professionals as well as present your finding to team members.

As your skill improves, your day-to-day responsibilities will likely expand to include making data predictions, presenting technical reports and creating research questions that can help contribute to important exec decisions. Being able to understand the needs of your organization will help you deliver better results.

Advance Your Career: How to Become a Senior Data Analyst

Senior Data analysts work with complex systems while analyzing, manipulating and interpreting data sets. They may liaise with external clients, track performance indicators and prepare reports using analytic tools. They may also provide competitor benchmarking and lead surveys. Most employers prefer candidates with more than five years for the position, but you can improve the speed at which you rise to become a mid-level data analyst by being proactive.

Decide on your Preferred Area of Specialization

A good tip to improving your career path is deciding early in what direction you want to go. For instance, if you want to work as a statistician, you’ll require a strong statistical base. On the other hand, working as a mathematician will require a stronger grasp of areas like pricing algorithms, forecasting and inventory management. Working as a digital-analytic consultant will require the frequent use of tools like Google Analytics, while data engineering will require a heavier focus on programming to design data architecture.

Consider Certifications

Offered by major vendors and international organizations, certificates are a good way of staying updated on industry trends. They cover a wide range of areas ranging from data management to data engineering. They also help your resume stand out and give you an important edge when negotiating for a promotion or pay increase. Some of the certificates that you can consider include the:

  • Certified Analytics Professional
  • MongoDB Certified DBA
  • MCSE: Data Management and Analytics
  • SAS Certified Data Scientist
  • Cloudera Certified Professional Data Engineer (CCP Data Engineer)
  • Oracle Business Intelligence Certification

Fine Tune Your Technical Skills

Becoming a senior data analyst requires expertise in several different areas—a process that often takes many years. Experts recommend that young analysts cement their knowledge of the basics in core areas like statistics, data manipulation and machine learning. It’s also important that you improve your programming skills in multiple languages, such as SAS, R and Python. Some of the areas that you’ll need to be familiar with to become a senior data analyst include:

  • MapReduce and Hadoop
  • Database design
  • SQL databases and querying languages (SQL)
  • Business Intelligence platforms
  • Data mining

In addition to your technical skills, you ‘ll need good problem-solving skills because a large part of data analysis involves figuring how to deal with missing data elements or reformatting data sets. You’ll also need to be highly organized and be extremely detail oriented.

Data Analyst Job Description

We’ve done the research for you. After evaluating numerous job descriptions, we’ve written our own representative job description for a mid-level data analyst with between 2 and 5 years of relevant experience.

As a data analyst, you’ll be responsible for collecting and interpreting raw, structured and unstructured data as well as analyzing results. You’ll identify patterns and trends in data sets while working closely with the rest of the team. You’ll develop forecast models, compile reports and provide guidance on business decisions. If you are results-oriented and have good analytical skills, this position will be a good fit for you.

What We Need Your Help With

  • Developing and implementing data collection systems and databases
  • Confirming project requirements while conferring with the team
  • Interpreting data and analyzing results using statistical techniques
  • Developing strategies to optimize statistical efficiency
  • Identifying and defining new opportunities for improvement
  • Compiling, cleaning and filtering data from different sources
  • Determining changes in the database and identifying database characteristics (access method, space, location etc.)
  • Maintaining user reference by rewriting or writing descriptions
  • Interpreting patterns or trends in complex data sets

We Look For

  • 3+ years of experience working as a business data analyst or analyst
  • 3+ experience with database management and database performance tuning
  • Strong knowledge of software development fundamentals
  • Expertise in reporting tools, database systems and SQL
  • Experience with database security and maintenance
  • Good knowledge of filtering techniques and data modeling
  • An interest in staying updated with the latest advancements in technology
  • Effective communication, good time management and mathematical, analytical and problem-solving skills
  • B.S. degree in computer science, mathematics, finance, statistics, economics or equivalent experience

These Would Also Be Nice

  • Experience working with business intelligence platforms
  • SAS Certified Data Scientist, Cloudera Certified Professional Data Engineer (CCP Data Engineer), Oracle Business Intelligence Certification

Senior Data Analyst Career Paths: Where to Go from Here

With more than ten years of experience, you’ll have enough technical skill and experience to work in different industries, including marketing, sales, data quality, finance, data assurance and business intelligence. Data analysts may work for small and medium businesses like marketing agencies or larger companies, including consultancy firms, IT companies, retail companies and insurance companies.

You career as a data analysts could lead to you working for the government, where you’ll help develop, conduct and analyze surveys on different types of data—everything from wages to accommodation rates. You could also work for colleges or make a career employed in research and development companies, where you assist in developing marketing strategies.

If you’re interested in business operations, you could work as an operational research analyst where your duties will include advising organizations and solving problems in a range of areas including logistics, healthcare and business. Working as an Operational Research Analyst may require additional coursework in areas like economics, political science or engineering.

On the other hand, if you enjoy working with data and numbers, you could become grow to become an Economist, tasked with studying the distribution of goods and resources by analyzing data and researching trends. Most economists have a degree in mathematics or economics, but recruiters may be willing to consider candidates who have a strong background working with statistical analysis software. You could also work as a Financial Analyst for insurance companies, banks and funds where you’ll be tasked with assessing stocks, evaluating investment opportunities and analyzing business trends.

Alternatively, you could pair your experience with an MBA or management consulting courses to meet the entry-level requirement for a Management Analyst position. Management Analysts specialize in different areas such as corporate structure or inventory management. Experienced management analysts may supervise or go on to become auditors or market research analysts.

Another option is parlaying your skills, education and experience for a career as a Computer System Analyst. These analysts combine business skills with technology to improve productivity. Choosing this route may require additional courses in computer science, but a Master’s degree in business administration will give you a stronger edge, especially if you’re looking to rise to become Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Not all positions lead to permanent roles. While most data analysts work in full-time positions, you could also work as a consultant or even make the leap towards complete independence by launching your own consultancy company.


Structured Query Language (SQL) is a highly popular domain specific language (DSL) used to communicate with relational database management systems (RDBMS). SQL is a standard that is based on the "relational model", defined by professor E.F. Codd,...

R is a language designed for data manipulation and visualization. It is capable of doing various statistical computing and graphic generation (including linear and nonlinear modelling, classical statistical tests, time-series analysis, classificat...

Python is an object-oriented programming language notable for its clarity, power and flexibility. Python is an interpreted language, meaning that an interpreter reads and runs the code directly, rather than compiling down into static lower level c...

Java is a statically-typed, cross-platform language. It is concurrent, class-based, and object-oriented. It has minimal implementation dependencies and compiled Java code can run on all platforms that support Java without the need for recompilat...


C++ is an object-oriented language derived from C, and invented by Bjarne Stroustrup, while working at AT&T's Bell Labs. It is widely used for systems-level programming, and building applications on Windows and various Unix operating systems (Lin...


C is a widely used low-level, static-typed, compiled computer language known for its efficiency. Developed in the late sixties, C has become one of the most widely used languages of all time. It provides direct access to memory and due to its de...

Scala is a strongly, statically typed functional/object-oriented language primarily targeted to the JVM. It brings a lot of powerful programming language concepts out of academia, placing them into the hands of practitioners. A key design emphas...

JavaScript is a scripting language, originally implemented in web browsers, but now widely used server-side via the Node.js platform. It supports a runtime system based on numerical, Boolean and string values, with built-in, first-class support f...

"Agile Methodologies" or "Agile" are ways of describing an iterative approach to software development. Often adopted as an alternative to waterfall and other traditional sequential development practices. It is meant to help teams work quickly to i...

Top industries hiring Data Analysts


The retail landscape has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Retail was once a brick-and-mortar industry, comprised of small, independently owned-and-operated businesses and large chain stores with multiple outposts throughout the c...


Analytics and Business Intelligence roles are often confused but are also directly linked. Data that is collected when a user interacts with a system is then cleaned and stored. That data is then accessed using reports and graphical dashboards. Th...


Consultants offer advice, as well as support, to help resolve various issues within an organization. They communicate well with clients and employees in order to complete the tasks at hand to get it done on time. Consultants are professionals in a...

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