How To Become a Business Analyst with No Experience: 5 Tips
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While the job title “business analyst” and its associated responsibilities—to help organizations identify and implement improvements—might seem vague, the work of BAs in practice can be immensely valuable and give businesses a competitive edge. Whether it’s overhauling existing workflows, introducing new technologies, or performing statistical analyses on big data, business analysts are agile problem-solvers who can be deployed to any part of an organization to optimize the way people and systems work.
The profession has such a strong track record of helping organizations improve efficiencies that there continues to be strong demand for BAs across all industries, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting 14% in job growth over the next ten years for BAs who specialize in management analysis, and an enormous 25% job growth for operations research analysts. The strong job outcomes for BAs coupled with competitive salaries and a diverse range of employment opportunities means it is both a promising and exciting field for anyone considering a career change.
Can You Become a Business Analyst With No Experience?
In short, yes. While many organizations seek candidates who have at least some experience in a business analyst role, there are ways to work around this requirement by developing and demonstrating the skills needed to do the job of BA.
Understanding the Role of an Entry-Level Business Analyst
The roles and responsibilities of business analysts can vary greatly from company to company, and, to add to the confusion, BAs sometimes go by alternate titles such as business process analyst, functional analyst, systems analyst, process analyst, and even product manager. But even with differences in titles and duties, most BAs are expected to have a baseline of skills and qualifications that enable them to help solve business problems.
What Does a Business Analyst Do?
At their core, business analysts are analytical problem-solvers who work within a business or organization to identify areas that can be improved; offer data-backed recommendations; work with stakeholders such as managers, technical teams, vendors, on-the-ground staff, and executives to implement improvements; and ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.
Depending on the organization, some BAs might be more focused on workflows and tools used (E.g. Review data on work habits, identify technological challenges that professionals within the organization face, work closely with IT teams to acquire more efficient and effective software), while others might be focused on improving customer satisfaction (E.g. Analyzing complaint logs, user surveys, and satisfaction reports; developing employee training programs; implementing client services best practices within an organization, etc.). BAs can also be brought on as consultants to work on specific projects such as a product or service launch, consult within a division such as HR or IT support, or target an area of the business that is lagging.
What Qualifications Are Needed To Be a Business Analyst?
Most business analysts hold at least a bachelor’s degree in information systems, informational technology, business administration, finance, economics, computer science, data science, or a related field. Some BAs also holds a master’s degree such as an MBA or equivalent.
Additional qualifications that can give BAs a competitive edge include a business analysis certification from a recognized industry organization such as the International Institute of Business Analysis, completing a bootcamp or online course in business analysis or data analytics, or prior experience in a related profession such as data analysis, financial analysis, project management, business management, or enterprise architecture.
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What Skills Are Needed To Become a Business Analyst?
Business analysts need to have strong critical thinking, analytical skills, and problem-solving skills. Specifically, they need to have the patience and attention to detail that will allow them to break down a process into its components, assess what’s working and what isn’t, understand how various parts work together, and offer data-backed recommendations for improvements.
Although not all BAs focus on business systems, it is expected that they have the technical skills to understand the tools, software, and services an organization uses, are familiar with programming languages and platforms such as SQL, BPMN, and Microsoft Visio, and can perform tasks such as data mining, business analytics, and working with wireframes and mockups.
What Are the Best Ways To Prepare To Become a Business Analyst?
A bachelor’s degree in a related field is a good starting point for those looking to break into business analytics, but that alone might not be enough in today’s competitive workforce. Below are some proven tips to improve your chances of getting your foot in the door as a BA.
1. Take a course
Continuing education, whether through a business analyst certification workshop, ECBA certification, or an online bootcamp, are valuable on multiple fronts: 1) They show hiring managers that you’re proactive and serious about keeping up with the latest trends and skills in the business analysis field, and 2) They ensure that your skill set remains relevant to today’s business problems.
If you’re up against candidates who all have a bachelor’s degree, then an additional course that offers you a specialized skill or gives you hands-on experience with capstone projects can give you a leg up on the competition.
2. Build a portfolio
A portfolio can prove invaluable when attempting to get a foot in the door as a business analyst because it offers proof of your capabilities. In the same way, a UX or data science portfolio showcases the projects a person has worked on, a BA portfolio demonstrates your end-to-end project management skills, from problem identification to data and business analysis, budget planning, solution development, and implementation.
The best thing about a portfolio is that you can build one even if you do not currently hold a BA job title. If you’ve taken on the responsibilities of a BA in your current or previous role and have put your project management skills to use in a different capacity, you can document your work in a portfolio to show future employers that you have what it takes to perform the job of a BA.
3. Consider a lateral move from another position
Many business analysts get their start as data scientists, data analysts, financial analysts, IT support staff, quality assurance engineers, and business administrators. What’s useful about these backgrounds is that they provide ample work experience in dealing with business data and understanding a company’s needs, offer exposure to a company’s processes and workflows, and create opportunities to develop domain knowledge. There’s also an overlap in skills across these professions, such as analytical problem-solving, data mining and analysis, and strong communication. It’s not unusual for professionals from other divisions to step into a BA role, and many business analysts get their foot in the door by performing the work of a BA within their respective teams while holding a different job title.
4. Work on projects that support your career goals
Whether you’re midway through a business analytics bootcamp, a new graduate doing an internship, or work on a team unrelated to the business analytics division, look for opportunities to work on projects that will bring you closer to a BA career. This could mean volunteering for projects that help you build your BA skills, working on a capstone or group project that will allow you to demonstrate your project management and business analysis capabilities, or finding ways to incorporate BA best practices into your daily work. Be intentional about what you decide to work on and how you work so that you’re building the relevant skills, knowledge, and experience for your move into business analytics.
5. Grow your network
Business analyst job opportunities often come via word-of-mouth, and many BAs have made lateral career moves thanks to the relationship-building they’ve done within their organizations, their good communication skills, and the curiosity they’ve shown in the business side of their company. Developing strong relationships with industry mentors and peers can also help you navigate the workforce, facilitate introductions to people who might be hiring, and clue you into BA opportunities that are usually not advertised.
When building out your BA skills, be sure to also build a wide network that can support you on your journey to a BA career.
Where To Find Entry Level Business Analyst Jobs
- Look for junior roles. When entry-level business analyst positions are advertised, they can typically be found under the search term “junior business analyst” on job search websites such as Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, CareerBuilder, and Job.com. It is also worth performing a broader search for “business analyst” roles and taking note of the experience requirements—anything requiring three or fewer years of experience is usually considered a junior role.
- Start in a lateral position. If you have trouble finding listings for junior business analyst roles, internships and entry-level positions in accounting, finance, quality assurance, or business settings can also offer an opportunity to build your experience before you advance into a business analyst role. One of the benefits of starting in a lateral entry position is that it gives you exposure to different parts of an organization, allows you to build your network, helps develop domain knowledge, and can pave the way for a transition into a BA career.
- Make the most of your current network. Many people think of a professional network as consisting of managers and people who already work in the industry. But if you’re in school or enrolled in a bootcamp, don’t overlook the support network around you—careers counselors, mentors, and instructors are a valuable resource who can offer career guidance and connect you with job opportunities.
FAQs About Starting a Career as a Business Analyst
Can You Become a Business Analyst Without an IT Background?
Absolutely. While some business analysts might choose to specialize in information technology and become business systems analysts, most are generalists who are more likely to have backgrounds in business administration, finance, data analytics, marketing, or project management. That said, business analysts are expected to have some knowledge about IT and key business software so that they can help organizations optimize both their technological and workflow processes.
What Should You Study To Become a Business Analyst?
While there isn’t one set path to becoming a business analyst, and professionals of all backgrounds have been able to develop the skills and experiences needed to perform the role of a BA, certain courses can help build the foundational skills needed for the job. Many BAs have educational backgrounds in business, finance, IT, marketing, psychology, and computer science, which can help develop BA skills such as critical problem-solving, data analysis, and project management. More targeted courses in data analytics, data science, and product management go the extra step of equipping students with the relevant industry skills and knowledge needed to get hired as BAs.
What Is the Career Path for a Business Analyst?
Business analysts can work in almost any industry, so it is not unusual for some to come from traditional backgrounds in business while others come from industries that offer them domain expertise.
An entry-level business analyst will typically hold at least a bachelor’s degree and start as an intern or in an entry-level position such as quality assurance engineer, project coordinator, customer or technical support, domain expert, administrative assistant to a tech executive, software developer, or sales/marketing/reporting analyst.
After gaining some experience, many move into junior BA positions and, depending on their ambition and work ethic, can rapidly rise to senior BA roles that allow them to begin managing other analysts within an organization. After eight to ten years, business analysts can qualify for executive management roles such as chief information officer or chief operating officer. By this stage, many BAs have also built up the experience and a broad enough network to become free-roaming consultants who work for themselves.
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