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How to become a data analyst

How to become a data analyst

Posted: 1 Jun 2018

An overview of the role

The role of data analyst involves gathering and interpreting data, ranging from audience demographics and search engine optimisation to market research and sales figures.

The data analyst then presents the trends they discover to the management of their company – and in some companies, to clients – with the aim of improving business strategy going forwards.

Data of various kinds is now essential to every business and for this reason those with data analysis skills can choose the industry that best suits them, their skill set and their experience.

Data analyst jobs are available in sectors as diverse as:

  1. Media
  2. Retail
  3. Professional services
  4. Insurance
  5. Marketing
  6. Pharmaceuticals
  7. Information technology
  8. Higher education
  9. Consultancy
  10. Telecommunications
  11. Government

What are the responsibilities of a data analyst?

While the specifics of the role will depend on the company, typical responsibilities of a data analyst include:

  1. Mining, manipulation, analysis and interpretation of data
  2. Presentation of trends and patterns observed in data analysis to internal and external audiences
  3. Creation of visual interpretations of data for use in presentations
  4. Record management
  5. Designing and implementing strategies for greater efficiency
  6. Establishing and maintaining automated data processes
  7. Monitoring key performance indicators
  8. Monitoring data quality
  9. Identifying, evaluating and implementing data validation and cleansing tools
  10. Meeting with clients in order to understand their data content requirements

What are the key skills required by a data analyst?

Key skills for a data analyst include:

  1. Excellent analytical and interpretive skills, especially when it comes to pattern recognition
  2. Highly organised and methodical personality with excellent attention to detail
  3. Strong mathematical ability
  4. Detailed knowledge of data analysis and relational database software such as Excel and MS Access
  5. Excellent communication skills
  6. A thorough and up-to-date knowledge of all the legal ramifications of data collection and analysis, such as data protection

If you are working as a data analyst in marketing, you will need to be skilled in the use of:

  1. Analytics software such as Google Analytics
  2. Keyword analysis tools such as Ahrefs and Ryte
  3. Web analytics programmes such as Omniture and IBM Digital Analytics

What qualifications does a data analyst require?

Employers will almost certainly require a bachelor’s degree for a data analyst role, but this does not have to be in data analysis specifically.

Companies also welcome graduates of related degrees such as:

  1. Business information systems
  2. Computer science
  3. Finance
  4. Information management
  5. Mathematics
  6. Statistics
  7. Economics

If your degree is not in data analysis itself, you can demonstrate your aptitude to prospective employers by supplementing your degree with a course in data skills. These can be found online at sites such as:

  1. Coursera
  2. FutureLearn

Progression to high level data analyst jobs require a masters degree in a subject such as:

  1. Data science
  2. Computing (data analytics)
  3. Data analytics and marketing
  4. Business analytics
  5. Data science and analytics
  6. Big data
  7. Web science and big data analytics

If you wish to progress to a senior or managerial position, you may be able to undertake postgraduate study as part of your role, perhaps supported by your employer.

Do I need relevant work experience to become a data analyst?

Applicants to entry level data analyst roles will be at a considerable advantage if they have relevant industry experience. Employers value proactivity, initiative and a willingness to learn – these traits will be required throughout a data analyst’s career so demonstrating them upfront is vital.

Many data science or business analytics degrees are sandwich courses and offer a year’s placement in the industry. If not, prospective data analysts should seek out internships or placements during their holidays.

Stats Jobs is an ideal resource to search for work experience relevant to the role of a data analyst.

What are the prospects and salary for a data analyst?

The role of data analyst is one in which entry level salaries are variable depending on whether the analyst has taken part in a graduate scheme.

Graduate schemes tend to secure their candidates positions in larger companies, meaning higher starting salaries.

On average, a data analyst can expect to earn:

  1. Entry level data analyst (graduate scheme) – €33,200
  2. Data analyst – €45,000
  3. Senior/consulting data analyst – €68,500 or more

Is the role of a data analyst right for me?

As with any role, there are both pros and cons to working as a data analyst.

Pros of working as a data analyst include:

  1. Data analysts are in high demand and the field is continuing to expand
  2. An attractive salary, even in entry level roles
  3. Excellent opportunities for professional development – if you want to learn skills such as project management, your employer will usually facilitate this
  4. Your work directly shapes your company’s business strategy, giving you an increasingly large degree of influence the more experienced you become
  5. Travel for business is usually part of the role
  6. You can work for a wide range of companies in different sectors, offering career flexibility
  7. Once you have some experience, the role of data analyst is a flexible one – employers often offer flexible hours or even remote working, allowing you to have a lot of control over your working life and location

Cons of being a data analyst include:

  1. A bachelor’s degree is necessary for entry-level data analyst roles and progression to the most senior positions is difficult without a postgraduate qualification
  2. Overtime is usually expected when deadlines are approaching, but as data analysts have set salaries it is very rarely paid
  3. In addition to your numerical skills, you will need to learn programming languages like SQL in order to keep up with the volume of analysis – if you’re not naturally gifted at programming it could take a considerable amount of time to acquire the necessary skills
  4. Continuing your education is a mandatory part of the role given how quickly new data analysis tools are being created – you will need to stay on top of new technological and systems-based developments
  5. You will need to work to strict deadlines, so the role can be stressful
  6. You will be spending large amounts of time studying complicated numerical information in minute detail

Related occupations

Occupations related to the role of data analyst include:

  1. Information security specialist
  2. Database engineer
  3. SEO specialist
  4. Cyber intelligence analyst
  5. Database administrator
  6. Network engineer
  7. Data architect
  8. Multimedia programmer
  9. Technical author
  10. Operations analyst
  11. Games developer

If you’re already established in your career as a data analyst and you’re looking for a new role, or alternatively you’re looking for your first role as a data analyst, get in touch with our expert team who will be happy to help you.

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