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How To Become a Data Analyst: Career Path and Necessary Steps

Newsroom | Articles April 29, 2020
Analyst looking at data on her computer

Data is pivotal to the future of every business and organization. In large corporations and small startups alike, professionals are creating and using data and insights to help achieve their goals.

While data and analytics can be immensely helpful, many businesses and organizations may not be aware of the best way to collect it, nor of what types of analytics should be used to review it. This is why data analysts are so important. Often holding an advanced degree in a business or data-related field, these professionals are experts in the most modern and advanced data and analytics tools. They also possess excellent interpersonal and presentation skills, which allow them to effectively convey meaning and illustrate the best courses of action to other leaders within their organization.

The career path of a data analyst can be challenging but also immensely rewarding. Louisiana State University’s Online Focused Master of Business Administration program provides aspiring data analysts with the professional competencies needed to become influential professionals in the field. Before embarking on the path of a data analyst, it’s important to understand the necessary steps required for success.

What Does a Data Analyst Do?

Data analysts collect, interpret, and find insights in large amounts of data, using those insights to help an organization reach its goals. They can use a variety of data tools, including descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive analytics; advanced algorithms; and machine learning.

“Data analysts take mountains of data and probe it to spot trends, make forecasts, and extract information to help their employers make better-informed business decisions,” writes Greg DePersio of Investopedia. “Data analysts usually have a dynamic skill set. They are good at working with numbers and details. They are also confident and organized in managing multiple tasks, data programs, and data flows.”

For example, a data analyst’s career path may include working for a news or media outlet, where they may be tasked with analyzing how many viewers or readers consumed text and video content from that organization. A data analyst who works for a large consulting firm may work with different clients across the country and interpret their financial and marketing data to find trends and patterns. Data analysts can even work for healthcare organizations and focus on navigating complex health and financial data to find ways that a hospital or clinic can reduce inefficiencies. Wherever a company or organization produces a large amount of data, a data analyst can help staff use that data to make better decisions.

Careers and Salary Expectations for Data Analysts

A professional dedicated to analyzing and interpreting data may not always have the title “data analyst.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists several data analyst career paths where a professional’s main responsibilities include collecting and interpreting data, such as:

  • Market Research Analysts: Analytics professionals serving in this role are usually concerned with analyzing data related to a certain industry. They may work in-house for a specific retailer or brand or for a firm or organization that provides market research services to other businesses.
  • Operations Research Analysts: Focused on improving efficiency, these professionals can dive deeply into a company’s data and processes to help determine pain points and develop solutions. They can work within large organizations, act as consultants, or potentially start their own operations.
  • Information Security Analysts: An analyst working in this role often interprets personal and government data to determine threats to cybersecurity. They often work within corporations that hold a large amount of sensitive data and information, government agencies working to protect citizens from cybersecurity threats, or consulting firms that work with other organizations.
  • Financial Analysts: These professionals analyze complex data regarding spending, costs, and investments to find ways to increase profitability and maximize returns. They can work for large banks, hedge and investment funds, or businesses that provide financial consulting services.
  • Computer and Information Research Scientists: Possessing an advanced background in computer science and analytics, these analytics professionals use data to help develop new technologies and digital programs.
  • Mathematicians and Statisticians: This type of analytics professional uses numbers and data to help illustrate trends, solve problems, and predict future outcomes in a variety of fields. A mathematician or statistician could potentially work for sports media outlets, government agencies, colleges and universities, or marketing firms.

Regardless of their specific role or industry, data analyst jobs are frequently associated with strong opportunities and high salaries. PayScale lists the 2018 average data analyst salary at $59,422, with professionals further along in their careers possessing advanced skills in SQL, data modeling, and Tableau. Additionally, as more organizations continue to produce and consume more data, data analyst positions look to be in high demand over the coming years, with an increase of 364,000 data job openings by 2020, according to a 2017 report from IBM.

Steps to Becoming a Data Analyst

While the responsibilities for different roles may vary, many data and analytics career paths follow similar steps.

Earn an Advanced Education

Data analysis professionals can have a variety of educational backgrounds, but they often start by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a business or technical field; including finance, accounting, marketing, or mathematics and statistics. As the demand for data analysis grows, more organizations are requiring professionals to earn a graduate degree, such as the Focused Master of Business Administration degree from Louisiana State University. Senior or competitive data careers may also require an advanced graduate education.

Develop Necessary Skills

The specific responsibilities and skills of a data analyst can vary by organization and position. For example, a financial analyst likely has a better understanding of financial data and analysis concepts than a market research analyst. Alternatively, a market research analyst likely knows how to predict and interpret future shopping or retail trends better than someone with a financial analysis background.

Still, there are common skills and competencies that can help data analysts succeed and advance. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Knowledge of specific programming languages, including SQL and Oracle
  • Understanding of the importance of and how to apply descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive analytics
  • The ability to collect and organize large amounts of data
  • The ability to apply AI or machine-learning procedures to discover insights in data
  • The ability to develop visual presentations that effectively convey insights to other team members

Gain Professional Experience

Individuals may be able to enter data analyst jobs immediately after earning an advanced degree, but it can be beneficial to gain other data-related job experience prior to a data analyst role. This can include experience in positions such as database administrator or entry-level accounting and finance roles, as well as internships completed during or after college.

More competitive and higher-paying data analyst roles are available to professionals with extensive experience in the field and a record of success in using data to find insights that helped their organizations.

Start Your Data Analyst Career Path

More and more organizations are turning to analytics professionals to help uncover data insights that can provide a competitive edge and help them succeed. As the demand for data professionals grows, so will the complexity of their roles, requiring data analysts to hold the most advanced knowledge and technical skills.

For current and aspiring analytics professionals who want to excel as data and business leaders, Louisiana State University’s Graduate Certificate in Analytics can provide the advanced technical and leadership training needed to succeed. Discover more today.

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