Business analysis is a growing profession. As businesses face increasing challenges to improve, business analysts play an important role in helping to shape how those businesses move forward.
Sometimes, entering a new profession can be daunting, and almost impossible, but the good news is that you can enter the business analyst profession with little prior experience. Appropriate business analyst qualifications are important and the different business analyst courses which are available are covered later in the article.
Before we move on to potential career paths, it’s important to have a good understanding of what business analysts (BAs) are and what they do.
Business analyst role
Let's find out what a business analyst role does.
What is a business analyst?
In a nutshell, business analysts use data to improve the productivity of a business. Through the use of business analysis techniques and tools they look at business needs and current operations, then figure out how to improve the business so that it can achieve its goals.
What do business analysts do?
Business analysts work as the middle-man between the ‘techy’ side of business and management. Modern enterprises rely heavily on software and information to do business. Those in leadership positions may lack the time or technical skills required to collect and understand all the information floating around.
Business analysts work to capture this information and present it to managers in a way that is easy to understand. One day you might choose to interview customers for feedback, another day you might look at finances and expenditures to ensure money is being invested wisely.
Business analysts are also tasked with distilling this information into easily understood reports. You might choose to use pie-charts, flow-graphs or other visual tools. Doing so in a way that is simple, while not accidentally excluding an important facet of information, is another important skill of the business analyst.
Business analyst responsibilities
- Requirements Gathering.
- Requirements modelling.
- Requirements documentation.
- Requesting functional changes.
- Testing functional changes.
- User Acceptance Test (UAT) co-ordination.
- Liaising with technical teams.
While business analysts generally focus on gathering information through communicating with clients, stakeholders and customers, data analysts generally acquire information through, you guessed it – data.
Business analysts don’t require programming skills (although they definitely look good on a CV if you do). Data analysts however, operate within highly technical departments and are usually more skilled than the IT developers they work alongside.
Data analysts require strong technical skills whereas business analysts require strong leadership and communication skills.
Business analyst career skills
If the BA description above looks interesting (and it is, trust us) you’ll need to start with a few prerequisites before you can even consider applying for your first business analyst role:
Spruce up your resumé
If you want to work as a business analyst, there are 6 core soft skills you’ll need to have. Make sure to highlight these in your resumé, recruiters will always be looking for these to make sure an applicant ‘ticks all the boxes.’ in no particular order, these are:
1. Management skills
Business analysts usually work alongside project managers and while they’re usually held accountable by the project board, you’ll generally be free to act as your own boss and might even be given authority to make small changes without higher approval.
As such, you’ll need some basic management skills to handle all your many responsibilities effectively. Show employers that you have what it takes to gather requirements, get approvals signed, attend meetings and manage difficult stakeholders without needing constant supervision.
2. Communication skills
Arguably the most important skill of a business analyst, you need to show recruiters that you can clearly communicate requirements to customers then relay their feedback to technical teams.
Think of this part of your role as being a ‘translator’ (which isn’t far from the truth). You’ll be talking with dozens of people, each with a different role, education and specialization. What makes perfect sense to one might be an incomprehensible mess to another.
Good verbal skills are only half the puzzle, you’ll also need to be able to write clearly and concisely. Business analysts need to take a 300-page document and summarize it in a 1-page report that covers every bit of important information.
3. Negotiation skills
Negotiation and communication skills go hand-in-hand. As a business analyst, you’ll not just talk with customers, but will have to negotiate tough deals with stakeholders that leave both parties satisfied with the arrangement.
You’ll need to find compromises and talk your way out of sticky situations. Having a quick wit, good manners and knowledge of your trade are all part of what a BA needs to navigate some of the difficulties of the role.
4. Analytical skills
This goes without saying – you need to be able to analyse information from multiple sources and then decide how to take appropriate action.
More than just data, you’ll also need to look at your past performance, seeing which solutions worked as intended and which didn’t to improve your strategy in future.
5. Problem-solving skills
Business analysts are tasked with solving critical business problems and providing the best possible solution in any given context.
It’s not always possible to deliver business needs easily and, given the complexity of many modern businesses, there’s rarely just one cause to any single problem.
You’ll need to know how to address issues at all levels of business from customers all the way to upper management. You might even be called on to assume an HR role and sort out squabbles between individual team-members.
6. Technical know-how
All business analysts require some technical skills, as we’ve said, there’s a difference between data and business analysts, but you’ll still need to know how to use excel and other basic tools.
If you really want to impress recruiters, consider taking a technical course. Pair this knowledge with some visual design tools such as Microsoft Visio and perhaps a basic online management suite and you're sure to draw attention to yourself!
Business analysis qualifications
The reality of business analyst roles in that most people ‘fall into’ them. That is to say, most don’t actively seek BA roles, the position of a business analyst just happens to be the natural career progression path of many roles in the IT industry.
This makes sense when you consider the amount of industry-specific information required by BAs. Do a job long enough and you’ll have a good idea on how to help others do it just as good as you.
If you don’t want to work your way to a business analyst role from the bottom-up, you need a little something extra to show employers you have the necessary knowledge.
The good news is that you don’t need to spend years studying in tertiary education to qualify. There is no specific degree required to be a business analyst.
Having said, if you have a computer science engineering degree, an MBA or, better yet, and Engineering (CSE) + MBA, you should easily land into a BA career.
Lacking these, you can always opt for an accredited business analyst training course. These courses range from those that will teach you general information about the profession, to those that will walk you through individual practices and techniques used in business analysis.
Here at Knowledge Train, we offer a variety of business analyst courses.
BCS Business Analysis
The popular BCS Business Analysis certifications offers a structured path for career progression.
BCS Business Analysis certifications provides both entry-level courses requiring no prior experience in business analysis and a Business Analysis Diploma for those with more experience in the profession.
The BCS Business Analysis certification scheme allows candidates to choose their own path towards professional business analyst certification. Outside of mandatory core modules, you’re free to pick and choose which modules you want to study. Doing this allows you to tailor your training to focus on practices you find most interesting or beneficial.
APMG Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA)®
The Agile BA certification scheme is a recent addition to the list of business analyst certification. Agile BA is based on the AgileBA Handbook, published by the Agile Business Consortium.
Based on DSDM principles, this certification provides clarity and insight into business analysis for those working on agile projects, in agile environments. The focus on agile business analysis helps candidates align their practices with increasingly prevalent agile frameworks.
While Agile tends to focus on project management, AgileBA takes agile concepts such as workshops, prioritization, timeboxes, modelling, prototyping and business cases, and frames them in relation to the business analyst role.
PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)®
While PMI-PBA® training has no prerequisites, to be eligible for the certification exam, candidates must possess several years of relevant work experience. As such, many business analysts return to formal education later in their career to attain this qualification.
The next steps
Now that you have a rough understanding of what makes a good BA candidate, we can plan the next steps towards your first business analyst role.
1. Involve yourself in projects today!
There’s always something going on in the business world. If you’re currently employed, ask your manager if there are any projects you can join in a support role.
This will give you a good chance to learn the ropes first-hand, even if you have nothing to contribute at first, immersing yourself in a project environment will give you an understanding of roles and tasks carried out by developers in your industry.
If you’re not employed, you’ll have to take matters into your own hand. Seek out non-profit organizations and volunteer. You’ll likely not be paid, but you will have the opportunity to work alongside knowledgeable and passionate individuals who will be more than happy to have you along for the ride.
2. Improve your technical skills
As we mentioned, tools like Microsoft Visio are a BAs tools of choice. Pick out a selection of commonly used tools (a quick google search might give you a better idea, or you could possibly ask BAs in your business for advice) and get training!
You’ll find that almost every popular tool has an associate training course, most of which are free.
When you're done, make sure to update your CV, highlighting your newfound technical skills.
3. Always find better ways of working
Getting in the right mind-set is half the challenge of being a BA.
Don’t sit there repeating the same tasks day after day. At work, or at home, always look for more efficient ways of going about your day.
The faster you get your tasks done, the more time you’ll have to involve yourself in projects at work.
The faster you gain project experience, the sooner you’ll land your first BA role!
4. Apply for BA roles
If you’ve followed the above steps and acquired your professional certifications, it’s time to start applying for roles.
Consider having your CV designed by a professional. It’s the first contact you'll have with an employer, make sure you make a good first impression!
If you make it past this first hurdle, you’ll need to prepare yourself to ace the interview. Read below for our guide to BA interviews.
Here are just a few questions you might be asked when being interviewed for a BA role. Understand these and you’ll not only get a good understanding of what knowledge is typically required by a BA, but if you’re stumped, that’s a good sign there are some areas of your own understanding that need improvement!
These questions may seem a little intimidating, but if you successfully acquire a BA qualification by attending a business analyst course, you'll be more than ready!
Q1. What tools would you use a business analyst to do your job well?
This is a common question designed to test your basic technical skills and familiarity with standard BA software tools. Tailor your answer to highlight your own unique experience and skills.
Sample answer: "I use tools like the Microsoft Publishing suite Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Visio. I also understand SQL which is helpful when I need to analyse data that would overwhelm Excel."
Q2. How would you handle a difficult stakeholder?
Another common question to test your ability to communicate and negotiate compromise. Contextual questions like this also measure your problem-solving skills.
When answering, always include an example you’ve faced at work. You can also use frameworks such as STAR interview responses to structure your answers:
- Situation: Briefly explain the problem you were dealing with.
- Task: Explain your role.
- Action: Explain what you did to resolve the problem.
- Result: Explain how your actions resulted in a positive result.
Sample answer: "I once had a client that felt they had received the incorrect data. My role was to collect said data. I decided to bring the problem to the attention of my superiors. After further discussion, we established a weekly workshop with our business consultants to help our client interpret said data over the remainder of the project.”
Q3. Explain your understanding of SQL queries
SQL is the standard language of relational databases. Though a BA doesn’t need to have advanced technical skills, some skills are seen as mandatory (depending on the business or industry).
You may be asked to explain the elements of SQL statements during an interview. Use the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and providing an example of how you have used SQL to aid you in previous tasks.
Sample answer: “SQL statements include the DDL (Data Definition Language), the DML (Data Manipulation Language), the DCL (Data Control Language), and the TCL (Transactional Control Language) used to control access to, insert, delete and modify data. I have used SQL to track client purchases, helping my business make important decisions about future products.”
Q4. What are the pros and cons of analytical reporting?
As a BA, you need to understand the benefits and limitations of analytical reporting.
Use this question to demonstrate your critical thinking and analytical skills, showing how you use data to create recommendations.
Sample answer: "The most important aspect of analytical reporting is the ability to solve problems and make decisions based on empirical information. Data itself cannot solve problems, but it can equip you to make the right business decisions when analysed. Even if certain decisions do not produce the desired results, data allows you to learn from mistakes and continue improving. Analytical reporting provides tangible information with which to create a strategy."
Q5. Name two useful diagrams you might use as a BA and how they affect your work.
This is a fairly basic question asked to ensure you are familiar with standard BA documentation. Again, use the STAR response framework to structure your answer for bonus points!
Sample answer:"I prefer to use Activity Diagrams and Use Case Diagrams. Activity Diagrams help visualize the activities that take place across different departments. I use these to show who interacts with any given system and what they achieve through this. Use Case Diagrams are useful when I need to display the functional requirements of a given system, this allows me to make informed decisions when designing development priorities."