Until recently, most business analysts (BAs) had to develop their skills after college through a combination of continuing education, work experience and certifications. This process was vital to a “standard” business analyst career; of the approximately quarter-million business analysts employed in the U.S. only 29 percent actually possess business degrees.
Over the past few years, however, more colleges and online degree programs have started offering nearly unlimited combinations of majors, minors and concentrations in business analytics (or business education with a significant analytics element). This is helping to formalize the educational path for business analysts, potentially leading to better career outcomes.
But with so many options out there, how do you know which curriculums and courses will prepare you for a career as a business analyst? Your best bet is to learn which major competencies need to come from your college experience, and look for instruction tied to those requirements before you invest in a degree.
Clarify What You Need to Know
First of all, unless you are absolutely clear about what a business analyst does, you may inadvertently pick the wrong major or college courses.
The challenge is that “business analyst” is an umbrella term that is used to describe any number of roles. Laura Brandenburg, founder and CEO of Bridging the Gap and author of “How to Start A Business Analyst Career,” has identified over 36 alternative job titles for business analysts.
Simply put, the main difference between a business analyst and a business analytics professional or a data analyst is their focus and approach when it comes to problem solving. Business analysts are responsible for solving business problems and identifying ways to optimize business processes and functions by analyzing the current state and suggesting improvements, Brandenburg explained.
Since business analysts usually work in teams alongside data analysts and other professionals, they don’t have to know how to code or run database queries, noted Tendai Mutsai, certified business analyst, coach and mentor.
Jobs in analytical fields are best for left-brained thinkers and require a high degree of logic, intellectual curiosity and problem-solving. The best college programs develop competency in these areas along with other soft skills through internships, case study exercises and field projects. The main thing to keep in mind is that a hybrid job (like business analyst) requires hybrid learning experiences.
It certainly helps to understand the role that data plays in developing a solution, what data is available to analyze, and how information flows within the organization, Mutsai added. Another good thing to know is how various software tools and platforms support the business workflows.
To gain a conceptual technical understanding and communicate with technical stakeholders, consider an information systems major or a curriculum that combines aspects of information technology, business management and social sciences.
Basic Business Knowledge
Obviously if you’re going to organize and execute business projects, you have to understand how business works. You also need to comprehend the various business models or frameworks companies use to create value and generate ROI to propose effective solutions, Brandenburg noted.
Aspiring business analysts likewise need to become process-aware and develop the ability to understand, analyze and improve the processes that exist in organizations—and how the relationships between people, process and technology must be considered when dissecting problems and proposing solutions.
To address this need, many colleges offer courses in business model innovation and design as well the art and science of business process design, analysis and improvement. Another great option is a business analytics concentration, which provides students with the analytical tools and conceptual framework to understand and apply data to make business decisions in real-life settings.
Strategic Thinking and Strategy Analysis
Look for a course that introduces the fundamental building blocks of business analysis, including underlying key knowledge areas such as analytical thinking and problem solving (including the ability to dissect business problems into small pieces). Pair that with a course in strategy analysis that will teach you how to analyze a current state, as well as how to develop a range of solutions.
The good news is that many colleges offer undergraduate concentrations or business management and consulting courses that focus on a holistic approach and effective ways of solving business problems through real hands-on projects and skill application. Alternatively, consider a general education course in logic or critical thinking, such as introduction to logic.
One of the most valuable competencies for business analysts is communication. In fact, effective written and oral communication will determine the success of every project you undertake as a business analyst. It’s no wonder that most job postings for business analysts list communication skills as the top requirement.
From eliciting and documenting the requirements, to facilitating meetings and conference calls, to mediating disagreements and negotiating consensus, to conveying progress and next steps via email, to analyzing findings and presenting options and solutions that meet the needs of stakeholders, BAs need to be able to communicate clearly and confidently.
Today, almost every college offers courses, majors and concentrations focused on business communication. Make sure to take at least one of these courses as part of your business analyst degree. Strong writing, speaking and presentation skills will open up your pathways of success.
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