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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Career Advice: 5 Musts for Breaking into Analytics

From aptitudes and skills to finding a new position, what you need to know about transitioning into an analyst role.

Imagine a business that doesn't collect enormous amounts of data every day. It's impossible. Collecting data and using it to determine an organization's path to success is critical. Capitalizing on data's full potential to address strategic business issues requires individuals who work with stakeholders to develop viable hypotheses and examine relevant data to obtain insights and drive mission-critical change.

In other words, it requires data analysts.

It's not surprising, then, that companies and career-seekers alike are drawn to analytics. A good analyst's impact on a company's bottom line is worth many times more than his or her healthy salary. Would-be analysts, meanwhile, find a field offering plenty of jobs in a wide variety of industries. The environment is ripe for those seeking a change of career.

However, not everyone drawn to analytics should join a company's analytics team. I should know. For years, I've counseled people eager to transition to an analytics career. I know how important it is to make the right fit for the employee and the employer. Analytics is a hot field with good money and lots of jobs, but is it right for you?

If an analytics career is on your radar, it's important that you consider these five things before embarking on your transition.

1. A successful transition requires an aptitude for analytics

You may admire your friend's success and happiness with her new analytics role, but that's not the best indicator of how you'll fare in the job. Having an aptitude for analytics, however, is.

Knowing your analytics aptitude is a critical first step in determining if the field is right for you. It's easy to do. This quick test allows you to determine your analytics aptitude. If you score 16 or above in this test, you would likely be happy being an analyst. [Editor's note: short registration is required to see full results.]

2. Analytics skill development is critical

So you have the aptitude for analytics. That's great, but it doesn't mean you can immediately step into an analytics role and have what it takes to help shape business decisions. Training is absolutely required. At a minimum, you'll need to develop hands-on business analytics skills for any analyst or analytics role.

Be sure you have training in predictive analytics skills and A/B testing if you're interested in pursuing pure analysis positions. When you research training programs, look for those taught by instructors who have experience in corporate analytics and instruction that offers hands-on training with real data and real-world business problems.

3. Look within your current company or industry

Just because you're committed to a new career doesn't mean you should leave everything behind. The years you've spent in your company and industry are valuable in many ways. You have developed a number of close contacts and you've compiled knowledge about the business that a newcomer won't have. Your best chance for a successful transition means embracing the familiar.

For instance, parlay your experience as an IT project manager into an analytics role at your current company. If that's not possible, look outside your company in a similar industry or function. After a year or so of a successful transition, you can look outside your company or your industry and you'll find the world much more welcoming.

Yes, you can look outside your industry or function to start your new career, but doing so will significantly decrease your likelihood of finding a job.

4. Don't quit your job to transition

This rule is critical. Searching for an analytics job may take time. You may find yourself unemployed for some time with mounting financial pressures.

From my experience as a career transition mentor, I know moving into an analytics job while keeping your current full-time job can be accomplished within about six months. You avoid financial pressures and staying in your job may offer you the opportunity to work with data in some capacity. This will let you practice and build your skills. Have patience.

5. Rewrite your resume start to finish

Your old resume won't capture the skills you've gained preparing for your career transition, nor will it give you credit for how your experience in past or current roles prepares you to be an analyst. Start from scratch and build your resume while keeping an eye on the roles to which you are applying. More guidance on creating a good resume is available on my blog.

More insights about your career transition can be found here.

About the Author

Piyanka Jain is the author of Behind Every Good Decision, an actionable guide for business managers on data-driven decision-making through business analytics. She is also president and CEO of Aryng, an analytics consulting company focused on driving business impact with data. She writes for publications including Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and InsideHR. Jain has been an analytics leader for more than 15 years; she seeks out patterns and insights to drive change in her clients’ organizations and impact top levers of business. She considers customer satisfaction, empowerment, and positive engagement as the highest rewards, and dollar impact as a natural consequence. Jain has two master’s degrees with theses involving applied mathematics and statistics.

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