How to Become a Great Data Analyst [Complete Guide]

How to Become a Great Data Analyst [Complete Guide]

With the surge in big data and the massive potential it carries in solving real-world business problems, a high demand for skilled data analysts will persist in the years to come. If you’re interested in this career path, and want to know how to become a data analyst, keep reading.

The data analyst career path, unlike most career choices, has a clear roadmap that will help you break into the profession. However, to truly succeed and take your career to the next level, there are some additional steps that you’ll have to take along the way.

We’ll discuss all of that, and more, in this in-depth “how to become a data analyst” career guide.

Let’s get started.

What Do Data Analysts Do? [Job Description]

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of how to pursue a profession in data analytics, let’s take a look at what the job entails. If you’re a total beginner, this will help you understand the reasoning behind each step that we’ll discuss shortly (i.e., how they can help you with your career).

A data analyst, in simple words, collects large amounts of data, processes it, and provides meaningful insights that can be used to find answers and/or solve a problem. That’s the gist of the job.

Obviously, the job entails a lot more. Data analysts have to use complex statistical modeling techniques, employ programming skills, and collaborate with business leaders to come up with smart solutions.

An important thing to note is that not all data analysts are “data scientists.” A data scientist does everything a data analyst do, and goes one step further to predict the future by looking at past trends in data.

With that distinction out of the way, here are some common day-to-day responsibilities of a data analyst:

  • Setting Up and Managing Databases – database management is one of the primary responsibilities of an analyst. 
  • Mining Data from Various Sources – known as “data mining,” this involves identifying patterns in large data sets.
  • Running Statistical Analysis – this is the core responsibility of any data analyst. After acquiring, cleaning, and extracting data, the analyst uses different statistical models to perform data analysis.
  • Generating Meaningful Reports – to communicate the results of the analysis (whether for market research, lean management, or anything else), the analyst generates reports that can be shared with the relevant stakeholders.
  • Collaborate with Stakeholders – the analyst also works with the stakeholders to take action on the findings of their analysis.

The aforementioned duties and responsibilities pretty much summarize the role.

How to Become a Data Analyst [A Step-by-Step Guide]

Unless you have a natural inclination towards mathematics, statistics, and programming, becoming a data analyst isn’t exactly easy.

Acquiring the required credentials is the easy part – it’s performing in a real-world environment that can take a toll on those who are not ready to go all the way.

To simplify the roadmap, we’ll break it down into the following 2 phases:

  • Pre-Requisites – these are all the required steps that every beginner must take in order to break into the profession.
  • Additional Steps – what professionals have to do to take their career to the next level.

Let’s dive right in:

The Pre-Requisite Steps

If you’re still in high school or college, and are interested in a rewarding career in data analytics, here are the different steps you can take to pursue your dream:

Invest in the Right Education

Most data analytics jobs require you to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, mathematics, statistics, or any other related field. A master’s degree is a huge plus.

If you’re still in high school, start looking up decent colleges and shortlist your options. In case you’re already in college, pursue relevant majors.

Keep in mind that the required pursuit of formal college education isn’t just “for the sake of it.” Due to the technical nature of this field, formal education is vital, as it helps establish strong foundations in core subjects, including, but not limited to:

  • Programming languages (SQL, Python, etc.)
  • Probability theory 
  • Statistical analysis
  • Machine learning
  • Database management

Sure, you can learn all of the above through online courses, some of which won’t even cost you any money. However, most modern recruiters prefer degree holders for entry-level jobs.

Work on Developing a Complete Technical Skillset

Technical skills are critical for a data analyst.

As mentioned earlier, without a knack for technical areas, such as mathematics, programming, stats, etc., it’s pointless to pursuit this career path.

While the requirements for proficiency in technical areas vary from organization to organization, there are certain skills that are considered universal. 

These include:

  • Analytical Skills – you should enjoy deconstructing complex scenarios in order to get to the bottom of it all/draw conclusions.
  • Math Skills – you should be skilled at calculus and linear algebra. Know-how of various statistical analysis techniques is also a must.
  • Machine Learning – you should also be adept at creating machine learning models for predictive analysis.
  • Programming Languages – some of the most in-demand languages include SQL, Python, Java, and Julia. The more programming languages you know, the better.
  • Proficiency in Software – you should be proficient in various platforms used for data visualization (like Tableau), data storage and processing (like Apache Hadoop), business intelligence (such as SAP), and creation of spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, etc.).

You’ll learn most of the technical skills mentioned above at college. There are tons of free online courses and resources that you can use to build a strong foundation for yourself.

Look for an Entry-Level Job

After acquiring a college degree and developing foundational skills, the next step is to apply for an entry-level data analyst job.

You may also gain some practical work experience during the course of your degree program through a summer internship.

Here are some essential steps you can take to increase your chances of landing a rewarding job:

  • Join LinkedIn – first and foremost, create a solid LinkedIn profile, connect with industry professionals, and reach out to potential recruiters.
  • Craft a Solid Resume – your resume should highlight your strongest skills, achievements, and any additional certifications. If you don’t have any prior experience, you may list your college project (if relevant).
  • Set Up Job Alerts – join platforms like Indeed and Glassdoor, and set up job alerts for entry-level data analyst jobs.
  • Always Apply with a Tailored Cover Letter – don’t use a generic data analyst cover letter to apply for every job. Instead, tailor your cover letter to the company you’re applying for.

In addition to the above, keep an eye out for job fairs and networking events happening near your place.

Taking Your Career to the Next Level [Actionable Advice]

Whatever we’ve discussed so far has taught you how to become a data analyst – the steps that we’re about to discuss now will help you take your career to a higher level.

Here are some actionable tips on how to become a successful data analyst:

Learn the Business

The analyst role shouldn’t be limited to collecting data, running analyses, and generating reports. 

To take the next leap in your career, you also have to start playing the role of a business analyst by helping stakeholders understand the meaning behind the data and assisting them in taking business decisions.

But in order to get to that point, you need to dig deep and understand the nitty-gritty of the business itself – not just data analytics. For that purpose, you can:

  • Find a mentor in your organization (or industry) and ask them everything you need to know
  • Conduct extensive research over the internet and try to understand industry terms
  • Subscribe to industry magazine and regularly check the business sections of leading news outlets

Of course, you won’t become an industry expert overnight. It will take some time. 

By having your finger on the industry’s pulse, you’ll eventually get there.

Get Certified to Validate Your Skills

The field of data analytics is constantly evolving. The technologies, best practices, and principles that you believe in and use today might not be relevant 10 years from now.

To stay on top of your game, and keep yourself up-to-date with the latest in business analytics, experts recommend investing in data analyst certification programs.

These programs can help you expand your knowledge, validate your skills, and open doors to promotions and better job opportunities.

Looking up data analyst certifications on Google will yield thousands of results. Here are some well-recognized ones:

When choosing a certification program, consider where you currently stand in your career, where you want to see yourself moving ahead, and how much budget you’re willing to set aside.

Polish Those Human Skills

As a data analyst, your technical skills are crucial and will help you break into your profession.

But your soft skills will help you thrive in your professional journey.

These human skills are equally as important as the technical/analytical skills in a data analyst’s arsenal. Without them, they’ll eventually reach a dead-end in their career.

Some of these soft skills include:

  • Communication Skills – as an analyst, you’ll have to collaborate with different peers and business stakeholders. For that reason, strong communication skills are a must.
  • Problem-Solving Skills – as implied earlier, a great data analyst should also present stakeholders with creative, data-backed solutions to real business problems.
  • Leadership Skills – these include all of the above, and organizational, time management, and strong interpersonal skills.

You can attend different workshops or even hire a personal coach who can help you develop and polish the aforementioned skills.

Attend Industry Events and Expand Your Network

With everything else out of the way, the only thing left to do is to get recognized in the data analytics circle.

To that end, you should regularly attend industry events/seminars and network with your peers and leading industry professionals.

Some popular upcoming events include:

Attending such conferences will not only help expand your network, but also keep you up-to-date with the latest data challenges, technologies, and best-practices.

Wrapping it Up

Now that you’ve learned how to become a data analyst, it’s time to go out there, make a tailored game-plan, and buckle down to pursue this rewarding career.

In case you’re looking for some motivation – according to PayScale, the average salary for the data analyst position is $60,981 per year. 

Furthermore, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the expected employment growth for operation research analysts is 25% and 18% for market research analysts (up until 2029). Same is the case with all the other related positions.


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