What Is a Business Analyst? 2021 Career Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jul 27, 2021

Business analysts help maximize a business's effectiveness through data-driven decisions. Learn about what business analysts do and what it takes to become one.

Business analyst prepares for a meeting

Business analysts use data to form business insights and recommend changes in businesses and other organizations. Business analysts can identify issues in virtually any part of an organization, including IT processes, organizational structures, or staff development.

As businesses seek to increase efficiency and reduce costs, business analytics has become an important component of their operations. Let’s take a closer look at what business analysts do and what it takes to get a job in business analysis. 

What does a business analyst do?

Business analysts identify business areas that can be improved to increase efficiency and strengthen business processes. They often work closely with others throughout the business hierarchy to communicate their findings and help implement changes.

Tasks and duties can include:

  • Identifying and prioritizing the organization's functional and technical needs and requirements

  • Using SQL and Excel to analyze large data sets

  • Compiling charts, tables, and other elements of data visualization 

  • Creating financial models to support business decisions

  • Understanding business strategies, goals, and requirements

  • Planning enterprise architecture (the structure of a business)

  • Forecasting, budgeting, and performing both variance analysis and financial analysis

What's the difference between a business analyst and a data analyst?

Both data analysts and business analysts support data-driven decisions in their companies. Business analysts tend to focus more on recommending solutions for business needs, while data analysts work more closely with the data itself.

Read more: Data Analyst vs. Business Analyst: What’s the Difference?

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Why pursue a career in business analysis?

As a business analyst, you'll have the opportunity to support your organization's success through data-driven insights. It's a career where every day brings new challenges and new ways to put your skills into practice. If you enjoy helping people, asking questions, solving problems, and working independently, a career as a business analyst could be a good fit.

Business analyst salary

The average salary for business analysts in July 2021 in the United States is $75,921, according to Glassdoor. Your exact salary will vary depending on the company, location, and amount of experience you have [1].

Job outlook

The demand for business analysts has increased in recent years and is projected to continue. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth between 2019 and 2029 for similar roles to range from seven percent (computer systems analysts) to 25 percent (operations research analysts) [2, 3]. Other related job titles include management analyst and operations analyst—both of which perform duties similar to business analysts.

How to become a business analyst

Becoming a business analyst may require gaining skills and credentials applicable to the work and the industry you're interested in. Coursework, certifications, or degrees can each aid your path to a job as a business analyst.

1. Sharpen your business analyst skills.

Here are some skills you’ll typically want to have as a business analyst. 

  • Business acumen: A solid understanding of finance, accounting, and business principles will help you surface what operational issues exist, and how best to address them.

  • Communication: A business analyst is often expected to communicate with several different players within an organization, including upper management and other teams. Being able to present your ideas clearly and convincingly—both verbally and in writing—will be a large asset as a business analyst.

  • Data analysis: Gathering, tracking, and analyzing performance metrics will be central to a business analysis role. Having a good grasp of data analysis and visualization tools like Tableau, Excel, and BI Tools can be useful. Some knowledge of a programming language like SQL may also come in handy.

  • Business analysis methodologies: Depending on your industry, it could help to be familiar with specific methodologies, like Agile Business Analysis, Six Sigma, or Rational Unified Process.

  • Industry expertise: Different industries have different business needs and challenges. Developing business solutions for an IT company might look different than it does for a healthcare company. Industry experience, even in another role, can give you a competitive edge when applying for jobs.

2. Take a course.

Refreshing your familiarity with skills expected of a business analyst can show employers your knowledge is up to date and adequate. Coursework, either in person or online, can give you the tools needed to get your foot in the door in the field of business analytics.

Gain a holistic understanding of the job with courses in data analytics or business analytics. Or familiarize yourself with the tools used in business analytics through coursework in Tableau or Excel and MySQL.

3. Earn a business analyst certification.

Earning a certification can expand your skill set, and potentially increase your earnings or make you more competitive for jobs. Here are some business analysis certifications to consider:

  • IIBA Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA)

  • IIBA Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)

  • IIBA Certification of Capability in Business Analysis (CCBA)

  • PMI Professional in Business Analytics (PMI-PBA)

If you’re just starting out as a business analyst, the ECBA can show hiring managers you’ve received several hours of training and know the basics of business analysis. If you have some experience with business analytics, the CBAP, CCBA, and PMI-PBA can show employers your competency and experience.

4. Consider a degree.

Many employers like to see at least a bachelor’s degree on your resume, though some may prefer candidates with a master’s degree.

Bachelor’s degrees: Bachelor’s degrees are common for entry-level positions in analytical fields, according to the BLS. Getting your bachelor's degree in a quantitative field like economics, finance, computer science, data science, statistics, information management, or a similar field can prepare you for business analysis jobs.

Master’s degrees and MBAs: Some employers might prefer candidates with a master’s degree in a relevant subject. You may also consider getting a master’s of business administration (MBA); several programs offer specializations in business analytics. Getting your master's degree in business analytics or business administration could help advance your skills and knowledge, and give you a competitive advantage in the job search arena.

5. Start with an entry-level role.

Internships and entry-level positions in accounting, finance, or business settings can build your experience before you advance to a higher-level position. In your job search, look for titles like junior business analyst or entry-level business analyst. If you’re still in school, making an appointment with a career counselor can help you understand what opportunities are out there.

Next steps

If a career in business analysis sounds interesting, start by exploring the ways you can bolster your skill set. Courses in business analytics or business systems can give you a broad introduction to the profession. Otherwise, sharpen your expertise in data through the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate program.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Is business analyst an IT job?

Not all business analysts work for a company's IT department. If you're interested in both data analysis and IT, consider a role as an IT business analyst. In this job, you'd analyze the needs and pain points of the IT department, and recommend technology and business solutions.

Should I become a data analyst or a business analyst?

Business analytics might be a better fit if you're more business minded. If you enjoy working with numbers and excel in mathematics and statistics, then consider data analysis as a career path. Many of the skills overlap, so it's possible to start as a business analyst and move into a role as a data analyst (or vice versa).

What is a business intelligence analyst?

A business intelligence analyst, or BI analyst, is a hybrid role somewhere between data analyst and business analyst. BI analysts analyze, model, and visualize data on industry trends and the competitive landscape to help businesses drive profits.

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Article sources

1. Glassdoor. "Business Analyst Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/business-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm." Accessed July 27, 2021.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer Systems Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-systems-analysts.htm." Accessed July 27 2021.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Operations Research Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/operations-research-analysts.htm." Accessed July 27, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jul 27, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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