What Is a Business Analyst? 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what a business analyst is, what they do, and how you can enter this career field, with this guide from Coursera. We'll explain the difference between a business analyst and a data analyst and talk about salary, job outlook, and how to get started.

[Featured Image]: Business analyst discussing procedures to strengthen and increase efficiency of the business processes.

Business analysts help to maximise a business's effectiveness through data-driven decisions. Learn about what business analysts do and what it takes to get into this career.

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

As businesses seek to increase efficiency and reduce costs, business analysis 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 prioritising the organisation's functional and technical needs and requirements

  • Using SQL and Excel to analyse large data sets

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

  • 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.

Why pursue a career in business analysis?

As a business analyst, you'll have the opportunity to support your organisation'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 August 2022, in the United Kingdom, is £42,768, according to Glassdoor. Your exact salary will vary depending on the company, location, and amount of experience you have.

Job outlook

The demand for business analysts has increased in recent years and is projected to continue. As of April 2022, a total of 7,748 job openings for business analysts were recorded in Glassdoor UK.

How to become a business analyst

Becoming a business analyst may require gaining skills and certifications applicable to the work and the industry you're interested in. Courses, certifications, or degrees can each pave the way 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 organisation, including upper management and other teams. Being able to present your ideas clearly and convincingly—both verbally and in writing—will be a big help as a business analyst.

  • Data analysis: Gathering, tracking, and analysing performance metrics will be central to a business analysis role. Having a good grasp of data analysis and visualisation 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 Prince2. 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 the skills expected of a business analyst can show employers your knowledge is up to date and adequate. Courses, either in person or online, can give you the tools needed to get your foot in the door in the field of business analysis.

Consider sharpening your expertise in data through the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate program.

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

3. Earn a business analyst certification

Earning a certification can expand your skillset, 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 HR managers you’ve received several hours of training and know the basics of business analysis. If you have some experience with business analysis, the CBAP, CCBA, and PMI-PBA can show employers your competency and experience.

4. Consider a degree

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

Undergraduate degrees: Degrees are common for entry-level positions in analytical fields, according to the BLS. Getting your 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 prefer candidates with a master’s degree in a relevant subject. You may also consider getting a Master of Business Administration (MBA); several programs offer Specialisations in business analysis. 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 at university, making an appointment with a career counsellor 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 skillset. 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.

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