We’ve all been there! Dreaming about becoming a Data Analyst, but our lack of experience in the field triggers our anxiety and worries, hence lowering our confidence in ace-ing that job. Fortunately for you, we are here to share never-before-exposed insights on How to Become a Data Analyst with No Experience.
1. Fully Understand Your Role as a Data Analyst and Consultant
Everybody wishes to have a road map or guide on how to get started with any career, the same goes for becoming a data analyst, especially if you do not have any related experience. You may be wondering, “how do I become a Data Analyst with no experience?” Here, we will outline the different functions and expectations you should know as a data analyst.
Have Personal Goals but Also Align with Company Goals
As a data analyst with no experience, you need to have some personal goals, but your firm also has some goals and objectives for you.
You likely want to:
- Make a difference for your clients
- Have your contributions receive their due, both in terms of recognition and financially
- Climb the ladder
Your firm wants you to be able to:
- Solve problems quickly
- Create more insight and impact than your clients’ own employees could ever make (that’s why they hired your firm after all)
- Preserve and enhance Your firm’s reputation
- Generate revenue and more business
The great thing is these are complementary. Help your company achieve its goals and you will be rewarded on your goals. And, being great at data analysis can help you do all these things faster.
It’s no secret that companies are awash in data but lacking in insight. There’s a large gap between the information out there and real intelligence you can act on.
Understand Why Your Company Hired You
What companies care about is the very top of the pyramid – actionable insight. Yet, their legions of data analysts are typically in the realm of data or information. They simply report on what’s happened. They rarely go deep enough to get to the “why.” Rarely do they ever get to insight, and even less frequently do they get to actionable insight.
That’s the difference between reporting and analysis — And, that’s why you’ve been hired. Your job as a consultant is to find the actionable insight, make recommendations on how to improve, and quantify the impacts of actions if taken or not taken.
Why Companies Do Not Live Up to Their Potential
There are several reasons most companies don’t live up to their potential (and thus create opportunities for brilliant data analysts with no experience like you and for companies like yours):
- Data is siloed across the business, living in different databases and systems, being analyzed in Excel or Access, being contained only within a given department, or existing as tribal knowledge in the heads of employees that have been there a long time. There is no single source of truth.
- There are different ways data is being measured, differing interpretations of data, or a lack of a common set of key performance indicators.
- Different departments have different goals that are more narrowly focused on just their niche, but don’t take into consideration the whole company and how all the parts work together.
- Individuals have their own egos and agendas, which can either aid or derail projects and initiatives.
- Getting people to change behaviors based on data and insights is difficult. Changing habits is always difficult.
- Lastly and most importantly, most people have never been trained how to analyze a business. Technical skills aside, they’ve never been taught, or don’t feel empowered, to think about the business like the CEO does, and as such aren’t able to contribute the level of actionable, bottom-line-impacting insights, that the CEO or other leaders need.
Harris Poll Analogy
Here’s an analogy to put a point on this. Steven Covey in his book The 8th Habit, cited results of a Harris Poll of 23,000 U.S.-based full-time employees within key industries and in key functional areas. Covey then showed how poorly a soccer team would function if they had similar percentages. The findings are on the left and the translation of those percentages into a soccer team, on the right:
|Harris Poll Results||Translated to a Soccer Team|
|37% of those polled said they have a clear understanding of what their company is trying to achieve and why.||Only 4 of the 11 players on the field knew which goal was theirs.|
|Only 20% was enthusiastic about their team’s and organization’s goals.||Only 2 of the 11 players on the team would care which goal was theirs.|
|20% of workers said they have a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organizational goals.||Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do.|
|Only 17% felt their organization fosters open communication and better ideas, and only 10 percent felt that their organization holds people accountable for results.||The coach talks to hardly anyone about his plan, the plays or the strategy, and doesn’t really care if anyone scores or not.|
|Only 20% fully trusted the organization they work for. Only 13% have high-trust, highly cooperative working relationships with other groups or departments.||All but two players would, in some way, be competing against their own team rather than the opponent.|
Become the Go-to Expert
That sounds grim but is a pretty accurate representation of most corporations. Your job as a Data analyst, regardless of the project you are on, client you are consulting with, or industry you are working in, is to think about the true drivers of the business and tie your work and your data analysis back into those critical business drivers, so that you deliver truly actionable insights that improve the business.
Doing this will help establish you as the “go-to” person who partners and other leaders want on their team. You establish your reputation as someone who understands the bigger picture and the client’s needs. Your higher-ups will begin to ask for your work on their projects which makes their jobs easier, meaning less rework or supervision on their part. “Performance ratings drive compensation”.
Incentives are driven by utilization, project performance ratings, and firm initiatives that paint an all-rounded view of your annual contributions to the firm.” Being the go-to employee helps you get raises and get promoted.
Increase Your Network in the Field
But, the only way to become known as a clutch player is for people to actually know who you are. Take advantage of meeting with any person, at any level, on any project, as long as you have a decent reason for doing so.
Understand what they are working on and see if you can find ways to help them. Whether it is with clients, peers, or your boss, you want strong relationships with all those you interface with. You can stay top of mind by connecting with them on social media channels and publishing or curating good content that is relevant to the types of projects or industries you or they are working on.
There are always hidden insights in data. Always. If you find them and keep track of them, you’ll know what falls within the scope of your current project, and what becomes fodder for an additional project for the client. Finding additional sources of revenue and new business is the surest, fastest way to climb the ladder.
2. Knowing What Keeps the CEO Up at Night Will Bring Advantage
Mosy companies are typically hired by C-Level execs. Understanding what keeps them up at night will help you meet their needs. The project you work on may or may not immediately and apparently tie into their biggest worries, but the more you can explicitly draw the connection, the more likely your project is to succeed and the more likely your company will be hired for more projects. Win-win.
In recent research by PWC, they asked the question: “Considering the following threats to your organization’s growth prospects, how concerned are you about the following?” The graphic above shows the percentage of respondents who ranked the threat as “extremely concerning.” Most of the top answers relate to geopolitical risk.
Looking at just North American CEO’s, the risk landscape shifts strongly towards geopolitical and regulatory.
Amidst these concerns, the CEO still needs to manage the fundamentals of the business – is it profitable or not? Increasing terrorism threats, geopolitical turmoil, and the increasing business risk that CEOs face all need to be quantified to the bottom line along with plans to prepare and mitigate these potential catastrophes. It is your job as a Data Analyst to be able to quantify impacts of these risks, while still focusing on the fundamentals that the business was built on: customers, revenue, profits, and cash flow.
Ram Charan, author of a multitude of business books and a highly sought-after consultant and professor, wrote in his book What the CEO Wants You to Know: “The best CEOs and the man or woman running the one-person shop think the same way. They know their cash situation. They know which items are profitable and which are not. They understand the importance of keeping their products moving off the shelf (inventory velocity) and they know their customers… As you learn to see your company as a total business and make decisions that enhance its overall performance… you’ll see that your suggestions and decisions help the business grow and prosper. The most successful business leaders never lose sight of the basics. Their intense focus on the fundamentals of business is, in fact, the secret to their success.”
Keep Business Fundamentals in Mind
Although Fortune 1000 companies are infinitely more complex than a one-person shop, face substantially greater competition, are surrounded by more red tape and legal bureaucracy, and have more to worry about in terms of risks or threats, all while keeping shareholders happy, at their core, they are the same. Just much bigger. They need to produce a product people will pay for, at a price and cost that maximizes profits and shareholder returns and do this as fast as possible every day. Keep these business fundamentals in mind on every data analysis project and you’ll find you are able to provide substantially better insights and results.
Those fundamentals can then be broken down into questions you, as a consultant, should be constantly asking yourself on any project you undertake:
- How do I attract and retain customers?
- How can I increase revenues?
- How can I increase profitability?
- How can I improve cash flows?
- More cash now is better than cash at some later date.
Amazingly, most employees don’t know the answers to those questions. Regardless of company size.
3. Asking the Right Questions
Before ever looking at data, firing up SQL or Tableau or Python, or even Excel, you need to ask the right business questions. Those questions will make or break your project success and save you countless hours of rework and late-night frustration. You must ask these business questions, even if someone has been clear in their initial request.
For example, your manager comes to you and asks you to develop up a report showing the trends and the changes over time for a key metric that she can present to the client. It needs to be well formatted, use the corporate branding elements, and clearly show what drove the trends. Sounds straightforward, right? Most data analysts would dutifully take this request and go fulfill the assignment. Don’t do that.
You need to go deeper first. You can provide more insight and more context if you understand what’s truly driving this request and how it’s going to get used. Here’s what you should ask first:
Again, with these questions we’re trying to find how this ties back to the business fundamentals of revenues, profitability, cash flow, and customer retention and growth. This will take you all of 15 minutes but is worth the time investment. It may seem confrontational or may seem like you don’t know something you should know. Just explain that additional context will help you in assessing the data, getting additional data as needed, and providing insight. Don’t fall into the trap of the soccer team, where you don’t know what game you are playing or what the entire team is trying to accomplish.
So, let’s revisit our example. Your manager comes and asks about trends and drivers and you follow up with questions above. She then explains that she’s hoping to look at a number of factors, and the drivers of the trends is the starting point. She’s hoping something will pop up indicating an unusual pattern or outlier that requires more investigation that could be impacting results. If we can understand the outliers or unusual patterns, we can develop some ideas on what is causing them and how to adjust them. Depending on the type of things we find, we think the impact could be anywhere from $100k to $1M worth of cost savings, but we aren’t sure yet. We have no idea yet what kinds of reductions or improvements are possible, and how much impact any given action will have, but we need to quantify those as soon as possible.
Doesn’t that give you a lot more to work with? Rather than just making a nice line chart with a trend line followed by a Top 10 chart, you can now dig in and look for outliers or weird patterns and then delve into those further. And, you can begin to quantify the potential cost savings and improvements. You can even start to develop ideas and recommendations on how to improve and attach an estimated dollar figure in terms of savings to those. You’ve now advanced the project considerably and discussions can now shift to debating your ideas for improvements and the amount of cost savings you project, rather than having several more meetings where the decision is to get more data and create more charts.
4. Where to Find Answers to These Questions
Suppose that your boss doesn’t have those answers or doesn’t have the time to provide them to you. Where can you go to obtain the additional information and context you need? You don’t need to talk to someone at the C-level for additional context necessarily. By walking over to a department and asking who might be able to provide some insight, you’ll quickly be directed to people who have valuable information. People love to feel important. Ask them for thirty minutes of their time and ask the questions you need. You may not even need 30 minutes. It may not be that you get everything you need with one interview with one person, but you can usually assemble the pieces reasonably quickly. By having a larger picture of what’s going on, you become more valuable to your team, to the client, and to your company, because you can contribute more effectively and more efficiently.
After you understand the context and what’s really driving the analysis requests, and the business, the next step is to start to actually do some analysis work. You can also use a data visualization tool like Tableau to do data validations and error checking as it allows you to quickly see where things don’t match up or add up the way they should. For our purposes, we’re assuming you’re doing the data collection and cleansing using other tools like SQL and Python and are analyzing clean data in Tableau.
If you remember back to your elementary school science fair project, you had to come up with a hypothesis and an experiment you could test. For example, “Feeding Monster energy drinks to my plants will cause them to grow abnormally large.” That’s something you can test. You create a control group to determine what’s normal and then another group of plants gets fed Monster. But, in the business world, it’s not always so cut and dry. There are often multiple factors that influence any given outcome. So, use existing data sources provided by the client, then go further by layering in data found in other reports and other silos of the company based on your conversations to get a more complete picture. There are insights lurking in these data sets that you must discover and they are much easier to discover when you can ask questions of your data. We call this “exploratory analysis” and rapid data visualization is a great way to do this.
Final Thoughts in How to Become a Data Analyst with No Experience
With your determination and the top 4 tips we shared above on how to get a job as a data analyst with no experience, you are on the right track to jump-starting your career. If you like our tips, you might also like our online Tableau Tutorial and corporate training classes. Be sure to check them out.