What Should An Entry Level Data Analyst Know?

Start Line

Having recruited analysts for a number of years, I’ve noticed a worrying trend in people who are eager to join the profession but don’t have an analyst or data background.

Recent graduates or folks with a few years of experience in other fields are being put off before they even send out an application form for an entry level BI or data analyst job because they’ve self-certified themselves as being under-qualified.

Imposter Syndrome is a real problem no matter what stage of your career you are at. And in the fast paced, always changing world of tech, that applies doubly so.

Ho do you know what you don’t know?

Reading articles from the tech press lionising data science as being the new rock n’ roll doesn’t exactly help. When you hear about PhDs scrapping it out for top data jobs it’s hard to see how your Bachelor’s degree (or, shock horror, no degree at all) can ever get you to an interview, never mind get selected for a role.

As a profession it’s important that recruiting managers speak out more about the reality of what they really need. We need to do all we can to stop losing a stream of potentially very capable analysts before they’ve even ran their first SELECT query.

Obviously, the bar rises as we go up the experience levels. For entry level analyst or BI developer jobs I have three tick-boxes that I want to see and NONE of them require a PhD.

Three requirements for entry level roles

1. SQL.

It’s not sexy. It’s not particularly cool. In fact, if the likes of Spark are the Flying V of the data world then SQL is the Fender Telecaster. It’s more of a utilitarian workhorse but (within reason) you can do 90%+ of the reporting and analysis you will ever need at this level with only a rudimentary knowledge of it. IMHO there is no better grounding available for minimal time spent educating yourself and that applies across all industries and flavours of analysis.

2. Relational Databases.

Parts of the tech world have moved on to pastures new with NoSQL databases like MongoDB and Cassandra but the vast majority of tech and industry still runs on relational databases and will do for a very long time.

Working hand in glove with your SQL education from #1, take a little time to get relational database structure and joins into your head. From MySQL to Microsoft SQL Server you will encounter them in virtually every BI or data analyst job you apply for.

3. Inquisitive Nature.

This one isn’t a technical requirement and will grow over time with experience but an inquisitive nature is my #3 pre-requisite for getting your foot in the door in the world of data analysis. Run a report and see that one month has twice the volume of sales as another month but decide the query seems right and send it out anyway? I don’t think so.

You are in a prime position to ask questions in whatever business or industry you are in and learn everything about it from the inside. If you can’t apply the natural nosey nature of a Lieutenant Columbo when you have all of the raw data at your fingertips then maybe you aren’t cut out for this job after all. Have a look at the underlying transactions and see one outlier that is skewing the whole month’s total? Bingo, now you’re on my radar.

I can’t speak for all of the recruiters at the companies I’ve worked for but, to me, if you can demonstrate these three things in the course of your CV and back that up in person at interview you’ll be on my short list for the role.

You are not alone

My underlying point is that it’s normal to be put off by thinking everyone knows more than you or that the educational choices younger you made have precluded you from getting into a certain industry or profession.

Maybe you won’t get an interview for a Senior Data Scientist role at Google if you don’t have a doctorate from an Ivy League school. That doesn’t mean that you can’t work your way into data analysis or business intelligence roles from another angle.

Not everyone who picks up a guitar can become a rock star. That doesn’t mean that wedding singers can’t make a very good career  for themselves doing something they love that brings real value to a lot of people.

The world doesn’t need another Bono. Sometimes we all just need a Robbie Hart.

So where do I begin?

To kickstart your career in data analysis, check out any of the Intro to SQL courses online at Lynda.com, Coursera or Udemy.