What Is It Like to Be a Data Analyst?

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Data analyst presenting report to manager.

Hard data and telling statistics often have the strongest impact on business decisions. Data analysts work to interpret and present this influential information, guiding business leaders to make the smartest choices for successful operations and performance.

Here’s a look at what it’s like to pursue a career as a data analyst:

What does a data analyst do?

With a tactful ability to gather and interpret the numbers, data analysts support organizations by investigating issues, identifying problem areas and suggesting solutions. Some focus on general operations, while other analysts specialize in an area such as financial performance.

Specific roles and responsibilities differ between specializations and organizations, but analysts often fulfill responsibilities such as:

  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Surveying company employees for insight into problems or processes
  • Utilizing the latest methods and sources of data to improve analysis and reports
  • Applying statistical analysis, predictive modeling and other mathematical methods to evaluate information
  • Providing recommendations for operational improvements based on the data
  • Creating reports to present the results to managers and other executives
  • Advising companies on how to fix and avoid problems

The kinds of job titles that often involve this scope of analytical work include:

  • Applied research director
  • Research analyst
  • Financial analyst
  • Quantitative analyst
  • Investment strategist
  • Portfolio manager
  • Data scientist

As these analysts gain skills and experience, they often follow career paths that lead them to earn titles such as:

  • Senior data analyst
  • Director of analytics
  • Global analytics head
  • Global credit quantitative analysis head

Regardless of the exact title, data analysts work to develop solutions that help companies allocate resources, optimize schedules, manage workflows, improve operations and enhance financial performance with data-driven confidence.

What is the typical work environment of a data analyst?

Most data analysts work in a traditional office space, often employed by consulting firms that work with several organizations. However, it isn’t uncommon for analysts to spend time on-site, gathering firsthand information and observing operations at a more intimate level.

Data analysts can work in various industries, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported finance and insurance as the most popular. Other common fields of interest include professional, scientific and technical services; management of companies and enterprises; manufacturing and federal government.

What is the typical salary of a data analyst?

The most recent data from the BLS reports that the average annual salary for data analysts is $81,390. As with most careers, industry, location, expertise and experience play a major role on potential earnings for data analysts. According to the BLS, analysts tend to earn the following median salaries based on their working industries:

  • Federal government: $111,570
  • Manufacturing: $90,120
  • Professional, scientific and technical services: $85,180
  • Management of companies and enterprises: $82,470
  • Finance and insurance: $80,800

Data from PayScale suggested there’s a significant difference in wages from city to city as well, with San Francisco, New York, Washington, Seattle, Boston and Atlanta among the highest-paying locations for data analysts to seek employment. Despite location, all data analysts can expect an increase in salary the more time spent in the field, with PayScale reporting a 15 percent pay increase for those with 10 to 20 years of experience.

Is the job outlook promising?

Companies always need expert operational and financial advice to make the sound decisions that maintain a successful business. Advances in technology and enhanced methods for business efficiency will likely further increase the demand for analysts in the immediate future. In fact, the BLS predicts a fast job growth rate for operational research analysts, with employment expected to grow 27 percent from 2016 to 2026.

Even with such a promising job outlook, data analysts may still experience fierce competition when applying to these positions. The BLS notes that advanced degrees and extensive business experience can increase an applicant’s chances of earning offers.

How can you become a data analyst?

Employers looking to hire data analysts often favor candidates who are savvy in business and technical principles. These qualifications include a working knowledge in computer programs such as Microsoft Office, SharePoint and SQL databases; analytic software like IBM SPSS Statistics; and operating systems including Linux and UNIX.

As far as the soft skills go, the best data analysts have intuitive communication skills to collaborate effectively with analysis teams and coordinate with clients. They’re also passionate about improving company operations, offering advice based on the numbers as well as their qualified opinions.

The majority of analyst positions require candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related area of study, but an advanced education can enhance competitiveness when pursuing a career in data analysis. In fact, 65 percent of data analyst positions require a master’s degree, according to O*NET OnLine.

With a flexible and engaging curriculum, the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business Online Master of Business Administration program offers the advanced learning you need to excel in a data analysis position. The Information Systems and Business Analytics specialization offers the refined knowledge you can use to manage data and drive innovative solutions. Additionally, the flexibility of online learning allows you to continue gaining relevant work experience as you pursue your degree.

Ready to sharpen those analytical skills? Reach out to an advisor to learn more about the Online MBA program at the Smith School of Business.


Recommended Readings:

Why should your MBA focus on data?

The specializations you can pursue with University of Maryland Online MBA degree



Online Master of Business Administration by the University of Maryland

Operations Research Analysts by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Financial Quantitative Analysts by O*NET OnLine

Data Analyst Salary by PayScale