What Is a Data Analyst? Everything You Need to Know

data analyst on laptop

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

As you are exploring opportunities to use and grow your STEM skills, you may come across data analytics. What is a data analyst, and is it a potential career path for you? What skills do you need to have to be successful in this career?

Data analytics is a fast-growing field with a high earning potential as well as plenty of opportunities for women in tech. (Employers often seek out female tech professionals, and data analytics offers many positions for people with different STEM backgrounds and levels of experience.)

So, what exactly does a data analyst do, why does the role matter to businesses, and how do you become one? Read on to find out the answers to these and other questions about the exciting world of data analytics.

What is a data analyst?

Data analysts collect and use data to help businesses make informed decisions. Their roles are somewhat similar to those of data scientists, but unlike the latter, they use tools and methods already in place for collecting and interpreting data, while data scientists create algorithms to discover data. Ultimately, the goal of the two professions is the same: to use data to improve the company and solve problems.

What is the function of a data analyst?

The goal of the data analyst is to translate data—sales figures, market research, profit and loss, and other numbers and information—into usable and actionable information. Her job is to help the company make better decisions, such as increasing profits, expanding the enterprise, reducing costs, estimating market shares, and much more.

What does an analyst do?

Data analysts use many methods and tools to collect their information, such as different types of software. They then analyze the data using statistical formulas and other methods and present their findings to stakeholders, often in the form of a report.

For example, a data analyst might collect data from a marketing campaign, using information such as click rates and unique views, and analyze it to evaluate the efficacy of the campaign. She might also collect and interpret sales data to inform a company about how a product is performing.

Businesses use the information data analysts translate for them to make large and small decisions about their organizations. They might, for instance, use it to determine the number of workers they need to lay off. On the flip side, they might decide that they need to increase their staff by a certain percentage.

What are the skills required for data analyst?

In addition to soft skills such as communication, decision-making, problem-solving, attention to detail, and critical thinking, data analysts must have hard and technical skills like:

• Mathematics and statistics

• Analytics

• Ability to use certain software and scripting languages

• Business knowledge

How do I become a data analyst?

Are you thinking of entering the rapidly-growing field of data analytics? Here is how to become a data analyst.

1. Develop a strong background in mathematics, statistics, information technology, and computer science.

Most jobs in the field require a Bachelor of Science in one of these areas (or in data analytics, a program offered through some colleges and universities), so you should focus on one of these subjects early on. You can also take additional courses to bolster your knowledge. Other important skills to have include project management and business acumen. 

2. Secure an internship.

You will need to gain experience in order to become a data analyst. An internship is a good way to learn about the profession while doing real work and acquiring important skills. Remember to make the most of your experience by asking questions of your colleagues and supervisor, going above and beyond what is asked of you, and having a good attitude; not only will you learn valuable skills, but you might be able to ask your supervisor for a reference in the future or even secure an entry-level job with the company.

3. Find an entry-level job.

Your next step is to find an entry-level data analyst role, such as a junior data analyst position. How do you find a job? As with most careers, people generally find their first jobs through a combination of networking, job-board perusal, job-search sites (try tech-focused sites such as Dice), and other methods. Remember to participate in virtual job fairs, which often have plenty of advice and opportunities for people pursuing careers in tech, as well.

If you are earning your bachelor’s through a data analytics or related programs, you may have exposure to professionals in the field—and, of course, your professors. Make sure to take advantage of these resources, because they can likely provide you with valuable advice about your career and even suggest opportunities, as well as serve as mentors.

4. Hone your specialty.

Some data analysts work in a general capacity, while others focus on specific areas and niches, such as operations, market research, finance, various sectors, and more. Gaining experience in a certain area or earning certifications can set you apart and increase your earning potential.

5. Advance your career

Earning a master’s degree or certification in data analytics can help you advance in your career. Through a master’s program, you will learn about different data collection and analysis methods, how to use and make decisions with data, and further develop your skills.

Additionally, there are a number of Big Data and specifically data analytics certifications available through services like Cloudera, Amazon, IBM, MapR, and others. They can help you learn more specialized skills.

Data analyst salary

According to Glassdoor, data analysts earn on average $83,878 annually. Keep in mind that salaries can vary widely based on experience level, location, company, and many other factors.

Places to work 

Data analysts work in a variety of different settings. Sectors with the highest demand for these professionals include finance, information technology, and insurance. However, many other industries and business have a high need for data analysts, from retail clothing stores to professional services to banking to e-commerce.

Should you become a data analyst?

Curious and tech-savvy individuals should consider a career in data analytics. It can be a rewarding career as well as an important one since businesses often depend on data analysts to help them make strategic decisions. If you are interested in pursuing a path in data analytics, be sure to consider related careers, such as data science, which requires related skills and knowledge.

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