The Things I Look for in an Analyst

While talking to a customer recently about his plans for the year ahead, he said that one of the things that he would be looking to do would be to hire 10 analysts. We exchanged wry smiles as he said it, knowing the challenge ahead even for a global company like his.

In any sophisticated marketing economy (digital or otherwise) the demand for analysts or data scientists is currently outstripping supply. Data and analytics are growth areas and the “profession” is still evolving and maturing in many ways. Data types and data volumes are exploding, technologies are proliferating, and yet there is still generally a lack of the right kind of talent in numbers to satisfy the needs of organizations around the world.

In terms of the supply side, there are now more academic institutions offering degrees in business intelligence and analytics and trade bodies such as the Digital Analytics Association also offer professional development opportunities such as training and certification. Realistically, though, the production line is struggling to keep up with demand. I’ve heard stories of students on analytics degree courses going part-time because they’ve been offered a lucrative role even before they’ve finished their studies.

In the race to grab scarce resources, it’s entirely possible to end up in a bidding war. I know, I’ve been there when recruiting in the past. It’s an inevitable consequence of demand and supply – the price goes up. However, one of the challenges in an over-heated market is that you need to ensure that you are getting good quality for your money as well. In any analytics role, there are the fundamental requirements depending on what the role is. These are often technical in nature. However, there are then the other aspects that I think are important because analysts not only need to examine data and understand it but they also needs to be able to communicate their understanding of it and the implications of it for the organization they work in or the clients they are working for.

So here are five things I look for in an analyst, beyond technical competency:

Data Dexterity

A good analyst needs to be able to handle data – any data. While analysts may have a functional specialism, such as a Web analyst or a customer insight specialist, they have to be comfortable in handling any data sources that they may need to come into contact with. In the data world, two and two really does equal five, in that the value of a data source is greater multiplies when it is integrated with other data sources. For example, digital data is great, but it becomes even more powerful and valuable when it’s analyzed alongside other data streams, such voice of the customer data, contact center data, transactional data, CRM data, and so on.

Pattern Recognition

For me, analysis is a blend of the creative and the deterministic. A good analyst can look at a set of data and begin to see what the data is telling her. Data tells stories and the analyst is there to interpret the data and make sense out of what the data is saying. It’s all about extracting the signals from the noise.

Attention to Detail

On the other hand, though, an analyst needs to have strong attention to detail. Data can be very nuanced at times; it might look like its saying one thing when in fact it’s saying something else. Or the data may be wrong and the skill of a good analyst is to be able to spot problems with data that just doesn’t look right before it infects the organization.

Commercial Awareness

Understanding the implications of what the data is saying is paramount. In any organization an analyst needs to be aware of the ramifications of the what the data is saying, to be able to add value to the analysis by not only saying “this is what’s happening and why” but also “and this is what I think the impact is” and in an ideal world “this is what needs to be done about it.” The last one will tend to come with more experience but any analysts at any level need to be interested in the outcomes of their work more than just the outputs.

Positive Presence

All the above counts for nothing if the analyst cannot get their message across within the business. They need to be able to articulate and communicate what the business needs to know. So good analysts need to have good verbal and written communication skills, they need to have the ability to construct an argument based on the evidence, and they need to be able to tell stories.

A lot of these characteristics can be learned or developed over time. What’s important if you are looking to hire someone is whether they feel comfortable with data and have the ability to understand how the data they are looking at relates to the business they are working in. In the past when looking to hire new analysts I’ve always give them a presentation to do on a set of data, and what I look for is not just how they analyze the data but whether they can make sense of it and then put that message across in a clear and convincing way.

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