What does it take to be a good analyst?
There are lots of thoughts about that question. Also, there’s the ongoing question of “how do you interview for Excel skill?” These two inquiries should be intertwined since Excel is just the tool. Sure, we can unmask the impostor Excel Expert who can’t record a basic macro, but does the hunt for expertise also miss the person with raw, undeveloped intangibles?
I talked with Troy Berry, a Director of Call Center Operations with 25 years of experience, and someone understands the fundamental need for data. He commented that he still doesn’t know how to interview a candidate for their level of curiosity and doggedness for snooping out questions in the data.
So, I asked some people and poked around for responses to “What does it take to be a good analyst?”
‘Curiosity’ is one trait that is consistently listed as a must-have for an analyst. As Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Media, puts it:
“Curiosity is what triggers the question and gets [an analyst] digging into the data looking for answers”
What do others have to say on this topic?
Responses to: “What Does it Take to be a Good Analyst?”
Rob Collie (PowerPivotPro) & Bill Jelen (Mr. Excel)
At 25:40 of the interview, Rob asks Bill what is a must-have if he were hiring analysts. Bill’s response:
“What caused this, what could have just gone wrong in the last step?”
Rob adds that ‘curiosity’ would be on his list. A person may not have even liked math in school but “I can do a lot with someone who has sufficient curiosity and interest.”
DaWayne Judd, Director, Financial Planning & Analysis at Columbia Sportswear
DaWayne had a lot to say about this topic. He listed compassion as a trait, and in his explanation, he described it as a need to understand that people who are impacted by the data are going to have questions that deserve answers.
Courage: Walking into an executive’s office to tell them that what they would like to do is not the best course of action based on your analysis or that your prior analysis was wrong due to an oversight takes courage. The reward is trust.
Steven Gara at Dice.com
6 Skills a Great Business Analyst Should Have Of the 6 Skills, this one stood out for me:
Sara Huter, Business Bee
Troy Berry, Director of Call Center Operations
PARTNERSHIP was the main point that I got from my conversation with Troy. An analyst needs to have a sense of what’s at stake and take it seriously. Troy needs a bloodhound whom he can trust to snoop out what needs to be snooped out. And because an analyst’s boss can often be someone who isn’t an analyst, trust and partnership are crucial. The boss can’t be blindsided by things that the analyst pretended not to see or, at least should have been aware of … or should have had the presence to notice and dig into.
Troy brought up the fact that hiring people is expensive. A good analyst would be able to help quantify the real cost of hiring, and see if data can help confirm or refute what’s understood about incentives for keeping good people and minimizing turnover. The technical ability is a start. Internalizing the urgency of minimizing department turnover … well … how do you interview someone for that?
Andy Crestodina, Author of Content Chemistry
Principal, Strategic Director at Orbit Media
A good analyst has two things: curiosity and an open mind…
- Curiosity is what triggers the question and gets them digging into the data looking for answers
- An open mind allows them to find the unexpected answers. If they’re not open to surprises, they’ll never find the truth.
CONCLUSION: What’s Special About Being an Analyst?
Cultivating trust, being skeptical, endless curiosity, partnership, courage, open mind, thick skin. These all sound like wonderful traits for any person to have. What’s the big deal about analysts?
Analysts have access to details that others don’t have. Analysts have impact on a business that others don’t have. If there’s talk of closing a branch, there’s an analyst somewhere who’s being grilled from all sides about the data being accurate. Are the calculations right? Are certain definitions the right way to see things? What if we exclude some bad stuff that we had no control over?
Steven Gara makes a little joke, “It’s a surprise more [analysts] don’t have frayed nerves.” My response is that it takes a certain breed of person. Only certain people are good at riding bulls or BASE jumping. There’s got to be passion and conviction before the technical parts. Frayed nerves shouldn’t be among your worries if you’re up on the back of bull.
DaWayne Judd will have the last word today:
“Lastly, compassion is required. Star Trek characters, Spock and Data, lacked an attribute that inhibited their ability to be teachers and effective in business transformation. Compassion allows an analyst to incorporate human responses into their analysis. This information will allow them to effectively communicate their conclusions across all levels of the organization with an awareness of differences in learning styles and use of a myriad of buy-in strategies.”
- The Research Bunker: 13 Traits of a Good Analyst
- SMS Management & Technology blog Nine Top Traits of Great Business Analysts
- Business Bee 5 Traits of a Good Analyst