The business intelligence analyst (or business intelligence developer) operates at the helm of business analytics, transforming raw data into actionable insights. It's not just about charts or numbers on a spreadsheet, though; it's about identifying trends, predicting outcomes, and facilitating data-driven decision-making.
If you've ever considered becoming a business intelligence analyst, you're in the right place. This article will guide you through the process of becoming a BI analyst in 2024. We will discuss the role, skills, and experience that are required. We will also go over how you can best navigate the job market - from gaining practical experience and building a professional portfolio to preparing for interviews and evaluating job offers.
Looking to start learning straight away? Our Data Analyst in Power BI skill track will give you many of the skills you need to kick-start your career.
Understanding the Role of the Business Intelligence Analyst
Let’s start by looking at what business intelligence analysts do. This can help you decide whether it’s the right career for you.
What is a business intelligence Aanalyst?
BI analysts are experts at uncovering insights from large volumes of data. Their strong communication and data storytelling skills allow them to steer companies toward new opportunities and aid in decision-making.
From a technical standpoint, BI analysts often work with tools like SQL for data manipulation and data visualization platforms such as Tableau or Power BI and possess a deep understanding of the business domain in which they operate.
However, while the foundation of the job involves analyzing data, the BI analyst must have strong communication and organization skills. BI analysts bring the most value to an organization if they can support executive decision-makers.
What does a business intelligence analyst do?
The tasks and responsibilities can vary from company to company, especially between start-ups and large corporations. However, we can summarize the primary responsibilities of a BI analyst into five main areas:
Data analysis and interpretation
- The primary mission of a BI analyst is to analyze and interpret data. They sift through vast datasets, identifying trends, patterns, and anomalies.
- Analysis is not just about numbers; it's about insights. Whether it's sales figures, customer behavior, or market trends, BI analysts must effectively interpret their analyses and provide recommendations.
Generating reports and dashboards
- The role of the BI analyst involves creating reports and dashboards that convey their findings in the fastest way possible.
- This is not just about presenting data but telling a story that informs strategic decisions.
Collaboration and communication with stakeholders
- Effective communication is at the core of the responsibilities of a BI analyst. They must collaborate with diverse stakeholders, including executives, managers, and IT professionals, to understand business needs and translate them into data solutions.
- They must bridge the gap between complex technical concepts and their practical applications, ensuring insights resonate with decision-makers across the organization.
Continuous monitoring and optimization:
- A big part of this role is continually monitoring the performance of data solutions, identifying areas for optimization and improvement.
- Instead of just creating static reports, BI analysts must build dynamic systems that evolve with the organization's needs.
Ensuring data security and compliance:
- With increased awareness and concern over data security, BI analysts are crucial in ensuring data is secure and complies with industry regulations.
- They must often implement protocols and measures to safeguard sensitive information.
How to Become a Business Intelligence Analyst: 5 Steps for Success
Now that we’re familiar with what BI analysts do, let’s turn our attention to how you can start your career as one. We’ve outlined five steps you need to take in order to become a business intelligence analyst.
1. Develop key skills and competencies
BI analysts must have solid technical and analytical skills. However, as we have already touched on, specific soft skills like communication, collaboration, and overall business knowledge are also fundamental to succeed as a BI analyst.
Let's go over a few of these skills in more detail, as well as some resources for how you can start your journey to becoming a business intelligence analyst:
These can be broken down into three main areas:
- SQL: the ability to efficiently query databases and manipulate data using various SQL platforms is essential to master. DataCamp has a skill track specifically designed to learn SQL in business analytics.
- Data visualization: proficiency in tools like Power BI or Tableau is equally crucial in the role. BI analysts must be able to transform the data they extract from databases into compelling narratives for a diverse audience (technical and non-technical alike). To learn how to master Power BI, check out DataCamp's Data Analyst in Power BI career track. For Tableau, start with our Tableau Fundamentals track.
- Programming: while not mandatory, knowledge of programming languages like Python or R can be valuable for advanced data analysis. We have a separate post on whether BI analysts should learn to code--check it out to find out why learning to code is a good investment in your career as a BI analyst. You can also start with our Python Programming or R Programming skill tracks.
As mentioned above, the BI analyst should be able to quickly analyze data and extract meaningful insights and trends, which depends heavily on their technical skills. However, beyond just technical skills, the BI analyst must be able to think critically about a problem to find an optimal solution.
Some of the key analytical skills for BI analysts include:
- Statistical analysis: Proficiency in applying statistical methods to analyze data sets, including understanding distributions, statistical testing, and regression analysis. This skill is essential for making informed inferences from data.
- Data extraction and exploration: The ability to sift through large datasets to identify patterns, trends, and relationships. This includes using techniques like clustering, classification, and association rule mining.
- Data cleaning and preprocessing: Skills in cleaning and preparing data for analysis, which involves handling missing values, outliers, and data normalization. This step is crucial for ensuring the quality and reliability of the analysis.
- Predictive analytics: The ability to use historical data to make predictions about future trends or behaviors. This often involves machine learning techniques and model building.
Effective communication and collaboration are two skills that are not taught or spoken about as much as they should be, but they are the stand-out skills of successful BI analysts. Here are some of the key soft skills you’ll need to develop to become a BI analyst:
- Communication: You’ll need to be able to communicate data insights to a range of audiences, and you’ll work with a range of stakeholders from across the business you work for.
- Problem-solving: The ability to think critically and creatively to solve complex business problems using data-driven approaches.
- Attention to detail: A keen eye for detail is essential for ensuring the accuracy and reliability of data analysis and for identifying subtle yet important trends or patterns in data.
- Teamwork and collaboration: Frequently, BI analysts work as part of a team. Collaboration with other team members, including data scientists, IT professionals, and business stakeholders, is crucial.
2. Get qualified and progress your skills
Once you’ve developed your essential skills, you’ll need to continue building towards starting your career as a BI analyst. You can get qualified or certified, which can certainly help, although, as we’ll see, practical experience is also essential.
A bachelor's degree in a related field, such as computer science, information technology, statistics, or a similar discipline, is often a prerequisite in most job postings for BI analysts. Additionally, while not mandatory, specialized degrees in business intelligence, data science, or analytics are becoming more prevalent and can provide a focused education directly applicable to the role.
In addition to traditional college degrees, obtaining one or more certifications is advantageous to prove you have mastered the technical skills required for the job. DataCamp's Data Analyst Certification demonstrates that you can navigate data systems, analyze data, and effectively communicate your findings.
There are various other business analyst certifications, as we’ve explored in a separate post. Here are a few examples:
- Microsoft Certified: Power BI Data Analyst Associate: A certification from Microsoft, such as the Power BI Data Analyst Associate, validates skills in data visualization, modeling, and analytics using Power BI.
- Google Business Intelligence Professional Certificate: This certificate by Google targets the skills of BI professionals, making it a good choice for BI analysts.
Resources like our PL-300 Power BI Certification cheat sheet can help you get certified
Developing analytical and soft skills
We have mentioned the technical, analytical, and soft skills required as a BI analyst. At this point, you might wonder how you will develop these skills, especially if you don't have a formal degree.
Online data science bootcamps and self-study through online courses are viable options for developing and mastering technical skills. While bootcamps can get incredibly pricey, the self-study route is both cost-effective and can provide an extensive learning curriculum targeted at the skills and tools that are most relevant to the role.
However, the biggest challenge in self-study is putting together the right curriculum where you're learning concepts and tools plus applying and practicing your skills. Instead of spending weeks figuring out a roadmap for becoming a BI analyst, DataCamp provides individual online courses and career tracks that lay out your entire path to learning the right skills. Not only that, but you're also able to apply your skills through guided projects and real-world datasets.
3. Gain practical experience
While degrees and certifications can boost your resume, practical experience and the ability to showcase real-world projects often carry significant weight in this competitive field.
Internships and entry-level positions
When just starting out, internships in BI or related fields are a great first step, providing:
- Hands-on experience.
- Exposure to real projects.
- An opportunity to work with professionals in the industry.
You can also look for entry-level positions, or those marked as 'junior,' that involve working closely with data but only require a little prior experience. These roles often serve as stepping stones to BI positions.
Projects and case studies
To demonstrate your skills, you can work on projects to apply your skills in real-world scenarios. Check out some Power BI projects and Tableau projects that can help give you some inspiration. After completing a few, you can then tailor your projects to specific industries of interest. This specialization makes your experience more relevant when applying for BI positions in those industries.
The types of projects you can do range from manipulating and cleaning data, exploring and analyzing datasets, visualizing data, and creating dashboards.
Document your process and results and ensure the projects are directed towards solving an actual business problem, even if it's fictitious. You should showcase these skills in a portfolio, and we'll discuss later in this guide how to build a professional portfolio that you can send to potential employers.
Participate in competitions where you can find datasets and problem statements to solve. Competing in data science competitions enhances your problem-solving skills and allows you to engage in discussions, share your insights, and learn from others--all things that contribute to developing your practical knowledge.
Networking and mentorship
You can build your network by joining and engaging in BI forums and communities and attending industry events, webinars, and conferences.
Networking provides opportunities to connect with professionals, learn about their experiences, and find mentorship. Mentors are experienced BI analysts who can provide guidance, offer insights, share practical knowledge, and assist in navigating the field.
Connect and build relationships with other data professionals on social media and through communities, which can lead to potential job opportunities and provide help and support as you develop and grow your analytical knowledge. If you get certified with DataCamp, you can also join our DataCamp Certified Community.
4. Build a professional portfolio
Building a stand-out professional portfolio is a crucial step when looking for a job in most technical positions. The portfolio should catch the attention of potential employers and demonstrate that you have the skills needed to get the job done.
We will go over how to document and present your work in a portfolio effectively and how to augment that portfolio with a solid online presence that gets you noticed.
However, there are two things to keep in mind as you go through this process:
- Be consistent: Ensure there are no grammatical errors or typos, and maintain consistent branding across your online presence, resume, LinkedIn, and portfolio.
- Tailor to the job you want: Tailor your portfolio to align with the specific skills and requirements mentioned in the job descriptions. Make it easy for employers to see your fit. If you're interested in a particular industry, ensure your projects reflect relevance to that industry's challenges and needs.
Document your work
Include 1 or 2 pillar projects in your portfolio--these are in-depth, targeted projects that immediately demonstrate the key skills of a BI analyst. You can then work on several supporting projects demonstrating your skills in various topics like data cleaning, exploration, and visualization. Remember to showcase your proficiency in specific tools like Power BI or Tableau.
As you work through these projects, follow these guidelines for documenting your work:
- Clear project descriptions: Provide detailed descriptions of each project, including the problem addressed, your approach, the tools used, and the outcomes achieved. Showcase your ability to translate business problems into data-driven solutions.
- Methodologies used: Explain the methodologies you employed in each project. Clearly explain your process, whether it's data cleaning, exploratory data analysis, or predictive modeling.
- Tell a story: Use visuals with annotations or design eye-catching graphics to make your portfolio visually appealing. A well-designed portfolio is more likely to capture attention.
- Consistent style: Maintain a consistent visual style across your projects. This helps create a cohesive and professional-looking portfolio.
- Quantify achievements: Where possible, quantify the impact of your work. For instance, mention how your analysis could lead to a specific improvement or decision.
- Highlight challenges: Discuss challenges (or potential challenges) faced during projects and how you overcame them. This demonstrates resilience and problem-solving skills.
If applicable, display your coding skills by including code snippets or links to your GitHub repositories. You can also use a specialized platform like DataCamp Workspace that provides a cloud-based notebook in R, Python, and SQL.
Develop an online presence
By building an online presence, you can show potential employers (and fellow data professionals) you have strong technical and analytical knowledge. Even if you are still learning, you can build connections and relationships online that keep you motivated to continue and could even lead to a job opportunity in the future.
Here are some examples of where you can start to build your online presence:
- DataCamp Portfolio: Build a stunning data portfolio and share your professional story and achievements in minutes.
- LinkedIn: Optimize your LinkedIn profile with a professional photo, a compelling headline, and a concise summary. Once you've completed a few projects, you can also link to them on LinkedIn.
- GitHub: Create a GitHub repository to host your code and project files. This demonstrates your technical skills and allows for easy sharing with potential employers.
- Personal blog: Consider creating a personal blog or website--you can do this for free on GitHub or Medium. Share your thoughts on industry trends, case studies, or tutorials. This shows your commitment and enthusiasm and establishes you as a thought leader.
Embark on continuous learning and certifications
Becoming part of the data and analytics industry as a BI analyst means adopting a mindset of continuous learning. The field is constantly evolving, and you should, too--continue enrolling in various courses, working on projects, and working on certificates.
Remember to regularly update your portfolio to reflect your latest projects and skills. This showcases your ongoing dedication to growth.
5. Navigate the job market
Once you have the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to become a business intelligence analyst, it’s time to start looking for jobs. This process can be daunting, regardless of whether you’re starting your first career role or transferring from another field. Thankfully, there are some tried and tested ways you can navigate this challenge:
Searching for job opportunities
Explore popular online job boards like LinkedIn, Google, Indeed, Glassdoor, and specialized platforms. Set up job alerts to receive notifications for positions based on your specified filters (such as the city, industry, or employment term).
You can also visit the career pages of companies you're interested in. Many organizations post job openings directly on their websites. Even better--leverage your networks and reach out to professionals and hiring managers directly, expressing your interest in job opportunities.
Preparing for interviews
During an interview, you will be asked general questions about yourself and detailed technical questions. Being well-prepared for the interview is essential to show that you are confident and comfortable talking about these topics.
You can check out our articles on data analyst interview questions and Power BI interview questions, for example, questions and answers that will help you prepare for the interview. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Technical preparation: Review key technical concepts in BI, data analysis, and visualization. Be ready to discuss your projects, methodologies, and the tools you've used.
- Portfolio presentation: Practice presenting your portfolio. Be articulate about the challenges you've tackled, your problem-solving process, and the impact of your work.
- Behavioral questions: Anticipate and prepare for common behavioral questions. Showcase your problem-solving skills, adaptability, and ability to work in a team.
- Industry-specific knowledge: Research the industry of the company you're interviewing with. Understand its data needs, challenges, and how your skills align with those requirements.
- Questions for the interviewer: Prepare thoughtful questions for the interviewer. This demonstrates your genuine interest in the role and the company.
Becoming a business intelligence analyst in 2024 requires a blend of technical and soft skills. BI analysts must have excellent communication, collaboration, and business knowledge to support decision-makers effectively. Along with technical skills such as SQL, data visualization skills using Power BI or Tableau, and some programming skills, BI analysts must possess analytical skills to quickly identify trends and insights that impact business strategy.
Navigating the job market requires gaining practical experience, building a professional portfolio, and preparing for interviews. With a growing demand for data-driven insights, BI analysts have ample opportunities to work in various industries and organizations.
If you're considering a career in business intelligence analysis, the road ahead may seem challenging, but it's also rewarding. With the right skills and attitude, you can make a meaningful impact on the success of an organization. You can start on your journey today with our Data Analyst in Power BI career track, which will arm you with many of the skills you’ll need to become a BI analyst.
Start Your Business Intelligence Journey Today!