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Get the Skills to Become a Data Analyst

Data analysis isn't just for polling companies like Gallup or Pew Research anymore

Data analysis is a field growing at an incredible rate, and more companies require talented analysts to dig through the mountains of information they accumulate every day. According to McKinsey, the United States is on track for a shortage of up to 190,000 analytical employees by 2018, which means there will be plenty of demand for data and systems analysts for years to come.

Data analysis isn't just for polling companies like Gallup or Pew Research anymore. Big data means big business, and companies across the world are expanding their plans for data collection and analysis. 85 percent of organizations surveyed by the Harvard Business Review reported that they have data initiatives planned or in progress, and that number is sure to grow. So if you want to start a career as a data analyst, there are a few skills you'll need to bring to the interview.

While data analysts will come from many different backgrounds, a degree in computer science or computer engineering is a great launching point for a career in data analysis. Sifting through data, cleaning and parsing it and then interpreting your findings may require a strong background in math, statistics, databases and programming languages. While strong math and data skills are hardly all you need, these skills will serve you very well in the data business.

Research Skills
Data analysis typically comes down to two main skills: understanding the data and knowing how to extract what you need from the data. To meet both of those goals, you need to have a strong understanding of your business and industry, as well as the technical expertise to query your database and extract relevant data. Having an investigative mind will help you look past the data and the tools you're using to provide relevant insight into your business.

Willingness to Experiment
The word "research" usually evokes an image of scientists in a lab, and the best data analysts should be willing to perform a few scientific experiments of their own. Raw data is messy and sprawling, and the ability to create insightful hypotheses is crucial to effective analysis.  This will also include an ability to see the "big picture" within your data to meet the data requirements of your client or team.

Be Adaptive
No matter how much experience you have in data mining and analysis, each job will use different systems and tools, or will have clients that have specific needs. Data analysts often work in diverse data environments, and you should be prepared to adapt your skills to fit the needs of your clients. One job may use MS Access while another may rely on SAS, but a good analyst should be able to bring their skills to bear in any work environment.

Communication and Relationship Management
IT professionals are not always known for their strong communication skills, but interpersonal skills can be vital for data analysts. In addition to strong analysis skills, employers will place a premium on candidates that can effectively communicate their findings within a team setting. As an analyst, you'll likely be responsible for working with multiple departments to develop data strategies and for providing support to clients, customers and other teams.

Knowledge of Computers and Systems
To get a good idea of the skills you need, you can take a look at the data analyst jobs listed on Kforce's website - most positions require at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or computer engineering. To be successful, you'll want to focus on developing an advanced skillset including writing SQL queries in both transactional and analytical IT systems. Focusing on MySQL skills is imperative, but prospective analysts should be familiar with Oracle, advanced Excel, Business Objects, SAS and other common business databases. Mastery of scripting languages like PERL and Python will help you clean up your raw data into a usable database.

More Stories By Rainier Fuclan

Rainier Fuclan is a freelance writer and digital marketer for 352 Media Group, a web development and digital marketing company.