As businesses store and assess more information online or in databases, they need employees capable of handling, organizing and assessing digital material. Many companies employ data analysts to meet their data needs. Data analysts require specific skills to excel in their positions.
In this article, we explain what a data analyst is and provide a list of the most important skills they need for success.
Related: How to Become a Data Analyst
What is a data analyst?
A data analyst retrieves, organizes and analyzes information to help a company improve production, efficiency or another valuable aspect of the business's operations. Data analysts work in all industries, from retail to academia. Often, they use the data they gather to create reports that summarize patterns and offer solutions to stakeholders in the form of updated systems, procedures or protocols. Companies use data analysts specifically to improve outcomes like productivity or profits or to understand employee or customer needs.
Common responsibilities for data analysts include:
- Gathering data
- Finding patterns
- Writing reports
- Collaborating with stakeholders
- Presenting their findings
- Creating systems
Related: How Much Do Data Analysts Make?
What skills does a data analyst need?
Data analysts benefit from developing certain skills. Here are some of the top skills for data analysts to acquire for success in their field:
- Critical Thinking
- Statistical programming languages
- Data visualization
- Public speaking
- Machine learning
- Data warehousing
- Attention to detail
- Project management
- Data prep
- Domain knowledge
Structured Query Language, or SQL, is a spreadsheet and computing tool capable of handling large sets of data and processing information much more quickly than more common spreadsheet software. SQL is a valuable tool for data analysts, so knowledge of its functionality is key.
While SQL is often the preferred software for data analysts, knowledge and understanding of traditional, widespread spreadsheet tools is necessary. Some companies may prefer reports or data sets presented through traditional spreadsheet tools.
3. Critical thinking
Companies often task data analysts with both collecting data and interpreting the data for a specific purpose. Knowing what data to collect and how to process it to glean the appropriate information is a critical thinking skill that's vital for data analysts to develop.
4. Statistical programming languages
Some data analysts choose to use statistical programming languages like R or Python to analyze large data sets. Data analysts should be familiar with a variety of data analysis programs to prepare them for the tools their company has available.
5. Data visualization
After gathering, analyzing and compiling the data, usually data analysts must share their findings with the company. Creating an easy-to-understand data analysis visualization is vital. Often, data analysts choose to use visuals like graphs or charts to help their colleagues understand what the data says quickly and clearly.
Related: Types of Graphs and Charts
6. Public speaking
Presenting data analysis is an important part of a data analyst's job. Besides compiling the findings in a clear manner, data analysts must also explain both verbally and in writing why the data is important and what the company should do because of the findings.
7. Machine learning
Some companies that use highly technical machines to complete tasks require their data analysts have knowledge of how machine learning works. Artificial intelligence is growing as technology advances, so it's wise for data analysts to develop this skill.
8. Data warehousing
Data warehousing is the process of creating virtual storage and organization systems for a company's data. Often, they're managed by data analysts whose main job is to monitor the data and maintain appropriate safeguards and access.
Data analysts must communicate with a variety of stakeholders during the course of their work, including other data analysts, IT representatives and colleagues not directly related to data or technology. Verbal and written communication are key skills for data analysts.
10. Problem solving
Data analysts often encounter technical issues while completing their job-related duties. Establishing effective solutions for stakeholders through problem solving is a necessary skill.
Sometimes data analysts may have to conduct research. They might need to determine solutions for technical problems or evaluate new processes based on data analysis. Both of these tasks require research for information or possible solutions.
12. Attention to detail
Data analysis requires precise focus. Analyzing code or other technical details involves reading and assessing intricate coding or technical structure. Close attention to detail is a vital skill for data analysts.
Collaboration with internal and external stakeholders is a frequent responsibility for data analysts. A respect and appreciation for teamwork helps data analysts and other members of the company's team complete their work.
14. Project management
Project management involves overseeing and tracking all elements of a project, including the team members and their work. Some data analysts regularly manage a group of other analysts or information technology staffers. Experience or education in project management is a useful skill to have.
15. Data prep
Data preparation, or data prep, is the process of converting a data set from a large batch of information into a well-sorted and easy-to-understand report. Data analysts usually complete data prep before data visualization so that the most important information and takeaways are easy to convert into a graph or chart.
Data analysts use statistics to assign meaning to large data sets. Statistics help data analysts understand large data sets and find the useful, relevant information to apply to the issue facing the company.
While data analysts primarily work with numbers, creating written reports is an important part of their job responsibilities. Strong writing skills help data analysts clearly and accurately explain their findings in written reports.
18. Domain knowledge
Domain knowledge for data analysts refers to the domain in which the data they're assessing lives. Sometimes the data's domain can offer useful insights into the data and provide data analysts with helpful information with which they can more easily deconstruct and make sense of the data.