Data analyst: it’s a career frequently talked about, but few actually know what it is. When asked to describe what a data analyst does, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “Umm… they analyze…data?” Yes, yes, they do. But what exactly does that mean?
Data analysts work closely with businesses from all walks of life, gathering data on how the business is performing, how their competitors match up, the business area as a whole, and a variety of other factors that all affect and contribute to a company’s success. They provide all the know-how for growing your business when it comes to cold, hard numbers, and they are becoming increasingly in demand.
The average data analyst salary as of May 2017 is $81,390 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a pretty comfortable wage depending on where you live. Most positions in this field come with medical, dental, and vision coverage.
This is a male-dominated field, with men composing approximately 62% of all data analysts. The amount of female data analysts has been on the rise, however, over the last several years.
A Quick Note: Data scientist and operations research analyst are other terms that are often used interchangeably with data analyst, though data scientist is actually a slightly more advanced version. Data analyst is a bit more colloquial, so we’ll be sticking with that for the duration of this article.
What Exactly Do Data Analysts Do?
As we touched on above, data analysts gather and analyze data concerning the business they’re employed for. It is not only important that they gather the business analytics for their specific company, but also as much as possible for the industry as a whole and their company’s direct competition.
Once they’ve compiled all the data, it’s time to organize it in reports, both for themselves and to present to their employers. These reports reveal directly how the company is faring in comparison to the industry standard and its competitors. Thorough data collections should also include information on the specifics of the company, such as how its website is performing, what products/services are most purchased, what marketing strategies have been most effective, etc.
With all the data gathered and organized, a data analyst will then search for trends and look for patterns. Patterns are best recognized in data that has been collected periodically, so data analysts will have the most to work with after a few quarters or cycles after the company has implemented something new. By finding these patterns and trends, data analysts then report back to the heads of their companies with their findings and recommendations.
Data analysts are also typically responsible for setting up databases and programming different business frameworks, so they must also have a strong technical base in addition to statistical analysis skills.
Additionally, the position of data analyst is a very collaborative one. Not only do they work with the head people they provide the final information from, they must also collaborate with the people they gather the data from and fellow data analysts as they put it all together.
By working closely with a data analyst, a company can begin to make sense of their business analytics and build a plan and strategize. It is the data analyst’s goal to not only provide straight information, but also meaningful insights that will impact the business’ future performance.
Overall, job satisfaction for data analysts is pretty high. Those that are in the field enjoy the mentally stimulating nature of their work and being in an environment that appreciates it. Another factor that plays a key role in job satisfaction is the large impact that the work of data analysts can have company-wide. Everyone wants to know that the work they’re doing matters, and as a data analyst, you’ll know for sure that it does.
Any instances of dissatisfaction arise from when their work is not fully taken advantage of—for instance, working for a company that does not realize the value of their data and insights. Data analysts can avoid these setbacks, though, by making sure they have a clear understanding of what the hiring company’s expectations are.
How to Become a Data Analyst
To become a data analyst, you first need a bachelor’s degree. Preferred majors include math, computer science, statistics, finance, economics, or other majors that focus on statistics and analytics. While you technically only need a bachelor’s degree to start this role, to advance to upper and higher-paid positions, you may want to consider getting a master’s degree in one of these fields as well.
During this time, be sure to grow both your technical and business skills. Taking on an internship while in school is a great way to learn in a hands-on environment, and it will make you more marketable to employers once you have a degree.
You should also achieve a few data certifications. There are numerous certification types out there, so you should investigate each one and look at the companies you’re interested in working for to see their requirements.
Once you’ve achieved your degree and certifications, it’s time to put those skills to good use and start searching the job market.
The job market for data analysts is a bit tricky to talk about. On the one hand, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 27% growth in job outlook between 2016-2026. This is an incredible growth rate, especially when compared to the nation’s average of 7%. This growth includes all different variations of data analysts, though, so this should be considered.
Many of the duties of data analysts can now be performed by software, making the average data analyst obsolete in some cases. To stay relevant in the job market, then, both entering and established data analysts must figure out how to make themselves valuable alongside the software. They can do this by employing complex formulas and predictive models to the data and provide explanations of these higher-functioning systems for their employers.
In this way, then, to stay relevant and be apart of the upward trend in data analyst job growth, the average data analyst should start becoming like the more advanced version of their profession: the data scientist. This may require a higher degree of education, but it will be worth it for the job security and greater employee value.
Data Analyst Salary Range
While the average data analyst salary is $81,390, most salaries all across the board fall somewhere in the range of $55,000 up to $117,000. This range is largely dependent on experience and education level. Most entry-level data analysts, for instance, have a starting salary of around $55,000, while those who make more have several years of experience under their belt and higher degrees of education.
Highest Data Analyst Employment Levels by State
So, where are data analysts most likely to find employment? We’ve listed below the highest data analyst employment levels by state according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics so that if you’re interested in pursuing a career as a data analyst you’ll know the right place to be.
Highest Data Analyst Salaries by State
But in addition to knowing where data analysts can work, it’s also important to know where they should work. Here are the states where data analysts typically make the most money, and the average salary for each.
Highest Data Analyst Salaries by Metropolitan Area
And, of course, the mean state wage is not necessarily indicative of what any given profession might make in a particular city. You’ll find that some cities on this list match up with a corresponding state above, but not all.
Final Thoughts on Data Analysts
If you have a penchant for finding patterns and statistical analysis, then going into the field of data analysis is a great choice for you. The typical data analyst is happy with their job, pleased to be doing work that is both mentally stimulating and important in a cooperative environment where their intellect is valued. Starting out, most data analysts make a comfortable salary, and there is a lot of room for improvement on that front as well.
The job market for data analysts is growing rapidly, so now’s a good time to start considering that career path. So long as you are well-qualified and provide the knowledge and know-how that technology can’t convey to a non-expert, you will be sure to stay relevant and be swept up in the growth of this position. More and more businesses are recognizing the importance of data analysts’ work and keen insights, and for good reason.