How to Become a Data Analyst

Essential Education, Skills, and Job Interview Prep

If you have an undying love for data analytics and computer science, you should learn how to become a data analyst. These professionals have an impressive range of technical skills in programming languages, data visualization, and data science.

Data analysts should also have strong communication skills to relay their findings to company stakeholders, and be a driving force in the strategic plans of the business. To become a skilled data analyst, this article contains all the information you need.

What Is a Data Analyst?

A data analyst collects, organizes, and interprets data to turn it into actionable insights for businesses. These professionals use data analytics tools to make this possible.

Data analyst positions require years of experience and real-world expertise. The job requires professionals to have research, computer, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Data Analyst Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), $86,200 is the average salary for operations research analysts, a common type of data analyst. BLS also confirms that the job growth for this career path is 25 percent. This growth rate is over five times higher than the average job.

These professionals work full-time and their typical working environment is an office. As a skilled data analyst, you can also work on a freelance or consultancy basis.

Most data analysts are satisfied with their jobs. According to reviews aggregated by PayScale, the average data analyst rates their job satisfaction at 3.8 out of five stars.


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Entry-Level Data Analyst Job Requirements

For entry-level data analyst jobs, most employers prefer a Bachelor’s Degree in Data Analytics, Computer Science, Data Science, or a related field. However, some employers will accept candidates who only have an associate degree.

ZipRecruiter states that the average annual salary for entry-level data analysts is $43,250. This annual salary works out to $21 per hour.

How to Ace Your Data Analyst Job Interview

To ace a data analyst job interview, be clear about the data analytics tools you use and your process for mining, organizing, and interpreting data.

You need to highlight your best soft skills and mention the day-to-day programs and software you use for data analytics, like Microsoft Excel and Python.

Common Data Analyst Job Interview Questions

  • What is “data cleaning,” and what are the best methods for this?
  • What is the KNN imputation method?
  • What do you do with missing or suspect data?
  • How do you validate data?
  • What is logistic regression?
  • Which tools do you use in big data?
  • How would you explain a hash table?
  • What’s your first step when you begin a new project?

What Degree Should I Get to Become a Data Analyst?

Some employers will accept data analysts who only have an associate degree. Yet you’ll have a much better chance of finding a data analyst position with a bachelor’s degree. Your degree should be in computer science, data analytics, data science, or any related field.

Below are the degree programs for data analysts and what each of them entails.

Associate Degree in Data Analytics

Completing an Associate Degree in Data Analytics takes two years. It’s a brilliant choice if you don’t have experience in data analytics. Associate degree programs equip students with the foundational knowledge to progress to a four-year degree.

Once you have your in-person or online associate degree, you can look for junior roles in data analytics while advancing your studies. While an associate degree is beneficial, don’t stop there.

Bachelor’s Degree in Data Analytics

A bachelor’s degree is a four-year program that will prepare you for intermediate data analyst roles. Bachelor’s degree programs teach advanced technical skills in data modeling, data warehousing, data visualization, and statistics.

With a bachelor’s degree, you’ll be the ideal candidate for most jobs. Although it’s not mandatory to continue beyond this, you should pursue further education if you want to compete for senior-level positions.

Master’s Degree in Data Analytics

Having your Master’s Degree in Data Analytics is the perfect way to land well-paying roles at well-known companies. You can get your master’s online or in person, and it will take one to two years to complete. This degree successfully proves your expertise as a seasoned data analyst.

Your master’s degree isn’t compulsory. Yet it will encourage your employer to offer you a salary bump or promotion.

Data Science Doctoral Degree

A PhD in Data Science will put you at the top of the food chain. These programs typically take five years to complete. However, this can be shorter depending on what you covered in your master’s degree.

With a PhD in Data Science, the world is your oyster. World-class companies will headhunt you, and your current employers will gladly increase your salary. If not, finding a new job that offers you an attractive salary for data analytics will be a breeze.

What Does a Data Analyst Do?

As a data analyst, you’re responsible for a wide range of tasks. You must design and maintain data systems, prepare detailed reports for the relevant stakeholders, and use statistical tools for data interpretation. Professionals also have to identify crucial patterns and trends in datasets.

Let’s look at each of these responsibilities closely.

Uses Statistical Tools

Data analysts use statistical tools to test their insights, organize data, and interpret data. It’s critical to have a firm handle on tools like Microsoft Excel, Minitab, and MATLAB because of this. The more experience data analysts have with statistical tools, the better. Without these tools, data analysts can’t prescribe effective solutions or make accurate data predictions.

Identifies Patterns and Trends

If a company doesn’t get the results they desire, the solution usually lies within the data. Data analysts have to identify patterns and trends in datasets to find challenges affecting a business.

Analyzing these trends also allows data analysts to prescribe strategies that will achieve a business’s objective. Trends can include finding a preference among consumers for a specific product the company sells. Data analysts will use this information to enhance the product according to what consumers prefer.

Essential Data Analyst Skills

To become a data analyst, you need to have a good deal of expertise. A few crucial skills include SQL, statistical programming languages, data cleaning and organizing, and strong communication skills.

This is only the tip of the iceberg for essential data analytics skills. Yet these skills make up the most sought-after expertise for data analysts.

Below are the key skills you need to become a data analyst.


SQL, which is short for Structured Query Language, is an invaluable tool. Professionals use this tool for handling enormous datasets and processing that data much more quickly than your average spreadsheet software. Professional data analysts must know how to use SQL to organize and visualize data.

Most data analytics foundation courses will teach you how to learn SQL for data analytics.

Statistical Programming Languages

You know that data analysts have to use statistical tools. It’s not surprising why they need expertise in programming languages. To interpret and organize large datasets, many data analysts know how to learn Python and R.

The programming languages you want to learn depends on your preference. However, a popular language like Python is a no-brainer since many companies will use it.

Data Cleaning and Preparation

Inaccurate records in a dataset can easily disable a data analytics process. To avoid this, data analysts must data cleanse by removing inaccurate or faulty records from their findings.

Data analysts should also prepare and organize that data after cleaning it. Doing this ensures the data is ready to be interpreted and put into action.

Communication Skills

As a data analyst, you will be presenting information constantly. To successfully lead your presentation without feeling unconfident, hone your communication skills.

While doing a presentation for stakeholders, members may ask questions and distract you from your point. You need to stay focused and calm to get back on track, and this will come with practice and confidence.

How to Become a Data
Analyst: A Step-by-Step Guide

To become a data analyst, you need to study for a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Analytics or a similar field. You should complete an internship, gain professional certification in data analytics, and earn your master’s degree. To stand out from the crowd, be sure to keep your skills updated. Below are the best steps to become a data analyst in 2021.


Achieve a Bachelor’s Degree

Some employers will hire you with merely an associate degree. However, to become a successful data analyst, you need to earn your bachelor’s degree. Aim for a degree program that includes hands-on experience and offers career services to give you a helpful push.

The best degree for a data analyst is a Bachelor of Science in Data Analytics. This degree is fitting as it includes practical, hands-on work and not only theoretical studies. Bachelor programs are offered at top online colleges or in-person learning facilities.


Complete an Internship

If you don’t have work experience or your bachelor’s program doesn’t cover hands-on experience, an internship is your next step. Thousands of companies are looking for interns. An internship is a convenient opportunity to refine your skills while earning some income.


Gain Professional Certification

Attaining professional certification will be an encouraging factor for employers to hire you. You can gain certification for a particular software or general data analytics abilities. Either way, professional certification significantly increases your chances of finding a job.


Find an Entry-Level Job

After earning your bachelor’s degree and professional certification, you’re ready to look for an entry-level job. You can work for various organizations like universities, banks, retail stores, social media agencies, and healthcare facilities.

Be certain about the job you apply for. Ensure it’s a role that can help you achieve your professional goals.


Achieve a Master’s Degree

Your master’s degree will be the cherry on top. You can apply for managerial positions in top-quality companies that offer you countless perks. A master’s degree will increase your earning potential, too. Employers will also notice your passion and dedication to succeeding in data analytics.

A master’s degree is worth it for professionals who want to advance into senior roles. This also means that you’ll earn a much higher salary.


Perfect Your Skills

There’s always going to be a more improved version of a traditional data analytics process. You have to keep your data science skills updated because of this. To do this, attend a bootcamp, massive open online course (MOOC), or a short course offered by an online college.

Try to expand your skillset as much as possible to offer versatility to your employers. If you want to take it a step further, gain your PhD in Data Science. While gaining your PhD isn’t crucial, it proves that you’re a master of data science.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Data Analyst?

The quickest way to become a data analyst is to study an associate degree program and gain hands-on experience. You should also earn a personal certification and attend short courses. However, a bachelor’s degree will help you gain the skills you need and increase your chances of landing a job. From start to finish, expect to spend four to five years.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, you can opt to gain your master’s degree and even your PhD. Furthering your education will advance your career in data analytics. Although a PhD degree program requires years of your time, it’s an invaluable addition to your resume.

Should You Become a Data Analyst in 2021?

If you fawn over data visualization techniques and love to spend your time analyzing spreadsheets, become a data analyst in 2021. This in-demand job offers countless career and personal growth opportunities. If you have the passion, interest, and dedication, this can become a very lucrative career.

Data Analyst FAQ

Are data analyst jobs in demand?

Yes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the job growth for data analysts at 25 percent. This growth rate is more than five times higher than most jobs. Becoming a data analyst in 2021 means job security, high job demand, and career opportunities.

Who can become a data analyst?

Anybody who loves data analytics and technical expertise can become a data analyst. However, this isn’t a job for the faint-hearted. Data analysts should have strong communication skills and technical skills.

Where can a data analyst work?

A data analyst can work in an office on a full-time contract. These professionals can also work as a freelancer or in a consultancy capacity.

What is the difference between a data analyst and a data scientist?

A data analyst works on organizing and translating existing data. However, a data scientist finds a new, innovative process to capture and organize data for analysts. Data scientists are considered more senior than analysts and therefore receive higher salaries.

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