A career as a data analyst will suit you if you are highly analytical, have strong mathematical skills, and are curious and inquisitive

Data analysts are in high demand across all sectors, such as finance, consulting, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, government and education.

The ability to pay attention to detail, communicate well and be highly organised are essential skills for data analysts. They not only need to understand the data, but be able to provide insight and analysis through clear visual, written and verbal communication.

Types of data analyst

You can work across a broad range of areas, including:

  • business intelligence
  • data assurance
  • data quality
  • finance
  • higher education
  • marketing
  • sales.

Responsibilities

As a data analyst, you'll need to:

  • develop records management processes and policies
  • identify areas to increase efficiency and automation of processes
  • set up and maintain automated data processes
  • identify, evaluate and implement external services and tools to support data validation and cleansing
  • produce and track key performance indicators
  • develop and support reporting processes
  • monitor and audit data quality
  • liaise with internal and external clients to fully understand data content
  • gather, understand and document detailed business requirements using appropriate tools and techniques
  • design and carry out surveys and analyse survey data
  • manipulate, analyse and interpret complex data sets relating to the employer's business
  • prepare reports for internal and external audiences using business analytics reporting tools
  • create data dashboards, graphs and visualisations
  • provide sector and competitor benchmarking
  • mine and analyse large datasets, draw valid inferences and present them successfully to management using a reporting tool.

Salary

  • Entry level salaries range between £24,000 and £25,000. Graduate schemes in data analysis and business intelligence at larger companies tend to start on a higher salary of £29,000 to £30,000.
  • With a few years' experience, salaries can rise to between £30,000 and £35,000.
  • Experienced, high-level and consulting jobs can command £60,000 or more.

Benefits can include a company pension scheme, private medical insurance, and discretionary bonus.

Income figures intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. The role is a salaried position so overtime is not usually paid, but may be expected during busy periods or big projects.

At higher levels, data analyst roles may be quite flexible, allowing remote working or commuting on a flexible schedule.

What to expect

  • Roles are normally office based, although consulting roles may involve travel.
  • Data analysts work for all types of employers, so dress code and office culture will vary depending on the company you work for.
  • You'll be working with complex systems, requiring a high level of concentration and attention to detail.
  • You will need excellent communication skills in order to interpret client requirements and present data in a clear and compelling way.
  • If you work as a consultant, travel to different companies may be part of the job.

Qualifications

A first degree is often, but not always, required. A degree in a relevant discipline, such as the following, may help:

  • business information systems
  • computer science
  • economics
  • information management
  • mathematics
  • statistics.

You can become a data analyst with any degree subject if you can demonstrate the relevant skills.

Postgraduate degrees in data science are becoming more popular, but they are not usually required. You may find a postgraduate qualification helpful if you want to learn analysis skills or are changing careers. Postgraduate qualifications are offered in subjects including MSc Data Science, MSc Business Analytics, MSc Data Science and Analytics, MSc Big Data. Search for postgraduate courses in data.

You can also learn a lot of desirable data analysis skills through short courses offered at universities and specialist data schools such as:

Or through online sites such as Coursera or FutureLearn.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent numerical and analytical skills
  • knowledge of data analysis tools - you don't need to know all of them at entry level but you should show advanced skills in Excel and the use of at least one relational database
  • familiarity with other relational databases (e.g. MS Access)
  • knowledge of data modelling, data cleansing, and data enrichment techniques
  • Hadoop open-source data analytics
  • Google Analytics, SEO, keyword analysis, web analytics (for marketing analyst roles)
  • the capacity to develop and document procedures and workflows
  • the ability to carry out data quality control, validation and linkage
  • an understanding of data protection issues
  • an awareness and knowledge of industry-specific databases and data sets (particularly in higher education) - for some roles
  • experience of statistical methodologies and data analysis techniques
  • the ability to produce clear graphical representations and data visualisations.

Depending on your exact role, you're likely to need skills in some of the following programmes:

  • VBA and SQL Server
  • APIs
  • XML
  • business intelligence and analytics platforms - Tableau, QlikView, Crystal Reports, D3, Alteryx
  • statistical programmes - SPSS, SAS, RapidMiner
  • programming for data and analytics - R, Python, MATLAB.

Work experience

Entry level roles are available at companies across all sectors. Graduate schemes are often offered at larger companies, particularly consulting firms, government, media, and telecommunications.

You will be at an advantage if you have gained experience in an internship or placement during your degree. Taking the initiative to learn data analysis skills and programmes in addition to your degree will help you develop your skills and help set you apart.

Employers

Data analysts can work in large companies such as 'big four' consultancies or financial services firms, or consumer retail firms, small and medium sized businesses such as marketing agencies, or the public sector.

Employers of data analysts include the following:

  • higher education institutions
  • retail companies
  • professional services firms
  • insurance companies
  • marketing firms
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • telecommunications companies
  • information technology firms
  • consultancy firms such as PwC, FDM, KPMG, Accenture
  • government, including Civil Service, MI5, GCHQ
  • the media.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies include:

Professional development

Professional certifications are not usually required, but may be offered as professional development. You can specialise in a particular programme or tool (R, Python, SAS, Tableau, etc.), or become certified by the BCS - The Chartered Institute for IT. Professional development is offered by The Operational Research Society.

You may have the opportunity for professional development in other areas such as project management.

Career prospects

Data analysis is a fast-growing field and skilled analysts are in high demand across all sectors. You will find many opportunities but you will still need to stand out and demonstrate excellent skills in order to succeed in a career as a data analyst.

Skilled analysts who are also skilled at finding and communicating insights can progress to leadership roles.