In this article, Adrian Mitchell outlines 6 basic skills you need to know to secure a data analyst job.

All organisations now understand the importance and value of data-driven business strategies and decision making. Data is the backbone of the world’s modern economies. Following the coronavirus outbreak, 8 in 10 businesses said data has been a critical advantage during the pandemic (YouGov survey 2021 titled ‘Data-driven Companies are More Confident, Resilient’). It fuels innovation and growth, offering businesses a competitive edge. In times uncertainty, the need for technically skilled individuals able to provide actionable insight to constantly collected stream of information increases. Despite the demand for roles requiring hard data skills growing, the supply of graduates with specialist data skills from universities is limited. Just under half of companies (46%) looking for technical talent reported struggles with recruiting (Quantifying the UK Data Skill Gap Report 2021.) The UK is facing a growing data skill gap.

With business demand grows the appeal of working in Data & Insight. But the first steps to securing a data analyst job can be daunting. From experience I know that there are very few career paths quite as varied or rewarding. You’re going to learn an awful lot in your career, and you’re going to enjoy it. That said, the rewards won’t come without commitment, significant training, and effort. Indeed, while working in Data & Insight you can’t afford to stop learning new technologies and techniques. Ever.

That said, there are fundamentals. If you’re seeking to kick off your career in data, there are basics you have to master, no matter who you are and where you want this path to take you. In this post we have listed the top 6 skills every beginner should know if they’re aspiring to become a data analyst.

Learn to love Google data analyst job

Wipe the smirk off your face, I’m serious. This is probably the worst kept secret among all top-level developers and analysts you’ll ever meet.

I can not tell you how many junior analysts I’ve trained who felt silly for relying on Google too much. They really shouldn’t! Google should become your number one best friend. Before you learn anything else, learn how to lean on it.

That question you’ve had in your mind for a day or two? Write it out word for word in the search console and I guarantee someone else somewhere had the same problem and someone else, somewhere else has answered it. For nearly every skill I am about to talk you through, Google will be the primary tool you should use to get better at it.

Have you heard of Google Garage? If not, check it out. That’s another incredible resource. It’s a non-profit program designed to help people improve their digital abilities. They offer numerous online sessions designed to help you develop skills quickly.

Trust me, Google will be your best friend in your new data analyst job!


Domain Knowledgedata analyst job

You might find it surprising that the very first skill I recommend for your new data analyst job isn’t ‘technical’, but as a data team leader with 15 years’ experience I can say with confidence that the best people I’ve had, had a good understanding of business.

The reality is that working with data means providing value to people who want to do one or both of the following two things:

  • In private organisations: ‘make more money’ and ‘spend less’,
  • In public bodies: ‘do more’ and ‘spend less’.

The number of ways in which organisations can do these things is almost limitless. Let me list few examples below.

 For ‘Make more money’ / ‘Do more’:
• Optimise marketing spend
• Target sales efforts
• Improve product development

For ‘Spend Less’:
• Increase operations efficiency
• Reduce IT spend
• Optimise head-count

At the beginning of your data analyst career, if tasked with analysing data in the areas above, where would you start? If you were anything like me, you’d rely on your manager or the specialists in each area. It’s obvious that you need to draw on knowledge from their domain experience to get the job done, but don’t be reactive! Do not wait for marketing to ask a question to start learning about marketing so you can answer it. Be proactive.

When you start as a data, analytics or insight professional, every spare moment should be spent learning about the business. There are many ways to do so. You can ask to shadow team members across different departments. You can ask to attend appropriate meetings, so you learn what really matters to different teams. You can immerse yourself in team specific newsletters and insights generated by other resources. You can google the hell out of your industry and read, read, read! And I recommend doing all of these.

The bottom line is, if you want to provide your customers with valuable insight, you need to think like them.

Excel data analyst job

Every job specification you see mentions Python or one of its equivalents. You’ve probably ordered “Learning Spark: Lightning-Fast Big Data Analysis” from Amazon or are slugging your way through “The Data Warehouse Toolkit” because you think you should. But if you are a beginner then I would still recommend mastering Excel first.

This may be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever said but for me Excel is one of, if not the greatest, software ever made. Other than email, I’m not sure if there is a piece of software which has had as big of an impact on business. I just love it! And so should you.

The reality is, no matter what your job title or the specialisation you get into, you are going to be using Excel. A lot! Sure, in time you are going to become a Python expert, but Excel is where the fundamentals of data manipulation and analysis are learnt. There is still no other tool available which is as easy and useful in doing quick and dirty analysis or visualisations. Trust me – you want to be an Excel expert.

Learn Vlookups and Hlookups, make Index and Match your second nature. Immerse yourself in Pivot Tables. Understand If Statements and other useful Excel Functions. Begin learning Power Query.

Excel is where the ability to conceptualise data analysis & manipulation techniques are born. These skills make further learning of SQL and Python easier to understand. Don’t underestimate Excel’s importance. It is crucial in a data analyst job.

SQL data analyst job

During my career, I’ve trained and managed over 40 data professionals of varying experience and specialisations. The skill gap which had the biggest negative impact on their advancement was SQL. I loved SQL tutoring because it made my life easier as a manager and changed my staff’s careers for the better.

Ask anyone who knows SQL and they will tell you ‘It’s simple’. And believe me, it is. However, ask people who don’t know it, and they will tell you about their struggles with beginning the journey. Perhaps because they worry it’s a leap in understanding. The truth is, SQL is not some intermediate skill you can get around to knowing, it’s one of the basics. It’s fundamental to your ability to extract and transform data for further analysis. It’s also essential in many automation tasks you may want to complete. But don’t worry, once you’re able to conceptualise data manipulation (from mastering Excel), learning SQL is much easier. It’s something which takes practice and direct real-world exposure.

Take every opportunity to use it in your current organisation. Be sure to cover Sum, Average, Count and other arithmetic functions. You are going to need to know Group By, Order By, Where, and Having Clauses functions. Case Statements are also essential along with learning Joins and Unions.

These are the basics and will cover 75% of everything you will regularly use, even later in your career.


PowerPoint data analyst job

I’m not sure how many other people recommend PowerPoint as a part of basic skillset for Data Analysis, but I strongly recommend this one not because it makes you a better data analyst. Because, unfortunately, you are likely going to use it a lot.

When you deliver an insight, data, or a visualisation, at least half of the time it’s going to end up in PowerPoint. And when you are starting out, guess who’s going to be building that Slide Deck?!

Practicing and becoming expert in PowerPoint has two benefits. Firstly, it’s going to save you lots of time – because now you’re an expert, you won’t be messing around with resizing images and realigning text. Secondly, the quality and impact of your presentations will increase.

PowerPoint is a skill you need to learn.


Public Speaking data analyst job

Let me break the good news first. You’re going to be doing interesting and important work and you’re going to have a great career. Now, the bad news. Because you’re going to be doing interesting and important work, you’re going to have to stand up and talk about it.

Public speaking is hard but it’s an unavoidable part of the data analyst job. If you are to take your data career as far as you can, you’re going to have to do it.

At some point in your career, you are going to come across the following scenarios:

  • Having to defend your numbers or method in a meeting,
  • Debating the interpretation of data with a group of stakeholders,
  • Explaining your findings in front of a large group,

If you want to lead, present, present again, and then present some more.

Listen, I hate public speaking. I’m an introvert by nature, but I would never have gotten where I am if I didn’t ignore my nature and fight through the fear. That fear never disappears, but it does get easier with practice. You just need to jump in. That’s what I did, and now I’m not a bad speaker.  Some have even told me I’m quite good!

You can absolutely build a successful career without public speaking, many people do. But it makes life much easier if you immerse yourself in it as much as you can, as early as you can. It’s hard but it’s worth it.

So, there you have it. That’s my list of the basic skills anyone seeking a career in Data needs to develop to give themselves the best possible start. For more advanced list of essential skills, check out our other blog post!