Survey: What Employers Are Looking For in a Business Intelligence AnalystJune 27, 2014 by Abe Selig
As the sheer amount of data companies are collecting continues to grow at a rapid rate, the talent pool of individuals needed to analyze this information is having trouble keeping up. It comes as no surprise, then, that jobs for business intelligence (BI) analysts—employees tasked with analyzing large amounts of data—are opening up faster than they can be filled.
Given the demand, the jobs are attractive ones. Forbes, for example, listed the position of BI analyst among its top 10 best-paying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs last year. While some industries have a greater need for this role than others, the position is by no means industry-specific—it can be found in a wide variety of settings.
To learn what employers are looking for in a BI analyst and provide job seekers with actionable information to help fuel their career search, we analyzed 200 BI analyst job listings across the U.S. We also shared our results with Wayne Applebaum, the VP of analytics and data science at Avalon Consulting, LLC, whose insights are integrated into the findings below.
1. The most BI analyst job openings were located in California (20 percent), followed by Texas (10 percent).
2. Computer science was the most requested degree, with 50 percent of employers listing this qualification.
3. The most open BI analyst positions were located in the healthcare industry, comprising nearly 20 percent of listings.
Most BI Analyst Positions Located in California and Texas
Eighteen percent of the BI analyst job listings we sampled were located in California. These listings were found in both major metropolitan centers, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with smaller suburban communities, such as Mountain View and Carlsbad.
The same was true for Texas, where almost 10 percent of the BI analyst listings we sampled were found. Large urban areas like San Antonio and Houston were prevalent locations for job listings, along with smaller suburbs like Irving or Carrollton.
Job Opportunity Location by State
Healthcare Has the Greatest Need for BI Professionals
While BI analyst jobs were found in many different industries, the healthcare industry offered the most available positions, with 18 percent of all listings in our sample.
The healthcare industry was also the most likely to include industry-specific experience as a prerequisite for applying: 75 percent of listings in this sector either required or preferred candidates to have at least some prior experience in a healthcare setting.
“Healthcare has traditionally lagged with regard to the implementation of BI,” Applebaum says. “But because IT around healthcare has been very payer-centric, there’s been an emergence of patient and service-centric transactional systems, which have generated a large amount of untapped data. Organizations are now recognizing this, hence the growth in this field.”
After healthcare, the technology/software industry had the greatest demand for BI analyst positions, with 17 percent of listings falling in this area. Interestingly, while these companies required little prior industry experience, technical experience was a significant prerequisite (more on this in the next section).
Other industries worth mentioning were the manufacturing and banking/financial industries, which each made up roughly 12 percent of the sample.
BI Analyst Positions by Industry
Computer Science Is Most Requested Degree
While employers were looking for BI analysts with a variety of educational backgrounds, 50 percent were specifically looking for candidates with a computer science degree.
Coming in at a distant second were business degrees, which were mentioned in 16 percent of the job listings we surveyed. This type of degree was most often sought by employers in the financial and banking industries.
Other degrees listed by potential employers included “information systems” (6 percent) and simply “IT” (4 percent).
Overall, 85 percent of employers stipulated some type of educational requirement, and of those, 22 percent didn’t list a specific degree. Only 10 percent of these listings included any mention of a master’s degree, and in all cases, this degree was listed as “preferred,” rather than required.
“It’s pretty clear that BI is still viewed as a technical field,” Applebaum says. “But in my opinion, it really comes down to three sets of skills: the ability to set up and run the system from a technical standpoint, the ability to understand the business question and translate that business question into analytics, and the ability to understand and consume the results. My guess is that most of these jobs are being sourced for IT departments, hence the emphasis on a computer science degree.”
Top Requested Degrees by Field of Study
Professional Experience a Near-Must for All Candidates
More than 92 percent of the employers we sampled required at least some level of professional experience in the candidates they were seeking. Three to five years experience was the most common amount required, listed by 50 percent of job postings in our sample.
However, employers frequently sought even more experience: 21 percent of listings requiring professional experience specified more than six years, while 5 percent sought candidates with more than eight years of experience.
Meanwhile, one to two years of experience was sought by 11 percent of employers, while another 13 percent did not specifically list how much experience they were looking for.
Years of Professional Experience Required
SQL, BI-Specific Software Knowledge Are Top Required Skills
While employers sought candidates with a wide variety of technical experience, proficiency in SQL (the programming language used for data definition and manipulation) topped the list, with over 60 percent of employers requiring this skill.
Similarly, 60 percent also said they were looking for candidates who had experience working with specific BI software programs, such as Oracle, Tableau, IBM Cognos or Microsoft Power BI.
Proficiency with these two skills in tandem was sought by 42 percent of employers. As such, it’s highly recommended that BI analyst job seekers prioritize learning basic SQL programming and at least one vendor-specific BI software program before applying for a job in this area.
Technical Experience Required
Employers were also looking for experience with other skill sets: 38 percent sought candidates with experience using Microsoft tools that aren’t specifically utilized for BI, such as MS Office, Excel and Access.
Meanwhile, 22 percent of employers wanted candidates with some degree of familiarity in database tuning or maintenance, and 18 percent specifically said they were looking for candidates with experience in data modeling.
Another 18 percent of employers sought candidates familiar with the processes of extract, transform and load (ETL) or online analytical processing (OLAP).
Non-Technical Skills Also in High Demand
While the above technical qualifications are crucial requirements for landing a BI analyst job, “soft” skills were also in demand: nearly 40 percent of employers sought candidates with “strong communication, presentation and interpersonal skills.”
This is likely due in part for the need for BI analysts to fulfill dual functions: one, as a technology expert who can dive deep into data sets and software programs; and two, as a communicator who can deliver the insights they glean to non-BI professionals within the organization.
“People skills are becoming more crucial,” Applebaum explains. “A critical success factor [in the BI field] is the ability to align BI with business objectives. Lack of this alignment, much more than technical issues, is the largest reason for dissatisfaction with BI initiatives.”
Creating Reports/Dashboards Is Top Job Responsibility
To learn what types of roles prospective BI analysts could expect to fill in companies once hired, we also evaluated the most common job responsibilities featured in the listings we examined.
“Producing dashboards and reports” for various departments within a company was the most frequently listed responsibility, appearing in 80 percent of job posts. Second to this was SQL programming, which was listed in 60 percent of job postings.
Other less technical responsibilities were also featured. For example, half of the listings surveyed mentioned “interfacing with internal or external clients” as a key role. This either meant supplying BI analysis to employees within the company, or doing so for customers as part of services the company provides.
Other key responsibilities included “provide business recommendations,” which was listed by 35 percent of the employers we surveyed, and “translate business needs to data requirement for BI,” which was listed by nearly 20 percent.
“The purpose of BI or any other kind of analytics is not only to acquire the data, but to create something that is easily usable in decision making,” Applebaum says of employers’ desire for these skills.
“I recently heard a presentation that likened delivering an analytic that couldn’t be easily understood to a grocery store selling ketchup without a bottle. Packaging is very important.”
Most Common Responsibilities
While most employers want to hire BI analysts with multiple years of experience in the field, an educational background in computer science will go a long way in providing at least some of the knowledge needed to fill this position.
That said, an internship or entry-level position that provides some experience with data analysis, coupled with a four-year degree, is likely the best bet for acquiring these credentials. Becoming proficient with SQL programming and familiarizing yourself with at least one specific BI software program—even outside of a professional setting—will also go a long way in showing prospective employers your qualifications for the role.
While the healthcare industry is expanding overall and the healthcare business intelligence market is only expected to grow in the coming years, narrowing your job search to these positions only is not recommended unless you have both the the BI skills listed above and at least some experience in the healthcare industry. If you do satisfy these requirements however, you may be well-suited for an attractive position in the industry.
In regard to location, job seekers are advised to consider relocating. While the BI analyst jobs we surveyed were found in 36 states across the U.S., some of these states offered only a few positions, while other states were noticeably absent from the survey.
If you reside in New Mexico, for example, it may be unrealistic to expect an abundance of BI analyst job opportunities nearby. Expanding your job search to Texas, Utah and California, for example, may yield better results.
Finally, if you have the educational background and all of the technical skills listed above, you may still be passed over for a great job if your communication skills are lacking. Today’s BI analyst jobs are truly hybrid positions, and employers are looking for the best of both worlds: tech-savvy data experts who can seamlessly transition into the business world.
This study was conducted by reviewing 200 hundred job listings, most of which were found through aggregators like Indeed, Monster and CareerBuilder. Our final sample encompasses a diverse spectrum of employers, from big brands like BBVA Compass and Xerox to universities like UC Berkeley and Notre Dame.
We began by surveying listings with the exact title “Business Intelligence Analyst.” Eventually we progressed to close equivalents, such as “Business Intelligence Specialist,” and then to titles with comparable job requirements. For titles such as “Business Intelligence Developer,” which often denotes more implementation and programming skills than analysis, we only included listings where it was readily apparent that BI analysis functions comprised the majority of the position’s responsibilities.