June 5, 2023

Applying to Business Analyst Jobs, Part 1: The Application

So you’re ready to become a business analyst – or at least, you think you might be.

Particularly if you’re moving into a new career, applying for jobs can be intimidating. Without experience, it’s difficult to know what you’re really ready for, and you may not know what the best ways are of finding jobs that are a good fit for your skills.

Not to worry! In this two-part series on applying to and getting hired for business analyst jobs, we’re going to dive into all of that. Want to know how to get a job as a business analyst? Read on!

How do you know you are ready to apply?

The first thing you’ll need to figure out is whether you’re actually ready to apply.

It’s easy to fall victim to imposter syndrome and convince yourself that you’re just not good enough yet. So let’s look at a few different ways you can measure your skills to assess whether it’s time to start applying to jobs.

Method one: See if you’ve checked the skill boxes by browsing business analyst jobs and seeing what they ask for.

This method has the advantage of being based on real-world job listings, but it can be confusing because hiring managers sometimes list skills that aren’t actually required for the position. Some business analyst jobs are also specialized within a particular industry and may require specific skills you don’t have, even though you are qualified for business analyst jobs more generally.

In general, though, if you meet many of the skill requirements in business analyst job postings and the job descriptions sound like things you could do, it’s probably time to start working on applications.

Method two: Build an end-to-end business analysis project on your own. Were you able to complete the project within a reasonable timeframe? Would you feel comfortable showing the project to a prospective employer? If you answered yes to both questions, it might be time to start applying.

Method three: Get certified. Certifications aren’t always a good idea, but in business analysis specifically, Microsoft’s Power BI certification does actually carry some weight. Moreover, if you can pass the PL-300 exam, that’s tangible proof that you’ve got the Power BI chops required for business analysis and it’s time to start applying.

Method four: Find a zero-to-job-ready curriculum like Dataquest’s Business Analyst with Power BI path and look closely at the courses. Do you have all of those skills? Can you complete the projects? If you can look at the course curriculum and the projects and feel good about understanding everything that’s there, it’s likely time to apply.

Method five: Just count your projects. Do you have three end-to-end business analysis projects that are portfolio-ready? In other words, three projects you’d feel confident about showing to potential employers? If so, you’re probably ready to apply.

Any of these five methods can work, but keep in mind that you can also ignore all of them and just apply whenever you feel ready.

What should be in your resume?

If you have prior experience in the field, then your resume and portfolio should be highlighting that and showcasing your tangible, quantifiable accomplishments.

But if you’re switching careers or applying for your first full-time job, that’s not an option. So what should be on your resume and in your portfolio?

Let’s start with the resume. We put together an in-depth guide on data science resumes that’s worth reading even if you want to be a business analyst, as many of the same things apply.

Here are some resume tips:

  • Keep it short (one page).
  • List work experience and emphasize any data-related or analytical aspects of past jobs even if the job itself wasn’t related to analytics.
  • A “Projects” section that provides information and links to analysis projects you’ve built on your own can help fill in the empty space in a resume if you don’t have prior experience.
  • Volunteering your analytics skills to help a local nonprofit organization can give you relevant experience to put on your resume.
  • List your technical skills prominently, and ensure that they match the lists of skills in jobs you’re applying for. If a job lists Power BI as their first skill requirement, it should be first on your skill list too. (You probably don’t need to bother with listing soft skills).
  • Make it look nice, and ensure it’s free of typos and grammatical errors.

Without prior experience, the biggest question mark on your resume is likely to be whether you actually have the skills needed to do the job, so you’ll need to find some way of highlighting the analysis projects you’ve worked on. Often, that’s going to be a “Projects” section on the resume with links to a project portfolio and/or links to each individual project.

What should be in your portfolio?

Assuming you don’t have prior professional experience in the field, your portfolio should showcase 3-5 end-to-end business analysis projects that demonstrate your technical skills as well as your business knowledge and ability to mine insights from data.

The format of these projects is up to you. One may be a written report with some charts from Excel, another could be an interactive Power BI dashboard. But whatever format and approach you choose, keep in mind that these projects should:

  • Look and sound professional, reflecting the quality of work you would plan to do if given the role.
  • Demonstrate end-to-end data analysis and visualization skills.
  • Offer some genuine insight into whatever you’re analyzing.

If you know a specific field or industry you want to work in, it also helps to choose projects with direct relevance to that field. If you want to be a marketing analyst, for example, your application will be more convincing if all of the projects in your portfolio involve working with marketing-related data to solve the same kinds of problems you’d expect to solve in your day-to-day work as a marketing analyst.

Do you need a cover letter for business analyst roles?

Probably not. You can certainly include one, and in some cases that might be a good idea. For example, if there are aspects of your resume that require explanation, a cover letter can help. But unless the job posting states a cover letter is required, you shouldn’t assume you need one.

Many hiring managers don’t read cover letters, so even if you do include one, you’ll want to ensure that all of the critical information related to your application is in your resume.

Finding jobs

There are lots of places to find job postings, but you’ll have more success if you approach your job hunt strategically.

Big job sites such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, etc. can be useful in the sense that they contain tons and tons of job listings. Search “business analyst” on any one of them and you’re likely to find thousands of roles. These sites also make applications easy, sometimes as simple as a single click.

The downside, of course, is that because finding and applying for those jobs is so easy, tons of people do it. That means you’ll be up against a ton of competition, and the signal-to-noise ratio in the pile of applications for each job is going to be pretty low.

Niche job sites can be better places to find more curated job postings, and if the same jobs aren’t listed on the big sites, you’ll be up against less competition, too. Different industries will have different sites for this, so if you’re interested in (for example) retail business analytics, look for sites that are focused on listing office/IT type jobs in the retail industry.

Company websites are a great place to find jobs if you know of companies you’d like to work for. Many companies won’t have a role that’s a good fit, but when you do find one, you’ll be able to apply using the method they prefer, and you may be able to find contact information on their site that allows you to reach out to an actual person at the company to either submit or follow up on your application.

Networking is also a great way to find jobs.Social media can be helpful – be sure your LinkedIn says that you’re looking for work and that it showcases all of your new skills – but offline networking is powerful, too. If you can get a recommendation or simply a mention from somebody the hiring manager knows and trusts personally, that’s a big advantage.

If you’re looking for full-time work urgently, you’ll probably make use of all of the above strategies, but be sure you’re thinking like a data analyst and optimizing your approach as you go based on the results you’re seeing.

In our experience, it often pays to pick a few jobs that are really good fits and spend extra time perfecting those applications. But we’ve heard from students who took the quantity-over-quality approach to applying for jobs and had success, too.

Following up after applying

Around two weeks after you’ve applied, it may be worth following up with a quick email to the hiring manager if you haven’t heard anything back (you can often find their email on the company’s site or using tools such as VoilaNorbert). The email should mention that you’re very interested in the position and ask them to let you know if there’s any additional information you can provide to help them make a decision. One or two sentences is plenty.

That said, don’t expect to hear back from every job you apply for, or even most of them. Before the interview phase, many companies won’t bother to send a rejection. Just keep working on your skills and submitting applications to relevant job postings and eventually you’ll get an interview.

How to prepare for the interview and handle the rest of the job application process will be the topic of part two in this two-part article series.

Charlie Custer

About the author

Charlie Custer

Charlie is a student of data science, and also a content marketer at Dataquest. In his free time, he's learning to mountain bike and making videos about it.