June 12, 2023

Applying to Business Analyst Jobs, Part 2: Interview and Decision

If you’ve learned the skills you need to work as a business analyst, and put together a compelling resume and project portfolio, it’s only a matter of time before some of your job applications start getting responses.

Particularly when you’re switching careers, the prospect of interviews can be pretty intimidating. However, if you do your homework beforehand, you can set yourself up for success in the interview and beyond. Let’s take a closer look at how.

Note: this article is the second part of a two-part series on applying for business analyst roles. If you haven’t read the first part yet, it’s best to start there.

Preparing for the interview

Job interviews in the field of data analysis can be challenging to prepare for, because every company defines “business analyst” a little differently, and every company has their own preferred approach to the interview process.

In your job search you may be asked to do multiple “themed” interviews (for example, a culture interview, a technical interview, etc.). You may be asked to interview with a panel, or with one person at a time. You may be given “take-home” remote assignments. You may be asked to come to the office for a day of interviews and sample work.

Some companies make their interview process public, and you can find information about the interview processes of bigger companies on sites like Glassdoor, so be sure you do your research beforehand. But at the same time, don’t sweat the specifics of the process too much. Companies may do interviews differently, but at the end of the day, they’re all trying to assess the same things:

  1. Do you have the technical know-how required for the position?
  2. How interested are you in the company and the role?
  3. Are you a good ‘culture fit’ for the company?

So, regardless of the interview format, you should prepare for interviews with those three questions in mind. Exactly what you’ll want to prepare will vary based on the role, but in general you should plan to spend at least an hour or two preparing for each interview by doing things like:

  • Researching the company online to better understand its business, competitors, and place in the market.
  • Researching the person or people you’ll be interviewing with to better understand their role at the company and how you’d likely interact with them.
  • Brushing up on your technical skills, with particular emphasis on the skills that seem most relevant to this company and job.
  • Reading employee reviews of job roles similar to the one you’re applying for, and reviews of the interview process (if available).
  • Reviewing your own application materials (resume, portfolio, and any other materials you sent to the company) so that you know what they’re talking about if they refer to something written in your application.
  • Preparing questions you can ask at the end of the interview that demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and are already thinking about the company’s business problems and how to solve them.

You’ll also want to spend some time thinking about your own appearance. Although it’s unfortunate, some scientific studies suggest that people can form first impressions within the first few seconds of seeing a new person, and these impressions are hard to change.

That means you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing clean, well-fitting clothes that are appropriate for the company and context of your interview. A hoodie and jeans may blend right in if you’re interviewing at a tech startup, for example, but it’s probably not the right choice for an interview at a bank.

If you’re doing video interviews, you’ll also want to spend some time thinking about your background and the message that it sends. At a minimum, you’ll want to ensure you’ve prepared somewhere to do the interview that is clean and free of background distractions. In a pinch, using a virtual background is better than showing interviewers a mess.

With all of that said, keep in mind that the interview process is a two-way street. You want to come out of an interview feeling like you impressed your interviewers, but you also want to come out of it with a better understanding of what the job entails and whether the company is somewhere you actually want to work.

Common interview questions

Interview questions for business analyst roles will run the gamut from traditional soft skill prompts such as “tell us about a time when you overcame a challenge at work” to specific, technical questions like “How would you write a sample SQL query to get data about users from this database?”

We’ve put together a list of 20 sample interview questions and answers for business analyst interviews, but in general you should expect to answer questions that cover areas like:

What is the role of a business analyst? This is your chance to demonstrate your understanding of the value business analysts can add to a business and your understanding of the company in question. Rather than giving a generic definition here, try to give an answer that demonstrates you’ve spent time thinking about how business analysis functions and the value it adds specifically for the company that you’re talking to.

What business analysis tools do you have experience working with? Questions like this give you a chance to talk about your experience with things like SQL and Microsoft Power BI. Be sure that you’re not just listing off these skills, though: you should be talking about what you’ve actually done with them and mentioning specific parts of your portfolio projects when that’s relevant.

What is your approach when you’re given a new project or a business question to answer? This is your chance to talk through your process when working on an end-to-end business analysis project. Your portfolio projects may be good examples for you to cite here. Again, try not to just give a generic walkthrough of how data analysis projects work; instead, focus on your personal approach to projects, including how you manage and organize them.

Tell me about a time you changed a coworker’s mind. Questions along these lines are trying to get at the fundamental reality of all business analysis: it isn’t worth anything unless it convinces decision makers to act. Even if you haven’t worked as a business analyst before, try to go into interviews with examples of times you’ve used data to change minds at previous jobs. If your portfolio projects have changed any minds, this would be a good time to talk about that, too.

Explain [something] like I’m five. These sorts of questions can vary a lot, but it’s likely you’ll be asked some question that attempts to test how well you can explain a complex topic to a person who doesn’t have a background in that area. That is, after all, a critical skill for business analysts, whose projects and presentations often must make complex analyses understandable to stakeholders and decision makers who may not fully understand the analysis or even the details of the area of business you were analyzing.

Talk about a time when you were asked to change your approach. Questions like this are meant to assess how well you accept feedback and how easily you work with other people. You may also be asked similar questions about overcoming obstacles or dealing with failure in previous jobs – the goal is to get a better idea of your character and how you deal with adversity.

While it’s likely you’ll get some version of most or all of those questions, do research any company you’re applying with beforehand, as some companies open-source their interview process, and many others will have employees who’ve written about their interviews on sites such as Glassdoor. Make sure you go into any interview armed with as much knowledge as possible about what you’re likely to be asked!

Live and take-home assignments

During the course of many companies’ interview processes, you’ll be asked to complete an assignment – often a test or mock project. The goal of this is generally to get some idea of the quality of your work and how you approach these kinds of assignments – as well as to be sure that you actually have the skills you claim to have.

Again, research online beforehand because sometimes you can find information about these projects that will allow you to go in better-prepared. Often, though, you won’t know exactly what you’re in for. However, if you’ve brushed up on the relevant technical skills and you’ve done your homework when it comes to the company and its business, you should be in good shape to handle whatever gets thrown at you.

Whatever happens, try not to stress it too much – remember, it’s just one part of the process, and nobody is expecting perfection!

Dealing with rejections and ghosting

It’s an unfortunate reality of job hunting in the internet age: most places you apply will reject you. And some of them won’t even have the courtesy to tell you your application has been rejected.

Generally speaking, it’s good practice to ask in an interview when you’re likely to hear about next steps. If that time passes and you haven’t heard anything, a gentle follow-up email a few days later that reaffirms your interest in the position and asks if there’s any additional information you can provide is a good idea. If you still don’t hear back after that, chances are it’s time to focus on other applications.

The key is not to let this get you down. Even great candidates get rejected from most jobs they apply for. There’s just no way around that when a posting for a single job may get dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of applicants. Just keep applying, and keep learning and adding to your skillset as you do. Sooner or later, you’ll find the right opportunity, but particularly when you’re switching careers, it takes patience!

Assessing and negotiating job offers

When you do finally get to the point of getting an offer, don’t get too excited and accept it without thinking it through. We’ve written a whole article on assessing and negotiating job offers in data science, and most of that applies to business analyst roles, too.

But if you don’t want to read that whole thing, here are some quick tips:

  • Do your research and know the average salary for similar jobs in your area.
  • Don’t forget that salary isn’t the only thing you can negotiate. Titles and other job details can sometimes be negotiated too.
  • Think about how this job would fit into your life. What are the hours? How is the commute? Can you work remotely? How do they handle time off?
  • Ask about the tools and resources you’ll have access to. Is this company setting you up with what you need to succeed?
  • Understand the benefits on offer, including insurance and equity where applicable. Sometimes taking a job with a lower salary is still the right financial move if it offers a better benefits package and/or more equity.

If you reach this point, you’ve invested a lot of time in the interview and application process. but remember: so have they! They’ve probably pored over dozens of applications and interviewed several candidates, and they decided they want you. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want – as long as it’s reasonable and respectful, good companies won’t hold that against you (even if they won’t always grant your wishes).

Best of luck with your job hunt. And remember, if you’re a Dataquest user you can always turn to the community for help, advice, project critique, and more to strengthen your application and sharpen your skills.

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.