When people think about the the most essential Business Analyst skills are, they often think about the results or output of business analysis work. For example, people say that Business Analysts must be able to write excellent requirements or create good use cases. This can be frustrating for people trying to enter the field, who may feel they have no valuable skills to highlight on their resumes.
But isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?
In order for a Business Analyst to write great requirements or do anything else, they must possess an underlying skill set that enables this good work in the first place. Without these skills, no amount of training in requirements gathering or other BA activities will produce excellent results.
More importantly, these skills can be picked up BEFORE you ever get your first Business Analyst job. It’s important to know what they are so that you highlight them on your resume whenever possible. Your resume should provide examples that showcase these skills.
What, then, are these core skills? There are five of them. You may not have all five of them when you enter the field,and that’s OK! Just highlight the ones you can. Here they are:
1) The ability to conduct proper analysis.
The ability to analyze is obviously one of the most es Business Analyst skills. But have you thought about what analysis actually is?
Dictionary.com provides a great definition that is very relevant to Business Analysts. Analysis is defined as:
- the separating of any material or abstract entity into its constituent elements; and/or
- a method of studying the nature of something or of determining its essential features and their relations.
The separation of material and abstract ideas into its constituent elements, so as to study their features and relationships with each other, is vitally important in business analysis. Businesses are complex things, and so are the software solutions built to meet business needs.
Complex projects are like a big ball of tangled yarn. It’s hard to figure out which way is up or even where to get started. A sharp Business Analyst can deconstruct the complexity into its simple components and figure out how they interface with one another.
Let’s take a deceptively simple example: a business wants to sell a new product online. Consider how this quickly becomes one of those balls of tangled yarn:
- The customer needs an interface to order the product.
- The business needs a way to ship the product to the customer.
- The product must properly appear on an invoice to the customer.
- The business must charge the correct price to the customer.
- The business must apply the proper federal, state, and local taxes and surcharges on the customer’s invoice based on the customer’s location and what he purchased.
- The revenue for the product must be booked properly as an account receivable for accounting purposes.
The list goes on, but you get the idea. A Business Analyst must separate out each of these components (and then each component into its own pieces) until she accounts for all the pieces and their relationships to one another.
For your resume: Try to find situations in your background where you have conducted this kind of analysis and brought value to your employer.
2) The ability to ask incisive questions.
It’s not enough just to ask questions. You need to know the right questions to ask, and ask them in a manner that get directly to the heart of the issue.
I often teach that the way to gain this skill is to pretend you are looking to “break” whatever business feature or function or process you’re looking at. What would it take to make it not work as intended?
Over time, you get really good at seeing the holes in whatever you are analyzing. That is where you need to direct your most incisive questioning. The answers help you craft additional requirements so that the final product won’t be broken.
Let me give another example. Suppose that when the business wants to sell the previously mentioned product on a website, the user must press a big blue button to go to the next page and continue entering information. You could ask what happens if the user clicks the “back” button instead, or maybe refreshes the page. Should he be able to do this in the first place? Should he lose his data? Try to think of a way that something could go wrong, because it very often will! The business then provides a response which ensures that the situation gets resolved properly in the requirements.
This is incredibly valuable to a business. A Business Analyst who can identify holes up front will save a business a whole lot of money because it’s much more expensive to address those holes after the solution has been built. Do this enough and you will gain a fantastic reputation as an analyst.
For your resume: Think about situations where you conducted interviews or otherwise asked questions of people, and uses the responses in a way that was valuable in your job.
3) The ability to solve problems.
Asking great questions is all well and good, but what use is it if you end up stumping or confusing your business customer? They may not have an answer to the questions you raise! Then what?
That is where a good BA steps in to add incredible value. A Business Analyst develops expertise to the point where she knows all of the in’s and out’s of the business processes and systems she works with. This knowledge framework allows her to propose solutions when obstacles appear during the course of analysis.
Sometimes problems arise because the business didn’t think through some of its requirements for a solution. Other times problems arise from processes and systems that are already in the field. Either way, the skilled BA must be able to step in, quickly evaluate the problem, and propose a solution if the business doesn’t have one.
Business clients love this! They may not always have the same “big picture” view that a BA does, and they really appreciate the analyst stepping in to offer ideas for resolving problems.
For your resume: You are bound to have situations in your past employment or school work where you solved a problem. Highlight situations where you played a key or leading role in identifying and then resolving the problem using a creative solution. Don’t be shy about showcasing them on your resume!
4) The ability to be diplomatic.
Of all the essential Business Analyst skills, this one is the trickiest.
Business analysis is inherently political and conflict-prone. Businesses want new solutions as quickly and cheaply as possible, at a high level of quality.
The rest of the organization rarely cooperates. The IT department may have competing priorities or may not have enough people. The executives may not want to pay for it. Technical staff may not agree with the proposed solution. Business users may not even all agree on the features the project should build.
These examples show why diplomacy is one of the most essential Business Analyst skills to have. The BA must be able to navigate well in this environment. The BA will often be the one to bring groups of people together to iron out the best way forward. This requires the BA to carefully manage people’s egos and expectations. He must also understand the culture and take the right steps to smooth ruffled feathers and put concerns to rest.
For your resume: Identify situations where you successfully navigated treacherous political waters and came up with a win/win solution where the various parties walked away happy.
5) The ability to communicate well.
None of the other Business Analyst skills matter if the BA can’t communicate. We’re talking ALL kinds of communication, both oral and written.
There are many demands on a Business Analyst to communicate effectively. Just a few of them include:
- Running contentious meetings
- Preparing PowerPoint presentations geared towards the intended audience (executives, business stakeholders, technical users, etc.)
- Putting together data to “tell a story” using Business Intelligence and analytics tools
- Writing business cases
- Writing good requirements, use cases, and other analysis artifacts (of course.)
A good BA learns to speak and write clearly and succinctly, in a tone that is well-crafted for the audience he is trying to reach.
For your resume: Select examples in your background where you used communication skills in a leadership role. Think about times you successfully led important meetings, presented difficult material to executives, gave a speech, or wrote a complex document.
All other BA activities flow from these five most essential Business Analyst skills.
You can learn all of the concepts and techniques you need, either now or after you get hired. Meanwhile, you can use examples of your past work where you have used these five essential Business Analyst skills in order to help get your foot in the door. Highlight them on your resume and make them shine!
Need some help figuring out how to leverage your skills and experience on your resume to become a Business Analyst? Check out my course, Transfer Your Skills: How To Leverage The Experience You Already Have To Find The Perfect Business Analyst Job.