From multi-billion dollar mergers and acquisitions to entry-level hires, business decisions are made every day based on the advice or evidence presented by data analysts. The demand for data is consistent across all industries, and as a career, data analysis can be your entryway into the company of your choice, if you possess the skills needed to effectively gather, organize, and understand information. 

The Deal with Data 

Data comes in multiple forms from multiple sources. Consider a survey you’ve taken in which you’ve answered “yes” or “no” to multiple questions; or take a closer look at your tax return or gym membership – both are filled with your personal data. 

Today’s organizations rely on data analysts to take all of the information coming their way and sort it, discard what’s not valuable, make sense of relevant data points, and make decisions or recommendations based on the data. The leaders at your organization will rely on your data to make and justify their decisions. 

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What Does a Data Analyst Do?

One might assume that a data analyst spends the bulk of the workday in front of a computer crunching numbers, but numbers are just part of the equation. A data analyst will gather data from transactions, verbal and virtual conversations, reports, surveys, and any other information source. 

Types of information and tools for gathering data will vary by company and industry. For example, a data analyst for a mortgage lender may use data from your credit report, your income, and your assets to determine whether you qualify, while a clothing retailer will use your measurements and order history to make recommendations for future purchases.

The role of a data analyst involves:

  1. Having a comprehensive understanding of metrics and key performance indicators for the organization, department, or project.
  2. Gathering and sorting relevant data from multiple sources while discarding irrelevant data.
  3. Developing and maintaining databases and data collection systems.
  4. Developing a data gathering and reporting strategy in alignment with your organization’s goals.
  5. Communicating with key internal and external stakeholders in the data gathering process.
  6. Sorting and reporting relevant data, and making recommendations based on your findings.

Above all, a data analyst helps move things forward. Data-driven decision-making helps organizations identify inefficiencies, invest in smarter growth strategies, and understand more about themselves and their customers. 

Just as data analysts are found in every industry, they’re also found at every level of business. Data analysis is a skill that is valued and versatile, and even if you begin your career as an entry-level data analyst, your success can serve as a springboard to greater opportunities.

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The Difference Between a Data Analyst and a Data Scientist

One question that’s often asked by those interested in the profession is, “What’s the difference between a data analyst and a data scientist?” After all, both use data to inform decision-making.

A data scientist will crunch numbers and other information in order to gain insight, but data science also involves developing predictive models and simulations, designing algorithms, and performing experiments using data. To that end, data scientists are often more experienced in the areas of machine learning and programming, and their work can involve designing simulations and “what if?” analyses that will inform future strategies and actions.

What Skills Should a Data Analyst Possess?

A successful data analyst will possess a combination of in-demand soft and hard skills, both of which can be honed through education. For the former, it’s critical to have:

  1. Exceptional critical thinking skills, which will allow you to discern and discard irrelevant data.
  2. The ability to research effectively, knowledge of where to look for data, and a passion for collecting and organizing your findings.
  3. Strong attention to detail, as you will often be tasked with handling large amounts of data.
  4. A passion for statistical analysis and a data-driven approach to problem-solving.
  5. Confidence in your presentation skills, so that you can communicate your findings and explain good data efficiently.

Hard skills, those that you’ve mastered through practice with specific data analysis tools, can vary depending on where you work. Some of the proficiencies that employers value include: 

  1. Microsoft Excel 
  2. Python programming
  3. Structured Query Language (SQL)
  4. Tableau
  5. Apache Spark

What Is the Career Outlook for Data Analysts?

Data is in demand, and data analysts are being hired at a rapid clip across the business world. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which measures labor market conditions, is predicting rapid growth across multiple industries. A sample of the findings shows a demand for:

  1. Operations Research Analysts (25%, growth much faster than average) 
  2. Market Research Analysts (18%, growth much faster than average)
  3. Computer Systems Analysts (7%, growth faster than average)
  4. Financial Analysts (5%, growth faster than average)

As data analysts are needed in every field, you can steer your career in the direction you want, including marketing, media, information technology, and health care, among others. Human Resources, one of the fastest-growing sectors, also employs data analysts to work with data obtained through performance reviews, internal employee surveys, exit interviews, and job applications.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Be a Data Analyst?

Like many professional roles, a bachelor’s degree can put you on a path to becoming a data analyst. Many analysts have backgrounds in finance, economics, or business. 

Much of your decision will be based on the industry you’d like to enter upon graduation. For example, if you are interested in healthcare – a field that is growing at a faster than average rate, with about 2.4 million jobs expected to be created through 2029 – you can gain the critical thinking, statistical research, and analytical skills employers value with your Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management*

The healthcare industry applies data analysis to many areas, such as the way records are managed and secured and how doctors diagnose and treat patients. Better data means better decisions, with the goal of reducing costs for patients and insurers. 

A health information management degree will introduce you to the essential data analysis techniques used in today’s healthcare settings. Among the courses included in the program are:

The role of a data analyst is to help an organization do better. If you’re looking to make an impact as a data analyst, and you want to gain a versatile skillset that employers will value, contact an advisor about your bachelor’s degree today. 

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Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.

*Successful completion of this program does not guarantee certification from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), which may be a requirement for certain positions in this field.

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