Saturday, October 3, 2015

I want to get started as a Business Analyst.

A question I am often asked, particularly in my role as a lecturer in a university professional education program, is “how do I get started as a BA?” So I thought I’d write an answer down as a reference for people, and also to solicit further feedback from readers.
It’s a hard question to answer.
I think there a few situational patterns:
1. I am employed in IT (say in QA, or as a systems analyst)
2. I am employed in a department that uses IT services
3. I have a degree and no job experience
4. I have just left school high school / secondary school
5. I have / will have completed a BA certificate (IIBA, NCC, BCS etc)
And there are a few types of hiring companies:
1. Those that hire for experience
2. Those that hire for attitude
3. Those that use contract resources
I have been lucky enough to work for a company that hires for attitude, trains for skills. If you can find one of those, and there aren’t that many, then it really doesn’t matter which of the 5 situational patterns is applicable. Do your preparation as you would for any job, learning about the company and what a business analyst does, and then apply. An internal contact always helps, probably significantly, so if you know someone, use someone! I have been involved in hiring several BA’s from outside the company this way and it works out well. More on that below. And look out for intern positions to get your foot in the door!
Finding a company like this is the only realistic option if you have just left high school / secondary school. I started out this way at age 18, knowing nothing about business analysis and was very fortunate. I received over 2 years training and 3 qualifications all while getting paid. Such opportunities now are hard to find… try careers advice centers; that is how I found mine.
But there are some key questions you need to ask before accepting a job: Is there a formal training program? Does it include external training? Who pays? Does who pays change if I leave? How long does the training program last? Unless the role is formalized and you can see evidence of that then maybe you won’t be learning how to be a BA. Maybe you’ll be learning how to work at that organization “on the job”. Which may be OK as a way to get experience.
For companies that use contract BA resources, then to be hired as a contractor you need demonstrable business analyst experience, and since this is not the case (as you are starting out) then avoid these companies. Sadly, there are many of them about, particularly in my neck of the woods. It’s hard to get hired as a Business Analyst employee these days.
So, we have left the companies that hire for experience. Whereas I suggest that for contract positions a “starter BA” is automatically disqualified, I do not believe that is always the case when companies hire for experience. After all, business analysis is practiced by almost all professionals to some extent. What you need to do is identify which of those skills you have, and be able to describe how they were applied in your career to date. It won’t be easy, but if you try hard enough you may be able to get an interview. As always, don’t “invent” experience: be scrupulously honest. And provide evidence of the work you have done (but take care with confidential information – never leave materials of any sort with an interviewer if they are from your employment). Materials from a BA class are the best to use. And a BA class is a great way to consolidate your analysis experience if it has so far been gained while not employed as a business analyst. Take some of our classes (follow needpoweredchg on Twitter for announcements), and produce examples to take along.
Networking is a great way to get ahead of the pack in terms of job leads and prospective interviews. Find out if there is a local IIBA chapter and attend their meetings. Meet people and don’t be shy about sharing your job needs. And a BA class will help you meet other BA’s and develop leads. Of course, needpoweredchange.com is also a great place to learn and meet other BA’s, albeit virtually. Having a LinkedIn profile and joining BA groups there is another great way to develop contacts.