How to become a Data Analyst

How To Become A Data Analyst: 8 Key Tasks To Landing Jobs

Data analysts are in high demand these days, with businesses across different industries looking to harness the power of data to make informed decisions. If you have a knack for critical thinking, love solving puzzles, and possess strong analytical skills, a career as a data analyst could be your calling. Here are the essential steps to kickstart your career in data analytics.

1. Acquire Technical Skills – Agile Always Learning 

A solid foundation in technical skills is paramount for any aspiring data analyst. It is important that you develop technical skills through continuous learning in an agile manner.

The ability to work with programming languages like Python or R, database querying languages like SQL, and spreadsheet software like Excel underpins the data analyst’s toolbox. Knowledge in data mining, data warehousing, and statistical analysis further strengthens this toolkit.

It is hard to know everything!! I feel the only way I made it through my consulting days was with the practice of Agile Learning. I define Agile Learning as picking up what knowledge you need when you need it while going deep on a topic where you need to.

You may not need to become an expert or do this all at once, but it is common for you to revisit topics over time. Additionally, there may be a need to delve deeper into a subject and seek additional resources.

The benefit of acquiring these technical skills is that they allow data analysts to process, clean, analyze, and visualize data more efficiently. They provide the necessary mechanisms to understand and work with complex data structures and to extract valuable insights from them.

You can gain these technical skills through various channels. One option is self-study, utilizing resources like online tutorials, books, and documentation. Online courses, such as those offered by platforms like Coursera or Udemy, provide structured learning paths often accompanied by practical exercises. Alternatively, a formal computer science, engineering, or mathematics degree will also equip you with these skills.

2. Developing critical thinking skills involves going into depth and analyzing information.

Critical thinking is an essential skill for data analysts. It involves the ability to analyze data from different angles, spot trends or anomalies, and interpret these findings to provide value to the business. Questioning assumptions, validating data, and interpreting results in a broader context is a cornerstone of good analysis. These are foundational to effective analysis.

The benefit of strong critical thinking skills is the ability to make data-driven decisions that are logical, reasoned, and informed. They provide a way to convert raw data into actionable insights that can influence strategy and impact a company’s bottom line.

Developing critical thinking skills involves deliberate practice and includes activities such as exploring different perspectives, solving problems, and nurturing curiosity. It also entails keeping an open mind and being willing to consider alternative explanations or outcomes.

3. Learn Data Visualization Techniques

Data visualization is the process of representing data in a graphical or pictorial format. Tools such as Tableau and Power BI, and libraries like Matplotlib in Python or ggplot2 in R, allow for creating interactive and visually compelling graphs, charts, and maps.

The advantage of proficient data visualization skills is the ability to tell stories and communicate complex data insights in an intuitive and compelling manner. Good data visualization can significantly enhance the impact of your analysis, making it easier for stakeholders to understand and make decisions based on your findings.

You can develop your data visualization skills through online courses, practical exercises, and constant practice. Consider studying the principles of good design and the psychology of color, shape, and layout. Over time, you’ll develop a keen eye for creating aesthetically pleasing visuals and effectively conveying information.

Creating Visualizations to Assist in Presenting Your Findings

Visualizations are a powerful tool for data analysts. They help to communicate complex findings easily, making them accessible to those with and without technical backgrounds. Visualizing your data can also help you uncover insights that may not have been obvious before. Visualizations can take many forms, such as charts, graphs, maps, diagrams, and more.

When developing visualizations, it’s important to consider the following:

  1. Choose an appropriate visualization – Many types of visualizations are available. Consider which type of visualization best suits your data set and purpose before creating one.
  2. Keep it simple – Too much information can be overwhelming for viewers, so keep your visualizations as simple as possible.
  3. Make it meaningful – Your visualizations should be informative and help to highlight insights or patterns in the data.
  4. Be consistent – It is important to maintain consistency in your visualizations, using the same style for colors, fonts, and labels. This helps viewers better comprehend the information being presented.

By implementing these guidelines, you can guarantee that your visualizations efficiently convey your findings and assist in reinforcing your conclusions.

Regression Analysis graphic with Trendline
A Picture is worth a thousand words and helps illustrate your points.

4. Gain Practical Experience

Having practical experience in data analytics is crucial for mastering the skills you have learned. Real-world data can be complex and requires a strong understanding of business context to interpret. Therefore, the more you are exposed to these types of scenarios, the more you will improve.

The benefit of gaining practical experience is twofold. First, it allows you to apply your theoretical knowledge in real-world scenarios, further solidifying your understanding. Second, it provides you with a track record of projects you can showcase to potential employers.

Internships, entry-level jobs, volunteering to help nonprofits, or freelance opportunities are great avenues for gaining practical experience. If applicable, volunteering for data analysis projects within your current role can also provide valuable experience.

5. Obtain Relevant Certifications

Certifications are a valuable way to demonstrate your skills and knowledge in data analytics, especially if you’re transitioning from a different field and need additional education or experience in data analytics roles.

Certifications offer industry-recognized evidence of expertise, which can enhance job prospects and support career growth.

Some examples of relevant certifications include the Microsoft Certified: Azure Data Scientist Associate, Google Certified Professional Data Engineer, and IBM Data Science Professional Certificate. Many of these certification programs also provide valuable study materials and resources.

6. Create a Portfolio of Projects

A portfolio project serves as a tangible representation of one’s skills and knowledge in data analytics. It functions as a showcase of the individual’s ability to apply their learnings in a real-world context. These projects can be derived from work experience, academic projects, or personal projects undertaken independently.

The importance of a portfolio cannot be overstated. In a field like data analytics, where practical application is key, having a portfolio of projects can prove your proficiency far more effectively than a list of courses or certifications.

It is an opportunity to show potential employers that you know about data analytics and that you can effectively perform as a data analyst. Moreover, your portfolio can serve as a talking point during job interviews, providing concrete examples of your skills and how you can apply them.

A strong portfolio project generally addresses a practical problem, involves significant data manipulation, incorporates exploratory data analysis, applies some form of modeling or algorithm, and concludes with clear, actionable insights.

It should be well-documented and easily comprehensible to someone without extensive knowledge of the project. The ultimate objective is to demonstrate your capability to derive meaningful insights from raw data that could potentially impact business or policy decisions.

Examples of portfolio projects can vary widely depending on your interests, the industry you’re targeting, and the job description you are looking to fill. However, some common examples include:

  • Analyzing public datasets: Websites like Kaggle or UCI Machine Learning Repository provide datasets that span numerous topics. You could choose a dataset, formulate a question, and use your data analysis skills to answer it.
  • Performing A/B testing: A/B testing is widely used in businesses to test the effectiveness of certain strategies. A project might involve designing and conducting an A/B test, then analyzing the results to draw conclusions.
  • Creating a predictive model: You could use machine learning algorithms to create a model that predicts a certain outcome. For example, you could create a model that predicts house prices based on various features.
  • Developing an interactive dashboard: Use tools like Tableau or Power BI to create a dynamic dashboard for a dataset. This demonstrates your data visualization skills and ability to deliver data-driven insights.

By continually working on projects that you can add to your portfolio, you can showcase your skills, knowledge, and initiative, making you an attractive candidate to prospective employers. Remember, a good portfolio is a continuous work in progress, as there’s always something new to learn in the rapidly evolving field of data analytics.

7. Improve Your Skills at Presenting Your Conclusions

Data analysts often have to present their conclusions and findings to their colleagues, clients, and managers. Presenting your conclusions clearly and effectively can be one of the most important parts of a data analyst role. Here are some tips to help you improve your skills in presenting your conclusions:

  1. Prepare – Take the time to carefully plan what you’re going to say before presenting. Prepare your presentation’s structure and content so that it includes a logical progression of ideas. Make sure to include visuals, charts, or other data visualizations when appropriate to illustrate your points better. Practice delivering the presentation in front of an audience or someone else to ensure you are well-prepared and confident when presenting.
  2. Communicate Clearly – Your presentation should be clear and succinct. Speak slowly and clearly to ensure that your audience is able to follow and understand what you’re saying.
  3. Avoid Jargon – Jargon can be confusing for people who are not familiar with the field or subject matter. Try to use simple language when possible, or explain any technical terms you may need to use.
  4. Listen – Encourage questions and feedback from your audience during or after your presentation. This will help you gain insight on how your audience perceives the information you are presenting and can help you refine your presentation in case there are areas that need further clarification.

By following these tips, you can better ensure that your conclusions and findings are presented clearly and effectively.

Present your analysis
The ability to present conclusions clearly and effectively is a crucial aspect of the data analyst role.

8. The most important skill for a data analyst is effectively documenting their process

The final and often overlooked step in the data analysis process is documenting your work. Documentation is crucial as it provides transparency and reproducibility for your analysis, enabling others to understand your work, reproduce your results, and build upon your findings. It bridges the analytical and decision-making processes, showing the path from raw data to interpreted results.

The benefits of proper documentation include easier troubleshooting, more effective collaboration, and knowledge transfer. A well-documented analysis can be more easily understood and reviewed by others. This enhances the accuracy and reliability of your conclusions. Furthermore, it can help you or others in the future to revisit the project and possibly update or expand it.

For effectively documenting your process, there are a few key elements you need to focus on:

  • Workflow Overview: Describe the overall workflow of your project, including the key steps you took during the data analysis. This should cover everything from problem identification and data collection to data cleaning, analysis, and interpretation.
  • Data Sources: Identify where your data came from. If the data is publicly accessible, provide links or references. If the data is private, explain the nature of the data and the process of obtaining it without revealing any sensitive details.
  • Code & Queries: Make sure to include the code or queries used in your analysis. It’s essential to annotate your code for clarity. Tools like Jupyter Notebooks can be beneficial in this regard, as they allow you to interweave code and commentary.
  • Findings & Conclusions: Detail your findings and conclusions, including the evidence supporting these conclusions. Make sure to discuss any limitations or assumptions made during the analysis.

There are various ways to document your process, depending on your audience and the nature of your work. You can keep detailed notes in a separate document or incorporate explanations into your code as comments. Data science tools like Jupyter Notebooks allow for the seamless integration of code, visualizations, and narrative, making them a popular choice for documenting the data analysis process.

If I had a dollar for every time I needed to revisit how something was done !!!! Document the steps taken to clean the data, including any decisions made and any assumptions or modifications made in the process. You should also get a sign-off and review of your decisions with data owners.

Make that documentation available to others who use your data. This is a great beginning for handover documentation. This helps increase trust in your process and is backed up when discussions about issues arise.

Source: From Chaos to Clarity: The 8 Stages of Data Preparation – 5MinuteBI

By thoroughly documenting your data analysis process, you ensure that your work is reproducible, understandable, and transparent, adding credibility to your findings and conclusions.


To become a successful data analyst, it is necessary to have a combination of technical skills, critical thinking, data visualization techniques, and practical experience. One can begin building these skills by taking online courses, enrolling in training programs, and seeking practical opportunities to apply their learning. By following these steps, one can pave the way toward a fulfilling career as a data analyst.


1. What are the essential technical skills for a data analyst?

  • Data analysts should have proficiency in programming languages like Python or R, database querying languages like SQL, and spreadsheet software like Excel. Knowledge of data mining, data warehousing, and statistical analysis is also crucial.

2. How can I continuously improve my data analysis skills?

  • Practice Agile Learning by picking up knowledge as needed and delving deeper into specific topics when necessary. Revisit and update your skills over time to stay relevant.

3. Why is critical thinking important for data analysts?

  • Critical thinking allows data analysts to analyze data from different angles, spot trends or anomalies, and interpret findings in a broader context. It helps in making logical, data-driven decisions.

4. What tools can I use for data visualization?

  • Tools like Tableau, Power BI, Matplotlib in Python, and ggplot2 in R are popular choices for data visualization. They enable the creation of interactive and visually compelling graphs, charts, and maps.

5. How can I gain practical experience in data analysis?

  • Practical experience can be gained through internships, entry-level jobs, volunteering, or freelance opportunities. You can also volunteer for data analysis projects within your current role.

6. Are certifications important for a data analyst’s career?

  • Certifications can enhance your credibility and job prospects in the field of data analysis. They provide industry-recognized evidence of expertise and often come with valuable study materials.

7. What should be included in a data analysis portfolio?

  • A strong portfolio should include projects addressing practical problems, involving data manipulation, exploratory data analysis, modeling or algorithms, and clear, actionable insights. Projects should be well-documented and easily comprehensible to a non-technical audience.

8. Why is effective documentation of the data analysis process crucial?

  • Documentation ensures transparency, reproducibility, and knowledge transfer in data analysis. It helps others understand and build upon your work, enhances collaboration, and adds credibility to your findings.

9. How can I improve my skills in presenting data-driven conclusions?

  • To improve presentation skills, prepare thoroughly, communicate clearly, avoid jargon, and encourage audience interaction. Practice your presentations to build confidence.

10. What is the takeaway from this comprehensive guide?

  • The guide outlines the path to becoming a successful data analyst, emphasizing technical skills, critical thinking, data visualization, practical experience, certifications, portfolio building, effective presentation, and documentation.

If you have more questions or need further clarification on any topic covered in the article, feel free to reach out.


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