What Business Analysis Managers Seek in Candidates

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Now that a new year is under way, a frequent question in the business analysis community is what exactly managers of BA’s look for when hiring BA’s to join their organization. This was actually a question I myself asked when I was a BA, and then I asked even more often when I became a manager of BA’s. The following is a summary of what I personally looked for.

Knowledge

Business Analysis – Duh. You have to know about business analysis. You need to know how to elicit, analyze and validate requirements. You have to know how to model them and move them through requirements processes. You have to know how to manage them, trace them, etc. Basic, but this skill needs to be constantly improved. If you are just starting out as a Business Analyst, you need to be able to demonstrate some knowledge of analysis and solid strength in the other areas.

Technology – You need to have some decent level of understanding of the technology, but the amount will vary depending on your role. If you are working on hardware projects, you should have a good understanding of hardware, but you don’t need to be an engineer. If you are working on software projects, you should have a good understanding of development, but you don’t need to be a programmer. If you are working on process improvement… well you still need to have a good understanding of software. You don’t have to be a techie; you do need to know enough to know what systems can do. And how do you use all this knowledge? To craft solutions, right? No. It’s to help you speak the same language as technologists and to ask the right questions.

Domain – Common dogma within our field states that you can be a Business Analyst without domain knowledge. So you can take a BA with a Finance background, drop him into Pharma, and he will be successful. I suppose there must be instances where this is the case, but usually it’s the opposite. Working specifically within Wealth Management, I rarely hired BA’s with only Investment Banking experience, let alone someone without Finance experience. Why? Because when you launch a product or service or process or app, you are expected to be the expert on it, and people won’t respect you if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Also, your projects will take longer to get done because you’re learning the domain on the job. Know your business.

Project Management – Business Analysts typically work as members of a project team, and an understanding of projects and lifecycles is critical. When working towards a requirements-complete milestone, there is a big difference between a Business Analyst who is simply working off the date given him by his PM and a BA who understands the downstream activities from the requirements phase and what happens if the milestone is missed. Furthermore, the Business Analyst is often also acting as the Project Manager on small to intermediate-sized projects. A BA without PM skills is not expected to last long or go very far in his career.

Communication

Writing – The key work product of a Business Analysis is written, whether it’s requirements documents or user manuals or even just the volumes of e-mails created daily. I was frequently shocked to get resumes from BA candidates who clearly could not write well. If you cannot write, you won’t get the job.

Interviewing – Interviewing is a skill that develops with time, but it’s really important to our profession. Interviewing is more than simply asking questions and recording the answers. It requires careful listening, both to what the interviewee says and to what he doesn’t say. Interviews should be planned to some degree beforehand, but they tend to veer off in other directions, sometimes fruitful, sometimes not. It is worthwhile to invest time in your interviewing skills.

Relationship Building – Everyone knows a grumpy Business Analyst who hates people, groans whenever people come to his desk and generally acts like a jerk. I never hired that guy and never will. Why? Mostly because I wouldn’t want to work with him. And he will only weaken the team dynamic and decrease morale. When I sent my team members to interview prospective candidates, I would ask them afterwards, “How was the candidate?” I could tell by the look on their faces, even before they opened their mouths, whether or not there were problems. My advice is to generally be pleasant, good-humored and nice.

Nice-to-Haves

Breadth of Experience – I love it when people have a breadth of experience in different areas of a company. They understand how organizations work. You want to be a Process Analyst, but you haven’t worked in Operations or Finance? I might have hired you based on your other strengths, but you wouldn’t have been my ideal candidate. I personally worked in sales, sales management and operations prior to becoming a Business Analyst, and I wouldn’t have been very successful without that experience.

Social Science Background – This might be unique to me, but I’ll take a Psychology/Sociology/Anthropology major any day of the week. They particularly excite me. Did you double-major in Business and Computer Science? That’s fine, but so did the majority of BA’s. (Don’t take it so hard though — I studied Slavic Languages, which contributed essentially nothing to my career in analysis.) Social Science students learn to observe people, study people, analyze people and then document the whole thing in as objective a way as possible. And that’s pretty much the job of a BA.

So there you have a list of key traits that I looked for in Business Analysts. Each hiring manager will have their own list, and job-seekers will need to figure out what that manager needs — and how to fulfill that need. Kind of sounds like what a BA does, right?

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