(Featured illustration: Hanns-Peter Nagel)
Editor’s note: This post is the second of two posts that highlight careers in digital analytics. The first post introduced digital analytics careers and described five best practices for digital analysts.
Thinking of moving into a digital analyst role? According to Connie Rock, a student in the Communication Leadership (Comm Lead) graduate program at the University of Washington and Comm Lead alumna Navni Garg, both of whom have professional digital analytics experience, great digital analysts have several attributes in common. If you possess the following attributes, you may have what it takes to be a great analyst.
Great Analyst Attribute 1: Analytical Problem-Solving
If you confuse correlation and causation, an analyst role is not for you. In some roles, you will work with large data sets, which will require query writing skills and knowledge of statistics. No matter how technical or non-technical your position, you will need to be able to break down problems into smaller problems, test assumptions and plan based on your analysis.
Great Analyst Attribute 2: Curious
As an analyst, you need to question assumptions lest you become misled by data. You will be driven to dig deeper and find the truth in the numbers. You will not only need to find the right answers. Often you will also need to figure out what questions you need to ask. “The client doesn’t always know what they need to be looking at, so you need to take the time to define the problem. It often comes down to answering one single marketing or business question,” says Garg.
Great Analyst Attribute 3: Good with Tools
Much of your day-to-day work requires using tools to crack open the insights hidden inside data sets, so you need to become adept in multiple analytics tools. You will also need to be comfortable manipulating, cleaning, normalizing, and de-duping data and be familiar with basic data concepts such as the difference between dimensions and measures.
“If you are good with learning tools, that’s a tremendous asset,” says Rock. “The better that you are with tools, and manipulating large data sets, the more time you can spend on analysis.”
Great Analyst Attribute 4: Team Player
Analysts collaborate with a wide variety of people, from sales, marketing, and account management professionals to product engineers and other data analysts.
People skills allow analysts to effectively work with clients and stakeholders, which is crucial for determining the business goals underpinning a given analysis. Analysts also need to learn to present their data clearly and convincingly to multiple audiences, including co-workers, direct managers and the CEO. “Great soft skills are important,” says Rock. “Be gracious, be open to learn, and communicate clearly.”
Great Analyst Attribute 5: Up-to-Date in the Latest Developments in the Field
As user behavior shifts and new data sources become available, analysts need to adjust their methodologies. For example, it’s currently challenging to tie multiple devices to single individuals and understand cross-device exposure—but that may change. Analysts need to be ready to incorporate new data sources in their analysis.
Following industry blogs and going to conferences can help you stay in the know, but don’t forget to pay attention at the water cooler. “I often hear about new trends from clients I work with,” says Garg.
How to Build Your Analytics Chops and Get Hired
If you are working in digital media, you likely have opportunities to dig deeper into analytics. To increase your chances of being hired full time in an analytics role, become your team’s go-to data person.
- Build your tool set. If your team has analytics tools at its disposal, take advantage of the opportunity to get hands-on experience. If you can’t learn the tools on the job, find a way to learn the most popular tools on your own (although for some of the most expensive tools that may not be an option). As you are building your tool set, don’t forget about Excel. You still need serious chops in that standby to thrive as an analyst in many roles. For any tool, getting certified as an expert can help build your credibility, but it is rarely required.
- Study up on basic statistics (and beyond, if you can). Anyone interested in analyst roles should be familiar with basic statistics concepts. For more technical positions, you will need to deepen that knowledge and learn specific statistical tools.
- Showcase your knowledge. Understanding methodologies and familiarity with tools is one thing; being able to showcase your knowledge is another. A portfolio of presentations with thorough data analysis will help make the case that you can translate data into actionable insights. Be cautious, though, that you don’t share any confidential information without prior permission.
The average salary for a digital analyst in the Seattle area is $76,000, according to Simplyhired.com. Other analyst positions range from $70,000 to $110,000, depending on experience and how technical the role is.
Following are recommended courses and sites to help current and aspiring digital analysts build their skills, and network with other analysts.
- Google Analytics Academy. Through the Google Analytics Academy, you can learn about digital analytics fundamentals and more specific topics, such as e-commerce analytics and mobile app analytics. Cost: free.
- Content Science: Data Analysis & Understanding the Problem (offered as part of a Certificate in Storytelling & Content Strategy, University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education). This class focuses on how to sift through and analyze data, and communicate your findings to support the story that you want to tell. Full disclosure: I will be teaching the Content Strategy section of this certificate program in the spring of 2015. Cost: $975 (+ $94 in application and registration fees).
- Meetup: Seattle Marketing Analytics Group. This meetup group is geared toward marketers and analysts interested in sharing best practices and learning about new trends.
- Digital Analytics Association. The DAA is a not-for-profit industry association that offers certifications, training and conferences for skill-building and networking.