5 Steps to Becoming a Business Analyst

You might be asking, “How do I become a business analyst?” In what follows, I’ll help you discover where you are along the typical transition path as well as address some of the most common special circumstances that tend to come up from aspiring business analysts.

Before I forget, I want to be sure you know about my step-by-step BA career planning course (it’s free) that’s designed to help you, the mid-career professional, kick-start your business analysis career. The course will help you dig deeper into each of the concepts outlined below. You’ll also want to be sure to download the Business Analyst Career Roadmap as it will give you a visual guide and alternate paths through the 5 steps.

With that out of the way, onward with the 5 steps!

Step 1 – Learn about Business Analysis and Confirm Your Career Choice

As with entering any profession, building knowledge of business analysis is an important part of your career change. And there are several ways to accumulate enough knowledge to be successful. You can read the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge®, though I recommend that those new to the profession choose a more accessible text. The BABOK is amazing, but it’s not written to be accessible by aspiring business analysts…it’s written to be a reference guide for working business analysts. The Software Requirements Memory Jogger or my book, How to Start a BA Career, are good alternatives.

Becoming knowledgeable about the role of the business analyst is only the first step. The biggest mistake I see is that many aspiring BAs spend way too much time here, neglecting the realities of the next 4 steps. Alternatively, I see a lot of professionals get over-invested in business analysis only to discover the career is not a good fit for them. That’s why I recommend learning just enough to determine if business analysis is the right career choice for you.

Check out my 42 Reasons to Start a Business Analyst Career and The First 5 Signs that Business Analysis is the Career Choice for You for some clarity on whether or not you’ve found the right fit.

Even if these checklists confirm you are on the right track, you might still not be 100% sure. A second and more concrete litmus test is to practice some BA techniques to get a feel for the role.  We’ll speak to this specifically in Step 4, so keep please reading.

Step 2 – Identify Your Transferable Skills and Leverage Points to Develop Your Positioning

As a mid-career professional, you most likely qualify for a subset of BA jobs already. (Don’t be frustrated by only qualifying for a subset – even the most experienced BAs do not qualify for all BA jobs.) Many professionals I work with are able to skip right past entry-level BA positions by identifying their transferable skills and the unique qualifications from their career backgrounds. You may also be able to open up opportunities within a slice of business analysis or in a transitional role.

Transferable skills come from experiences using business analysis techniques in a non-BA role. Michelle Swoboda shares a process for translating your skills into business analysis. And here, I share 3 real examples of transferable skills.

Whether or not you have a deep career history in business analysis, it’s likely that one or more elements of your career history give you expertise to leverage into business analysis. Whether it’s your knock-your-socks off communication skills or your deep experience in a relevant industry domain, you have a quality that potential managers are specifically hiring for.

If you are currently employed in a company that employs BAs, then your most valuable leverage point very well could be knowledge of that individual organization, the business model, and the business stakeholders.

Other factors can include:

(You might be thinking this step doesn’t apply to you. I’ve worked with many, many mid-career professionals on their career transition plans and we’ve always been able to find at least one transferable skill and career experience. More often, we’ve discovered several transferable skills and relevant experiences. Our BA career planning course walks you through this process in more detail.  And my Fast Track to a BA Career course provides you with the opportunity to receive my personal advice on your exact career situation.)

After discovering your transferable skills and leverage points, this is a good time to update your business analyst resume to showcase how your past experience qualifies you for roles within or close to business analysis.

Step 3 – Get Tangible Feedback by Putting Out Feelers

Once you’ve built up your confidence in your career choice and your business analysis skills, it’s time to get some real, tangible feedback. This could mean sharing your career goals with your manager and asking for more opportunities to practice BA techniques. It might also mean circulating your resume to a few recruiters or applying to a few business analyst jobs. (What you do in this step will depend heavily on what path you are taking through the Roadmap.)

The point of this exercise is not necessarily to find the opportunity (though if that happens for you right off the bat, that’s a lucky bonus), but to get feedback about how your career goals are perceived by those that work with you or are in a position to hire you.

You may be surprised to learn that a specific skill is extremely marketable and can provide an entryway into a business analyst role. Or you might be given some ideas for strengthening your positioning even further. Which leads us to the next step.

Step 4 – Approach Your Work with a BA Mindset and Strengthen Your Positioning

As part of the analysis you did in step 2, you may have discovered some gaps. Add these to your professional development plan and explore opportunities to fill them through volunteer positions  or by building on-the-job business analyst experiences. What we see is that one business analysis task tends to lead to another, creating a virtuous cycle of new business opportunities and expanded experience.

Practice techniques such as:

Not getting the response you were hoping for from these exercises? Here are 3 things your boss needs to hear you say before they’ll let you take on new job responsibilities.

And if you have doubts, read Kimberley Heath’s success story about how she created a BA volunteer opportunity for herself and what she learned from the experience, or my story about how I got noticed for on-the-job opportunities by relentlessly getting myself invited to meetings and actively participating in any way I could.

As you a cultivate a BA mindset, you’ll find that business analysis begets business analysis. Once you see your first opportunity, several more sprout up right in front of you. Is a virtuous circle that can lead you to a full-fledged business analysis role, step-by-step.

Still feel stuck? Check out Adrian Reed’s 5 tips for breaking the vicious cycle of no experience = no BA job.

Step 5 – Focus Your Efforts to Find Your First BA Opportunity

In time, you may qualify for a business analysis role in your organization or be in a position to propose a business analyst role in your firm. But not all job situations provide the same opportunities. Some BAs find themselves looking outside their organization for their first BA jobs. If that’s you, you’ll want to read more about our business analyst job search process.

And if your transferable skills assessment came up a bit short, you may need to explore a transitional role to lead you on the path to BA. Here we address what a future BA can learn from a technical analyst role.  And Adrian Reed provides a few selected roles that can lead to business analyst jobs.

This is important. As you proceed forward, it’s very easy to get caught in a rut of expending a lot of effort in activities that aren’t actually moving you closer to your goal. Do a regular check-in against these 7 signs you are making progress towards a BA career and be sure to celebrate your interim successes.

>>Plan Your Next Step with a Free Course

While this is a lot of information, you might be wondering exactly what steps you can take. We offer a free step-by-step BA career planning course that will help you figure out your next step.

Click here to learn more about how to start your BA career

Yes, Buts

You might be thinking that these steps don’t apply to you because {fill in the blank here}. I’ve corresponded with hundreds of aspiring business analysts as part of my virtual courses and helped many successfully make this transition (just check out our list of career transition stories) and so I know this process works.

What follows is a list of concerns that most commonly come up and how to address them.

But what if I’m unemployed?

If you are unemployed, focus your efforts on step 2 and use the results of this analysis to update your resume and strengthen your positioning for BA jobs. If you are still not able to qualify for a small slice of business analysis roles and your timeline to find a job is short, refocus your job search on transitional roles. If your timeline is longer, you may consider investing in step 4 as a volunteer.

But what if I just graduated from college with a degree in business analysis?

If you are a recent college grad, you can still use these steps. In any given location, there are often a select few organizations that actively recruit recent college graduates into BA roles. Find them. If you worked through college or actively leveraged internship opportunities, you may have adequate experience to invest some time in step 2 and qualify yourself for a role requiring 2-3 years of experience. (For more information on how this works, read Eric Watrakiewicz’s transition story – he landed a BA job just 7 months out of college.) If neither of these options works out for you, consider investing a few years in a transitional role working your way towards a business analysis, particularly focusing on step 4 above, and then working your way back through the 5 steps.

Unfortunately, many claims made by colleges and universities that their degrees qualify you for business analysis jobs right out of college simply do not hold true. That doesn’t mean your education isn’t valuable – it is. It helps you know what to do in step 4. But it also means it could take you a few years to get to the job you really want.

But I’m an MBA, can’t I skip these steps?

No. Your MBA might give you an extra edge in your positioning, but it’s not a silver bullet into business analysis. If you participated in real-world projects as part of your MBA, then analyze those using step 2. And also be sure to heavily leverage the professional network you built during your MBA as part of your job search in step 5.

If you pursued your MBA right after your bachelor’s, refer to my answer above. If you pursued your MBA mid-career, be sure to go through all 5 steps as it’s likely you have a lot of experience to draw from. And ask your employer for opportunities to apply your MBA and build relevant professional experiences (see step 4).

But what about business analysis training?

Good question. Training is a means to an end. Training is relevant if it helps you achieve the results from one of the 5 steps. Training itself is not going to help you become a business analyst. That’s why all my business analysis training courses are action-based, meaning you take concrete steps towards your BA career goal while you participate in the program.

But what about certificates and certifications?

First, be sure you understand the difference between certificates and certifications. If after completing step 2, you realize you have 2 ½+ years of experience or more, pursuing an IIBA certification could help strengthen your positioning significantly, but like an MBA, a certification is not a silver bullet, just an extra edge. Check out Adriana Beal’s article on whether or not the CBAP is right for you to help make your decision. If you decide to pursue your CBAP or CCBA, here’s 8 Steps to the CBAP that will help you plan out your certification process.

When it comes to a training company-specific certificate, it’s the training behind the certificate that matters most, not the certificate itself. Refer to my answer to the previous question.

But what if I don’t have IT skills and experience?

You don’t need them! If you are going to be a BA on an IT project, you will need a technical understanding. Here’s a post describing the difference and why we see technical skills in BA jobs.

But what if I don’t have business domain expertise?

Business domain expertise is a leverage point and many aspiring BAs are very successful at leveraging expertise in a particular domain to find their first BA position. But if you don’t have expertise in a particular domain, it doesn’t mean that you can’t become a BA, it just means that you need to focus on the opportunities where business domain expertise is not such an important qualification. At times this can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. But believe me, the opportunities are there. Keep working away at step 4 and putting your feelers out. An opportunity will surface for you.

Still have a concern? 

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Comments

  1. Truly and well said Laura…This article is an eye-opener and self realizing to any person who wants to jump to the band wagon of ‘Business Analyst’.!!

  2. Thanks, Sudhi. Welcome to the band wagon!

  3. The only one I am having trouble on is step #4, Building My Personalized Roadmap. I really could use more info on this. It sounds easy enough, but it’s not. Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks!

  4. Hello Laura

    This was one of the most informative blog for me on Business Analysis. I really liked this website Bridging the gap.

    I am working as a Analyst with Bank of America Merill Lynch . My Area of operation in IT is Prime Brokerage . I support Applications that come in Prime brokerage . I have not done coding . I used to do it in my college days. However i want to become a BA . I have done interaction with business for over a period of more than 5 years. And many times understood there issues and translated them in the form of a problem to developers for a fix. And development has done that for me and business as well. Could you please help if this suits as my skill for becoming a BA ? I would like to interact further on this.

  5. Hi Shwetal,

    An IT Background is not necessary – check this post. Many, many BAs have done it.
    http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/how-to-become-a-business-analyst-when-you-have-an-it-background/

    CBAP certification is for Senior BAs with 5 years of documented BA experience. It is not a necessary qualification to start the profession and is not typical because of the experience requirements.

    • And if it helps, I have never done coding either! I came from a technical background, but in QA. This required a bit of technical knowledge but no coding. So I know first-hand this is possible.

      In terms of career background there’s not much that’s going to hold you back from becoming a BA. It’s more important that you have the passion for it and are a strong communicator. The rest you can learn and build as part of your career path.

      I also forgot to mention my free email course on becoming a BA which should help you a lot!

      http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/enewsletter-sign-up/become-a-business-analyst-free-course/

      • Thanks Laura ,

        That was quite motivating. I have subsrcibed for the news letter and the free email course.

  6. Well done, I read it two times

  7. I am a PhD (Bioinformatics) and presently working as a Bioinformatics consultant. I want to be a BA, as my training has provided me knowledge of IT as well as molecular-biology. Can you guide me about the step I should take to make my career as BA?

    Thanks

  8. Hi Laura

    Does BA need to have IT background? I just finished BA training, but I don’t know how to get a BA job. I have MBA and HR degrees, what kind of BA I can be?

    Thanks,
    Vivian

  9. Dear Laura,

    First let me give my sincere thanks to you for your marvelous book ‘How to start a Business Analyst Career’, Which I grabbed long back but failed to convey my regards to you.

    Basically I am a MBA Marketing Professional having 3+ years of rich experience in Business Development /Consulting and Marketing/Sales, in IT as well as Engineering Industries so far.

    And currently I am very passionately seeking a career opportunity in the area of Business Analysis.

    So now queries are :

    1. How I can get the first/entry level dream job in Business Analysis.. As I am a strong mechanical engineering graduate but having experiences in Engineering Software and IT industry.
    2. But not having technical exposure in IT like software platforms, Design, Coding, Testing etc.
    3. But having basic knowledge about SDLC, Onsite/Offsite Delivery Models, Offshore Models As I am dealing with International Offshore Business Development in my current profile.
    4. Are there no any Business Analysis positions for Engineering/ Operations…?? Where my knowledge of Engineering will be worth while, OR for the sake of becoming a BA I have to get used to with IT industry. Is this the only way…??
    5. According to your techniques in BOOK, I have drafted my resume with BA Skill sets and related activities, and other side I really can’t see any opportunity with my current employer to transform my profile to BA within the organization. (So only one option – Have to search new BA JoB)
    6. According to your suggestions to find relate jobs wit BA, I genuinely not seeking those opportunities either. As I am really willing to get out of this Business Development Profile, Very Desperately.
    7. Shall I need to opt for any personal BA training programs but those are very expensive in India, Is this the only way to get a BA Job…? Because I can’t afford this much cost, I have already got your book here which is very costly in India compare to States.

    I will be very obliged and thankful to you for your valuable guidance on my future career guidelines.

    Look forward your precious reply soon.

    Regards,
    Kapil

    • Hi Kapil,
      Thank you for purchasing How to Start a BA Career and also your compliments on the book. You’ve taken a great step by drafting your BA resume with the relevant skill sets and related activities. How is your resume being received by potential employers? Are they looking for specific training? Or additional skills? If so, then I would suggest positioning yourself for a transitional role where you meet most of the qualifications as a point on your path to BA.

      You ask if there are BA positions within Engineering or Operations, I would say yes. They may have a different title, but I would imagine that the competencies of a BA would be very relevant in these industries.

      • Kapil Pattebahadur says:

        Hello Laura,

        Thanks a lot for your precious reply.

        I understand from your writing that i need to search for Transitional role on the path of BA.
        As far as the responses are concerned i am getting numerous responses but all are related with my current domain i.e Business Development, Nevertheless i have cleared through my Career objective that I am looking for entry or associate level BA role.

        In order to answer your raised questions i would say, They are not looking for specific training or additional skills, The priority is, You should have pre- experience in BA. i wondered how one could get a experience with out working in the respective domain.

        I am concentrating on entry level positions but seems difficult to get, even calls for the interviews too.

        Look forward your thoughts.

        Regards,
        Kapil

      • Kapil,
        If you are still getting calls for business development jobs, then my guess is that your resume is positioned highlighting those experiences. I’d go back to your resume and try to position yourself more strongly as a business analyst. Your past experience can count, if you can reposition it as BA experience.

        There are some posts here about resumes:
        http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/how-to-find-a-business-analyst-job/

  10. I am a MCA graduate and presently working as a Quality Analyst (not programming) with 1 year 6 months experience. Can you guide me about the step I should take to make my career as BA? Shall I need to learn any relevant courses for the same?


    Thanks,
    Swathi.

  11. Shaktiraj jena says:

    Hi Laura,

    Greetings!!
    I am working as a Business Analyst in Genpact, but I am not sure whether the kind of duties that I perform come under a Business Analyst’s role. I create Business reports for IMS Research using Excel, SQL, PL/SQL, Microstrategy, TOAD etc and send them to the stakeholders, I take requirements from various Stakeholders and then create the reports accordingly. Another part of my job is to QA them by various LEAN measures. Is this different from a ICT Business Analyst profile? If so how can I be one.
    Your Suggestion is appreciated.

    Regards,
    Raj

  12. kamlesh gairola says:

    Hii
    Laura
    This is kamlesh m pursuing my master degree in marketing management i have been thinking for BA how could i get approached….

  13. Eman Kawas says:

    I have recently graduated from a Business Management Diploma and I have previous degree in Management Information Systems. I have experience with Business Intelligence tool “Cognos”with IBM as a technical analyst, I have done business analysis during my Bsc studies. yet I dnt have a real world experience yet. I have been trying to apply for a junior BA positions, and I am not sure what roles i should be focusing on to gain the neccessary experience to become a BA, any thoughts ?

  14. Naveed Akram Malik says:

    Hi Laura! I am interested in becoming a BA. I am from Pakistan. I have done BS in Computer Engineering but i have never been on programming side. I have a 1 year job experience in IT Department of a bank. Provided help-desk and monitored LAN/WAN connectivity of branches.
    What do you suggest me?

  15. Aseem Khan says:

    Hello Laura,

    Your blog on Business Analyst was wonderful. I have done my Masters of Business Administration and have experince of 4 years as a Accounttant in mid-size firm. Please guide me how to become a BA.

    Best Regards.

    Aseem Khan

  16. Bunmi awokoya says:

    Would like some mentoring advice pleas

  17. Hi Laura Brandenburg,

    Greetings…!

    I have 2.10 years of experience in to HR-Admin,working for an IT company, now i want to change my role hr-admin to Business Analyst.initially what steps i need to take and please guide me on this. I am very interested to work or build my career as BA. I used to interact with clients they suggested me to turn as BA and also i have an interest too. I am a MBA graduate.

    Thanks and regards,
    Dileep