How to Increase Your Chances of Finding a Business Analyst Job in this Tough Market

I’ve been working as a consultant in New York City since 2005, performing business analysis activities for client organizations either as a stand-alone service or as part of a larger consulting packaged service related to custom software development. Because of the nature of my role, it’s common for me to start looking for the next assignment every 4-6 months, near the completion of a project. In this tough market, many business analysts are looking for help finding their next position, and Laura asked me to share my experiences coming upon my latest opportunities. Here are my top recommendations for job seekers, based on my recent experience in the consulting world.

1. Be Selective About Your Business Analyst Job Search

A few months ago, when I was about to finish a project, I sent a single application to a position that I found online. I didn’t know anyone from that company, and it took them a couple of weeks to contact me for a phone screening, but after the initial contact the interview process was fast and successful–the position was perfect for me. In previous occasions, a new project resulted from a recruiter finding my profile in LinkedIn, with an interview being scheduled after I confirmed that the position was, indeed, a good fit. It’s common for me to ignore job leads from recruiters or even friends when the description does not match my background or interests. I find it is much more productive to concentrate my efforts on positions that truly reflect my qualifications and future goals.

Being selective doesn’t mean that you have to apply only for jobs you’ve done before, but rather that you should be realistic, not applying for positions for which you clearly don’t have the right mix of skills. Applying only for target positions you are reasonably qualified for and interested in will allow you more time to create a higher-quality application, which take us to the next tip.

2. Customize your Resume and Cover Letter for Each Job

In order to attract attention, your resume and cover letter must be focused, sharply honed and error-free documents that clearly identifies your skills, experience, and accomplishments related to the position you are seeking. Customized resumes are more relevant to the job and more attractive to recruiters and hiring managers, usually generating more attention than generic resumes. If you are not getting interviews, your first step should be to make sure you are identifying which skills are emphasized most for the position you are seeking, and using this information to point your resume and cover letter in the right direction. I haven’t tried blindly sending out the same generic resume to a number of recruiters or hiring managers, but I’m willing to bet that I wouldn’t get more job interviews and offers using this approach.

3. Tap the Power of Networking and the Business Analyst Community

For the past 4 years, when I wasn’t executing an assignment for the NY-based boutique IT firm I work for, I was consulting on a project that I found researching job boards, responding to a recruiter who contacted me, or, in a much larger scale, networking–particularly with ex-colleagues, executives and managers with whom I have worked in the past. In my experience, the most effective networking-building activities happen during the periods you are not looking for work, and typically with the people you’ve met in real life.

I have been introduced to great people through LinkedIn groups, but perhaps because I never told them when I was looking for a new assignment, these virtual connections haven’t yet translated into work opportunities. With real-life connections, on the other hand, new opportunities are constantly emerging as a consequence of simply keeping in touch and continuing to contribute to the relationship (introducing people who would benefit from meeting each other, sending relevant articles and book recommendations, etc.).  My contacts constantly inform me of openings in their organization and introduce me to hiring managers in other companies, which typically translates into new opportunities being lined up long before my current assignment is finished.

For business analysts just starting their career (and consequently with a smaller network of people who can recommend their work), making one-on-one connections in social networking websites can be a good alternative to start building meaningful relationships. Make sure you optimize the time you spend in networking websites, reevaluating your online activities occasionally to confirm that you are meeting the right people and staying in contact over the long-term, so you are remembered when an opportunity comes up. In addition to joining business analyst online communities, I recommend finding groups where you can meet people from a variety of professions working in the industry you specialize in, as this increases your chances of connecting with a potential employer. Networking events may be another option for you to meet people and start growing your network.

Read more posts about professional networking for business analysts.

4. Take Responsibility for Your Own Professional Development

I spent several hours per week of my personal time reading about Agile techniques long before I started working on Agile projects. Being serious about building new competencies significantly increases the  chances that you will be considered well-qualified for a position even when it involves performing activities that you haven’t done in the past. Reading books and articles is a good start, and you might also look for the support of a mentor or colleague to help you learn marketable business analysis techniques.

Read more posts about professional development planning for business analysts.

. . . . .

Being selective about the job search, customizing the application process, staying in touch with people who know me well enough to recommend my services, and spending time building new competencies, are the things that have helped me most during my search for new consulting projects. If you think you need help putting in practice the points mentioned here, I recommend that you buy Laura’s eBook How to Start a Business Analyst Career, which provides practical and actionable advice for building a personalized road map and finding your next business analyst position.

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Comments

  1. Jenny Nunemacher says:

    How does one effectively translate reading and studying about certain things (such as Agile or UML) into something that a prospective employer will find meaningful and qualifying?

  2. Hi, Jenny!

    Thank you for asking this question, as the answer may be helpful for many readers.

    “How does one effectively translate reading and studying about certain things (such as Agile or UML) into something that a prospective employer will find meaningful and qualifying?”

    Never underestimate the power of knowledge during an interview!

    Back in 2004, when I had my first job interview in the U.S., for a consulting BA position, I was asked about my experience with Use Cases. I knew their Requirements Engineering Group strongly relied on this technique to communicate requirements, and even though I didn’t have working experience in this area, I made sure I had studied everything I possibly could about this topic (for anyone interested, I learned a lot from the book “UML for the IT Business Analyst: A Practical Guide to Object-Oriented Requirements Gathering”, which is linked from my signature).

    During my interviews I was able to prove that I had solid knowledge of how to create a use case, and to illustrate how requirements documentation I had previously produced could be easily translated into the use case format. It was enough to prove to the hiring managers that I was qualified to join their team.

    You see, *knowing things* may not get you an interview, but in my experience, it will definitely help you land the job if you get to the interviewing stage. (This is also how I got my first assignment in an Agile project – wouldn’t happened if I hadn’t studied this approach before the interview).

  3. Jenny Nunemacher says:

    Ah, good to hear a real-life example. I, myself, have been doing some reading about Agile and it is encouraging to hear your experience. Thanks for the reference for use cases, too.

  4. Adriana:

    Thanks for taking the time to document these tips at Laura’s suggestion. One can simply not underestimate the value of self-investment, and this is really good advice. Your tip about having the resumes error-free really strikes a nerve. I’ve seen a lot of them come through with spelling, grammatical and other errors. I would like to expand on your tip by recommending any candidate have someone else proof his or her resume prior to submission. Even if a spouse looks it over, it’s one extra pair of eyes to identify that one’s own name is spelled wrong (yes…really happened).

    Thank you again

    Doug

  5. You are welcome, Doug (and Jenny).

    And good suggestion about having someone else look at your resume. The company I work for just received a resume stating that the person had been managing an application of “about a thousand years”, when he meant “thousand users”.

    Fortunately the error was caught by the office manager, and the candidate had a chance to correct it. I’m guilty of sending less-than-perfect resumes myself (missing a quotation mark or something equally small), but that happens only when someone needs it right away just as a formality and I don’t have an up-to-date version available.

    We all make mistakes, but asking someone to proofread your application documents is easy, and can go a long way toward establishing your credibility.

  6. Adriana,

    I think you make a great point about translating your prior experiences into the context of a new skill. Some learning and development that builds on prior experience is much different from a hiring manager’s perspective than a formal education without the experience. Great point that will serve business analysts well in translating their experiences into what hiring managers are looking for.

    Laura

  7. Matt Morgan says:

    Hi Adriana,

    I think this is a great post, because the points you’ve raised (whilst being mentioned often for jobseekers) are usually overlooked or ignored. So much emphasis is placed on resume design and interview tips, that the topics above fall by the wayside.

    One thing that I am very passionate about is good networking. If networking is done well, it shouldn’t really feel like “networking” at all. The best tip I ever got about networking is that your first priority should be learning what problems the other party has. I’ve found that this is the best way to establish meaningful professional relationships.

    Your previous comments indicate to me that you haven’t always lived in the U.S. If this is true, i’d be interested in hearing more about your experiences in relocation, job seeking and adjusting to the local culture. I ask this as i’m currently planning my own relocation myself. If i’ve misinterpreted your comments then I apologise.

    Thanks

    Matt

  8. Laura: thanks for highlighting an important aspect. You need to be able to connect new learning to your prior knowledge and experience in order to convince hiring managers that you can effectively apply your knowledge into real life situations (as opposed to just being able to repeat what you learned from a book or training course).

    Matt: Thank you for the compliment, and I definitely agree that networking shouldn’t feel like “networking”, but rather a genuine exchange between people who enjoy the relationship and learn from each other.

    You are right, I moved from Brazil to the U.S. not too long ago, in 2004. In my case, the reason was an invitation my husband received to pursue his PhD in Computer Science here. When I first came, I didn’t have a working visa, and was still doing consulting for Brazilian firms from distance.

    Confirming the power of networking and social media, the way I obtained sponsorship for a working visa and a job was through a friend who found through Orkut that I had moved to the U.S. and referred me to the consulting firm she worked for in NYC.

  9. Great, precisely specified advice!

    I’d like to relate my experience about job seekingin the current market.

    My experices with..
    1. Working for free
    Upon my question on LinkedIn about how to gain Banking experience, a suggestion came to work for free. I’ve tried it. Recruiters outrightly reject me reasoning the market now has those skills, and me being free doesnt add any value.
    Consulting/recruiting firms then offered me a reduced rate as alternative to working for free. I wearily agree to work for 50% less (no solid offers yet!).
    My other fear is that consulting firm not (proportianally) lowering their rate profiting from my labour. Thats what happened most recently to me!

    My long term goal is to escape from the Rat Race.

    2. Customized CV.
    I have general CV, when replying to a job i comment on the job specs relating to my actual experience. Should i rather customize my CV for each and every job response?

    3. Networking
    I havent got a network yet. I got into BA because my employer at the time did have the network.

    4. Start job seeking early.
    The current j ob market dictates starting 2months before endof contract. I also do a exit assesment interview with senior stakeholders who worked closely with me. Also ask them to be my references.

    5. Be selective.
    Starting out, with living expenses, and not having had oppertunity to build a cash reserve makes it tough to be selective.
    And thats now exactly my future “problem”. I’ve learnt that an offer is to be made to me. Fincially its $jackpot$ but i dont feel comfortable with the job describtion.
    Not having options is terrible!

  10. Thank you, “TheBusinessAnalystPodcast”, for your observations.

    I’d just like to comment in one thing that you said:

    “Starting out, with living expenses, and not having had opportunity to build a cash reserve makes it tough to be selective.”

    I think that especially in a difficult situation like that one needs to be selective with one’s job search activities. I’ll give you an example. I just received a blast email asking for an “integration workstream administrator” to “provide pre-close support during HFM discussions”. If you, like me, have no idea what he is talking about, it would be a waste of time to send your resume for a position like that.

    What I was trying to say about being selective is that you need to be realistic, and keep your focus as you search for and apply to positions. If you are in serious need of getting a job to pay your bills, one more reason to concentrate your time and energy in seeking positions for which you are well qualified, so you have time to prepare as best as you can for phone screenings and interviews that may result from your applications. It won’t help to start applying to any type of job/assignment you hear about, if the position doesn’t reflect your skill set. Does that make sense to you?

  11. Jenny Nunemacher says:

    The flipside of that coin, Adriana, is that even if you *could* do the things in the job description, if you really don’t want to do them, you should take a pass. For me, even though I can do QA and have done QA it is really not my favorite part of BA work. So, a job that is explicitly looking for QA is not going to be my bailiwick and I probably won’t be satisfied there.

    I too am looking for work and at times can feel pretty desperate, but I have found that I really don’t sell myself well if I’m not really interested (or qualified) for the position. So I have learned not to waste that time trying. Better to spend the time networking and researching opportunities that are a better fit in the first place.

    Keep your chin up.

  12. Thank you for the addendum, Jenny! Your perspective will certainly be useful for people who are in a similar situation.

    I’m not comfortable telling others “don’t apply for jobs you really wouldn’t like to do, even if you are qualified for them”, because, when you (generic you) are in serious need of a job, it might become necessary to accept something that isn’t exactly the best fit.

    So, in my opinion, if you are finding it difficult to land a job in the exact field you want, there’s nothing wrong with applying to other positions for which you feel you are qualified, even if the job description isn’t particularly exciting to you, as long as you commit yourself to performing the job the best you can. A not-so-perfect position can easily become a step toward your final goals (using your example, a QA position could lead you to the BA position you want–I know many BAs who started in QA).

    Of course, if someone is going to feel miserable at work, or don’t see any potential for growth in a position he/she is being offered, I definitely agree that it’s advisable to look elsewhere for a better fit.

  13. Adriana,

    Thank you so much for sharing! Your post is very affirming! Laura and I have discussed many of the same things that you wrote about when she was writing her ebook.

    I can not say enough about customizing your resume and cover letter! I have a half dozen different resumes ready and I am always looking for new ones to create. I have a very creative and visual resume for creative companies, a very sterile and technical resume for those “technically” minded organizations, a traditional resume for those more “old fashioned” type of companies, etc.

    I love your enthusiasm and energy that you bring to your insight. Your writing “oozes” knowledge, experience, confidence and positivity. It’s BA’s like you and Laura that champion our profession and pioneer our futures as BA’s.

    Keep up the great work!

  14. Hello Adriana

    It was very encouraging to read your story. it really takes a lot for someone coming from other country to compete in this market and congratulations to you for your success so far.

    I have some questions. If you know many people wanting to become a BA professional are taking up short term courses (on weekends) learning the tools required and other topics that a BA is supposed to do. After completion of the course, they have to cook up their resume in such a way as to show enough BA experience in real time world because I am sure no one would even consider them for an interview if they implied BA training on their resumes.
    what advice would you give those guys in terms of their first BA position and tackling the interview effectively. I know its not easy to say on something you have no experience but knowledge.

    They are in kind of a situation where although they might know everything by the books and may look impressive on their cooked up resume but lack solid experience to back it up.

    thanks and hope to hear from you

  15. Hi, Doug,

    Thank you for your kind words! It’s good to know that you share the same views, including the suggestion about customizing your resume (here is a blog post that states the opposite: http://www.cluewagon.com/2009/09/why-you-shouldnt-customize-your-resume-for-each-job-opportunity/ — some of the comments explain though how it can be important in many circumstances, including the ones you pointed out).

    Nish: I’ll answer your question in my next comment – stay tuned!

  16. Nish,

    Thank you for the compliment, I appreciate it. About your question, what advice would I give to a professional interviewing for a BA position when he/she has training/knowledge but not experience, I think the most important thing would be to look back at your work experience (assuming you have already had previous jobs), and start a list of the experience you have accumulated that can be related to one of the BA knowledge areas (Elicitation, Analysis and Specification, Validation, Communication).

    Did you facilitate meetings? Interview people about how a process works? Help your team prioritize tasks? Help the organization select a new software? All these activities represent BA-related experience that, coupled with formal or informal training, could help convince hiring managers that you are qualified for an entry-level BA job.

    As I illustrated when I talked about Use Cases in a previous answer, being able to demonstrate how things you learned can be applied to real life situations can go a long way in helping prove that you are capable of translating your knowledge into real life performance (which should be your ultimate goal with any BA training).

    Anyone finding trouble describing BA-related activities on their resumes and/or interviews, or creating experiences that can later be valuable to start a BA career, should seriously consider buying Laura’s eBook How to Start a Business Analyst Career, which has plenty of good advice on how to achieve these goals: http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/become-a-business-analyst/

  17. Nancy Carr says:

    I wonder how we, as Business Analysts, can change the perception out in the market place of what a Business Analyst is and what should be expected from one.

    I received an Email from a recruiter this week for a BA job-which is in the “job title”, and these are the requirements for the position please note that I directly copied and pasted out of the Email message from the recruiter:

    Business/Functional Analysis
    CRM
    Radiology
    Pathology
    Laboratory
    Blood Work/Blood Bank
    Clinical Systems
    Healthcare/Medical Industry

    Bonus:

    Visual Basic
    .NET
    SQR/SQL
    C++
    Oracle
    HTML
    MS Word
    MS Excel
    Oracle
    SQL Server
    HL7

  18. Hi Nancy, I have received similar emails from recruiters, often frustratingly asking me to rate myself against several skills which I have never claimed to have. My approach is typically to let them know I’m not qualified and that the job they provided is not one that fits in my concept of a business analyst role. It’s challenging to just say no, but it leads to a more effective job search process. Recruiters also appreciate the honesty and are more likely to call you for something that matches your qualifications later on.

    I don’t think as a job candidate you are really in a position to change the marketplace perception. I see too many candidates trying to do so by applying for jobs just because the title fits even through the job description does not. Find a job you are qualified for, do a great job, and then use your influence within the organization to get the right title or help sell the value of business analysis. As a job candidate there are simply too many other things to focus on!

    Laura

  19. Laura, as always I couldn’t agree more with what you said.

    Nancy, the same happens with other professions – “information architect”, for example, frequently has very different meanings depending on the organization using the title. It’s futile to try and “convince” recruiters and hiring managers that they should only use the title “business analyst” if the position fits our own perception of the role.

    Like Laura said, what is really important for a BA looking for a new job is to focus on the job description to make sure the position matches his/her skills and interests, and as a hired BA to do a great job so the perception of the value of business analysis continues to grow.

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