While nearly any job can lead you to a business analyst job, some jobs enable you to move you more quickly towards your business analyst career goals. Since you can build BA experience without having the BA job title, a transitional role can be an opportunity to maintain or grow your current income stream while also accumulating the qualifications you need to become a BA. You can seek a transitional job role at your current employer or in a new company. In fact, you might already be in one.
In this article, I describe the jobs that we most often see people in before they find their first BA job. For each role, we’ll also look at how to turn this job into a transitional opportunity on your path to business analysis.
- First, we’ll look at a set of roles that have relatively easier entry paths, which are a good fit if you are coming from a role that is very distant from business analysis or are newly entering the job market.
- Then we’ll look at roles that have their own hefty experience requirements but that provide nice segues into business analysis. They are good options if you are already qualified or close to qualified to fill them.
- Finally, we’ll wrap things up with some tips for choosing what option makes the most sense to you.
(Before we get started, I want to say a few words about our approach to making a BA career transition, which is represented in the Business Analyst Career Roadmap. Here at Bridging the Gap we advise focusing on work experience and skill development together. Since work experience is often the most important factor in hiring a BA, this is what we see work for most professionals. You will find that a lot of other providers advise you to put your money making on hold and focus on training for a year or more and then go back into the job market. If that path doesn’t work for you financially or doesn’t suit your career ambitions, then you are in the right place.)
With that out of the way, let’s look at some options when it comes to transitional roles that could lead you to business analysis.
7 Easier-to-Qualify for Jobs that Can Lead to a BA Job
This first set of roles do have some experience and expertise requirements, but they tend to be lighter than a typical mid-level BA role. If you have at least a few years of professional background, at least one or two is likely to be a good fit for your current qualifications.
Let’s look at them one-by-one.
#1 – Test Analyst
A test analyst is responsible for executing test cases against a software system before it goes live to the business or to customers. Typically a test analyst doesn’t do as much in terms of test planning (see the Quality Assurance Engineer role below for more on that) and so the job requirements can be rather lenient. If you regularly find problems with software you use every day and can write up a description to that problem in a very easy-to-fix way, then you will meet the main requirements.
In a test analyst role, you’ll gain exposure to software and the project lifecycle. You’ll be starting on a path that can lead to a short-term promotion to a Quality Assurance Engineer, which can lead to business analysis.
#2 – Project Coordinator/Analyst
A project coordinator assists a project manager in administrating a project. This role can often involve a wide variety of responsibilities, which is what can make it a great way to work into a BA role. You might be collating time sheets, reviewing vendor invoices, capturing meeting notes, and updating project schedules, among other tasks assigned to you by the project manager.
Sometimes the project manager you work for is filling a combined business analysis/project management role, and if they happen to like the business analyst responsibilities the least, they could assign you some actual BA tasks. (Of course, the reverse could just as easily be true and they could keep all the BA tasks for themselves.)
#3 – Admin to a CIO, CTO or Other Tech Executive
A close relation to the project coordinator is the administrative assistant to a CIO (Chief Information Officer), CTO (Chief Technology Officer), or other technology executive. These roles also involve a wide variety of responsibilities, as your tasks will include whatever your executive needs help with on a given day or week. Responsibilities could range from booking travel to helping prepare presentations for the board of directors.
In this role, you often gain a lot of exposure not just to projects, but to the executive thinking behind projects, which can serve you very well when you are working with higher level stakeholders as a business analyst.
The challenge with this role is that you might be too busy keeping up with your executive’s schedule to carve out time for your own professional development. Also, within your organization you could very well be typecast into an “admin” role, making it difficult to secure an internal promotion to business analysis.
#4 – Any Sort of Analyst
It might seem trite, but getting into any role with the ‘analyst’ job title can help you move towards a business analyst. In fact, given how inconsistently job titles are used, the job might actually be rather close to a business analyst role.
Here are some common example titles and typical responsibilities:
- Marketing Analyst – Responsible for analyzing the effectiveness of marketing campaigns or generating data that can be used as part of the sales and marketing process.
- Sales Analyst – Responsible for analyzing sales-related systems, sales reports, or sales processes.
- Operations Analyst – Responsible for analyzing operational processes, generating reports, or supporting the operations by performing manual tasks.
- Reporting Analyst – Responsible for designing new reports, creating reports, and running existing reports.
#5 – Customer Service or Technical Support
Customer service and technical support professionals are on the phone with customers helping them resolve issues and solve problems. They bring a lot of relevant experience to the BA role. First and foremost, they learn how to ask good questions and listen to the answers. They often need to explain complex technical issues or arcane business rules to customers who would rather not understand them. And they need to solve the immediate problem.
Sometimes they get involved in representing the customer to solve more systemic problems, which can lead them into a subject matter expert role. Let’s talk about what that looks like.
#6 – Subject Matter Expert
A subject matter expert provides specific business, industry, or functional domain knowledge on a project. Often they work very closely with the business analyst, being interviewed about what they need and want out of the project and how the process works today. This role typically involves reviewing requirements documentation, participating in demos, and conducting or coordinating user acceptance testing. (Here’s a good discussion about the difference between a subject matter expert and a business analyst.)
As you demonstrate your competence as a subject matter expert, you can ask to be assigned more responsibilities on the project team, perhaps taking notes for the BA or creating early drafts of documentation.
This was part of my personal transition path. I was in a subject matter expert role before I was offered a Quality Assurance role. I stepped up during the acceptance testing phase and got noticed as someone who understood software and the test process, which got me my “in” to the IT team.
The challenge with being a subject matter expert, is that you aren’t likely to see this as a job title. It’s more likely to be a role you step into while you are employed in a different job. So let’s look at that set of opportunities next.
#7 – Any Role With BA Responsibilities or in a Company with a BA Practice
While the above list of roles are specific job titles and roles you might watch out for, any role with a slice of BA responsibilities or in an organization that has a BA team could provide a path to a BA role. In the case where I was a subject matter expert, my job title was “Associate Editor.” Then I worked my way into getting assigned to a technology project.
In general, organizations that have a BA practice will provide you with the most opportunities as you’ll have a specific type of business analyst job you can work towards and your knowledge of the stakeholders, systems, and processes will likely be viewed as an asset should an internal BA position open up. But you can also look at the most process-oriented or technology-oriented role you qualify for and start there.
While any one of these seven transitional roles might make sense to you, it may be that you are already in a role that has a more direct path to business analysis. Let’s look at those next.
6 Just-As-Difficult-to-Qualify for Jobs that Provide a Direct Path to a BA Job
In addition to jobs that are easier to get into than your typical business analyst job, there are transitional roles that have their own hefty experience and expertise requirements, but can lead directly to business analysis. If you are in one of these roles already or are qualified for one of these roles, your best bet would most likely be to stay in this role and begin working more business analysis responsibilities into what you are already doing.
#8 – Project Manager
Very often, project management and business analysis roles are combined into one, more commonly under the job title of “project manager.” Project managers can move towards a more BA-focused role by focusing on the business needs, requirements process, business process, and product (as opposed to project) scope.
#9 – Software Developer
A software developer in a small organization or informal environment often does not have the benefit of working with a business analyst and in those scenarios may already do the business analysis. Other times, these responsibilities fall to the technical lead or software development manager. In a more formal environment, the software developer is often involved in reviewing requirements specifications, creating design documentation, and managing change requests.
A software developer can move towards a business analyst role by conducting customer demos, reviewing or updating requirements documentation, incorporating requirements models into technical design documentation, asking open-ended questions about business needs and requirements, or becoming part of the test and implementation process.
#10 – Systems Analyst
Systems Analyst is a confusing job title. As a role, it’s generally taken to identify someone who is responsible for the technical design of a software system but may not do actual coding. However, unlike a true business analyst role, this person needs to have a fairly deep and sometimes fairly broad understanding of technology. (Here’s a good discussion of the difference between a business analyst and a systems analyst.)
Systems analysis can be a good transitional role for the software developer who already has this background as it gets you away from the implementation and into the analysis. Then you can work yourself into activities that get you closer to the business perspective on a project or system.
#11 – Business/Functional Manager
Any manager of a functional department or team is likely to have some BA responsibilities. In this role, you are likely responsible for operational processes of your team and continuously revising and improving them.
A manager can move towards a business analyst role by documenting and analyzing their team’s existing roles and processes, interviewing the team’s stakeholders to understand the broader context of their work, and initiating process improvement or expansion projects. If your team expands to take on a new area of responsibility, treat it as a project for which you are the lead business analyst.
#12 – Quality Assurance Engineer
A quality assurance engineer will often be responsible for test case development and overall test planning. They may have specific responsibilities related to the creation or maintenance of a test environment and tend to have more in-depth technical skills than a Test Analyst, perhaps even to the extent of managing tools for test automation and performance testing.
A QA engineer is likely to build strong bonds with business users over time. A QA engineer can move towards a BA role by looking at their test plans as business processes, facilitating user acceptance testing and helping create business-focused test plans, and managing the changes that surface during the test cycle, some of which may be new requirements that require elicitation, analysis, and specification.
#13 – Technical Writer
A technical writer creates documentation to support a business process or software solution. Often the documentation is a user guide or training manual, but other times this can include detailed system documentation, visual models, or business processes. Technical writers tend to have very relevant experiences in documenting requirements specifications.
A technical writer can work towards a business analyst role by getting involved in other parts of the project lifecycle, such as stakeholder interviews, problem-solving meetings, or user acceptance testing. Sometimes after completing a skills assessment, technical writers (like a lot of project managers) realize that they are already qualified for many business analyst roles.
Finding Your Path to BA
We’ve just looked at 13 possible roles and how they can move you closer to business analysis. By no means would I expect you to qualify for all 13 jobs. If one or two jobs stood out to you as, “I’m qualified to do that!”, then consider it your best working option for the short term.
As you consider your options, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- If you are unemployed, look at roles that are the best match for your current qualifications. They will be easier to get into short term. Since getting work experience is the biggest factor in successfully moving towards a BA role, any job will give you more opportunities than you have now.
- If you are employed, first consider whether or not you are already in a transitional role and can expand your BA experience and skill set by taking on relevant BA responsibilities.
- If you are employed but not finding opportunities to practice BA tasks, then look at roles you are confident you could do, but that are also a stretch. Stretch roles will further expand your business analyst skills and give you more responsibilities. They will also help you build a history of career progression which will look great when you are ready to apply for your first business analyst job.
And never forget that there is no one path to business analysis. Your professional experience counts in this career transition path and the sooner you can move towards building relevant career experiences, the sooner you’ll achieve your business analyst career goal.
>> Find Your Path Into Business Analysis
After reading and working through the exercises in How to Start a Business Analyst Career, you’ll know how to assess and expand your business analysis skills and experience.
This book will help you find your best path forward into a business analyst career. More than that, you will know exactly what to do next to expand your business analysis opportunities.