If you are not yet a business analyst and are not currently employed, one of the best ways to build experience is to volunteer to do business analysis. Volunteering is also a great solution for someone who is in a role with limited opportunities to take on business analysis tasks.
The Benefits of Volunteering as a Business Analyst
First, let’s discuss the benefits of volunteering as a business analyst.
- First, you can expand the work history section of your resume by volunteering. You can add the volunteer work you do as your most recent item in your work history, using the title of “Business Analyst.” This is especially valuable for someone who does not currently or recently have the business analyst job title.
- Second, you build actual on-the-job business analyst experience that you can speak to in business analyst job interviews.
- Third, this experience builds your confidence. As you engage with new stakeholders in a new organization, and often with new technologies, you’ll rely more heavily on your business analyst skills and gain more confidence in your abilities.
Volunteer Idea #1 – Look to Non-Profits
It’s very likely that the non-profits that you care about need business analysis support and can’t afford to hire a business analyst as part of their full-time staff. Non-profit organizations have business processes, often significant ones. Often because their organizations are grown by a variety of grassroots efforts, those processes are not well documented or understood.
Enter in you as a business analyst.
One course participant went to her local church to find an opportunity. She found the course to be a perfect excuse to get them to give her a business analysis volunteer opportunity and analyzed the process for recruiting volunteers.
She iterated through several hand-drawn visual models and used our Business Process template (you can download it for free) to add more detail. While working and re-working the process, she ended up combining four processes into one and simplifying how she and her stakeholders viewed the process.
As a result of this iterative process (which is a very normal part of analysis), she learned how to get to the right level of detail and left more confident in her skills.
Another course participant conducted an elicitation interview with a non-profit about a fundamental process that had yet to be documented. Then he formalized the information he collected into a process model.
The secret behind this person’s experience is that he interviewed his wife while she was cooking dinner. The non-profit was a local parent-teacher organization and the process was how to raise more funds. However, you’ll notice that by selecting the most relevant details, it’s possible to frame this experience in a much stronger and compelling way.
Take this lesson to heart – don’t underestimate the value of your opportunities to add to your professional credibility.
Volunteer Idea #2 – Look to Small Businesses
Like non-profits, small businesses are often not in the position to hire a full-time business analyst but are definitely in need of BA services. One of our course participants volunteered at a local pharmacy, the owner of which happened to be well-connected in her target industry. After about 10 hours of pro bono work, she’d secured a valuable item to add to the work history section of her resume and talk about in job interviews.
One of our course participants volunteered to help her local pharmacy to figure out why there were so many errors and issues when they filled prescriptions. After about 10 hours of pro bono work, she had documented the as is business process and identified the source of many of the errors. Her work was so well respected that the owner of the pharmacy asked her to continue to help them resolve the problems.
Needing to transition to paid work, she respectfully declined. However, the owner was well-connected in her target industry and proved to be a valuable reference for her. A few weeks later, she was able to leverage this new business analyst experience to get past the initial interview screen. Here’s what she had to say about the experience:
“I was able to leverage your course, my pharmacy (pro bono) experience and their request for me to come back for process improvement assistance to get the in-person interview! I wanted you to know, even if I don’t get the ultimate job offer, that you’ve made a difference in my life and I thank you.”
Find Volunteer Positions by Leveraging ALL of Your Connections
What I’ve seen work, again and again, is for our course participants to get creative, and leverage every connection they have available. Think of past co-workers, organizations you believe in and support, and organizations of which you are a customer. And don’t overlook friends and family.
- Amelia McHenry volunteered through her husband’s company to analyze a disaster recovery process, and then for her husband’s side gig as a musician to analyze data maps for their album shipments.
- Todd Fleming volunteered for his prior organization (even after a layoff), an opportunity that led to paying contract work for the same company that had laid him off!
- Becky Goll volunteered to help her roommate improve processes for her remote CPA business, right in the middle of the lockdown starting in March 2020, and this also led to paying contract work for her.
Here’s the Really Important Thing
When you first approach an organization about volunteering as a business analyst, they might not understand your offer. If you say “do you need a BA?” And they say “no.”
That might seem like the end of the story, but it’s not.
Just like a lot of companies out there, those desperately needing volunteers don’t necessarily understand the business analyst role. That means they don’t understand your offer.
Instead, ask probing questions to get to some of the pain points you might help them solve using business analysis techniques. (And in the process, you’ll already be using some elicitation.) Then offer to help them solve a specific problem.
Use Your Coursework and Certification Plans as an “Excuse”
The reality is that people want to help people who are helping themselves. When you mention that you have invested in a course, and are required to apply what you are learning as part of receiving your ACBA certification, you’ll find more people are receptive to your requests. For one thing, they know you are serious about your offer because you’ve made an investment in yourself. For another, they know you’ll be supported and leveraging on-the-job learning, and so that helps them trust and believe in your work.
What I’ve seen for participants like Becky and Todd, is that this way of volunteering also creates a clear boundary between what you’ll do as a volunteer, which can help open up paying work. When you limit the scope of your volunteer work to what’s required for the course, it’s a natural next step for the organization to want more, and that’s when you can offer to continue to support them on a contract basis.
And There’s One More Thing Not To Do
Since you are volunteering, it can be tempting to wait for the “perfect” position instead of jumping into a “good enough” role and creating a business analyst position out of the opportunity. Just like most BA professionals morphed their way into business analyst positions, the volunteer position market is similar. An open mind and a drive to apply the BA fundamentals will open opportunities.
But first, you have to get started.
Learn More About Expanding Your BA Experience
Join our Quick Start to Success workshop for new and aspiring business analysts (it’s free). You’ll discover more about the BA processes and techniques you can leverage through volunteering and see even more opportunities to expand your business analyst experience.