How Industry Expertise Can Impact Your Business Analyst Job Search

In the context of finding a BA job, industry expertise often causes a lot of frustration and confusion. The questions take the following forms:

  1. Do all BA jobs require industry experience?
  2. Is industry knowledge mandatory to find my first business analyst job?
  3. If I see a  qualification for industry expertise in a job posting, but I know I could be successful in the job, should I apply anyway?

Let’s tackle these inter-related questions one at a time.

Do All BA Jobs Require Industry Experience?

Not all BA jobs require industry experience, but many do. And when it’s included as a required qualification, industry experience is typically a show-stopper qualification for the hiring manager, meaning that they won’t consider candidates without the right expertise.

(This means you won’t ever hear back if you submit your resume, for no other reason than your lack of relevant industry experience. I am making a point to spell this out because I see people get very frustrated about their opportunities in business analysis when this happens. The reality is that this has nothing to do with you as a person or a BA. It simply means there is not a fit between your qualifications and this particular job. Focus instead on leveraging your other transferable skills.)

In a small handful of other cases, the manager will consider BAs without the appropriate industry experience but they are very likely to hire a BA with industry experience before just about any other BA they interview – unless the BA significantly outranks the BA with industry experience in every other important qualification.

You can argue about whether this is right or wrong, and I’ll go into that a bit later on. But for now, let’s take a practical look at how this situation came to be by considering the hiring manager’s perspective.

That job posting represents a pain point of some sort. They need to solve a problem in that organization. And, if they are requiring part of the solution to that problem (i.e. the BA) to have industry experience, it’s probably for one of the following two reasons:

  1. They believe that it will take a BA without expertise too long to get up to speed to be successful in the position.
  2. There is no one for the BA to work with who has the industry experience required to make the project successful.

Often #2 is the case. That those BA jobs requiring industry experience need the BA to fulfill a form of product ownership. The BA is required to have the domain knowledge because there is no one for them to “elicit” the domain knowledge from.

Is Industry Knowledge Mandatory to Find My First Business Analyst Job?

No. But it’s extremely useful. It’s a success path I see many new business analysts following — leveraging their industry experience to find their first BA job. By bringing this essential qualification to an employer they are able to position themselves as a strong contributor and then learn the BA skills on the job.It also provides a bit of comfort as a new BA to have some system or industry competencies to rely on.

If you don’t have deep knowledge in an industry, you’ll want to consider what other position of strength you can offer to an employer. This might be technical knowledge, strong facilitation, specialized tool or system knowledge, organizational expertise, etc. We all have something unique to offer. What’s your point of differentiation?

Should I Apply for a Job Posting that Requires Industry Expertise That I Don’t Have?

I really sympathize with the underlying desire behind this question. It can often feel like industry experience is just slapped on a role and that we could be successful in “everything but” the industry experience. And it is tough to look at all the BA job openings and find yourself unqualified for the vast majority of them.

But this is reality. And it doesn’t just apply to you.

Most BAs do not qualify for the vast majority of BA jobs.

Even those that are CBAPs and have years of professional experience. The market is just too fragmented for even a senior BA to apply to every BA job out there.

Now, if industry experience is a preferred qualification or just listed in the bullet points as an after thought, it can be worth applying if you are otherwise qualified. But again, it’s likely that if the hiring manager bothered to list industry experience as a qualification, they are going to prefer candidates that have it, when reviewing resumes and conducting job interviews.

It could make sense to apply – it could very well be that no one with the appropriate experience applies and the manager widens their net – but please don’t allow your ego to get caught up in the position at any stage of the process. Because if your ego gets too damaged, your progress towards your BA career goals suffers, and I don’t want to see that happen to you.

What Should We Do About This?

You might read all this and think that someone should “do something” about this “problem.”

I have two things to say about this.

First, while this might seem like a good idea to address this head on, it’s important to remember that organizations don’t exist to support business analysts. Business analysts exist to support organizations.

We need to solve a problem for the organization and if that organization needs someone with industry experience to solve their problem, then who are we, the individual professional, to tell them differently?

Now, of course, we can take this problem up a level and help the organization see how the use of professionals in more general business analysis roles could help them solve their problems more effectively. We can help them restructure their organization so that that industry experience requirements fall to a different, possibly more appropriate, role. This is possible and potentially desirable for our profession. But it’s not something for you to worry about right now, which leads me to my second point.

Second, you as the BA job seeker have no business trying to solve this problem. As an individual job seeker applying for an individual job opening, it’s very unlikely that you will wield the influence necessary to achieve this sort of organizational change.

I’d rather you see you focus on getting employed first, then making a solid contribution so you stay employed, and then (and only then) begin the even more difficult work of maturing your organization’s BA practice and perceptions of business analysts.

What Can I Do About This?

Glad you asked. The way you position yourself as a BA is very important. And it may even be that you have more relevant industry experience than you expect or more relevant and transferable skills that will help you make this career transition.

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