How to Be a Successful Business Analyst Without Industry Domain Knowledge

I have been asked often in my career if you can be a Business Analyst if you do not have domain or industry knowledge.  Sometimes the question comes worded differently:

Can a BA move to an industry that they have not worked in before?

I would like to move to a BA career and I see many postings for BAs in ___ industry, but I have no knowledge in that industry. Should I?

The main point of the question remains the same. Does a BA have to have industry knowledge to be an effective BA?

Now in answering this question I do realize:

But I also realize:

  • You cannot get industry experience until you work in that industry (the whole chicken and the egg dilemma)
  • BAs move from industry to industry all the time

Realizing these things, I will answer the question that industry knowledge is not an absolute necessity.  Industry knowledge will develop over time, but having good business analysis skills will allow you to be effective in business analysis tasks even though you lack that industry knowledge.  I would never advise anyone to use the lack of industry knowledge as a crutch, but it can allow you to ask “dumb” questions that someone with great industry knowledge would not ask.  By asking that “dumb” question, you actually make the business stakeholder think through a process to ensure that what they are telling you is accurate.

If you read my profile you will know that I have 26 years of work experience, and I will tell you that about 24 of those years are in the manufacturing and distribution industries.  I have recently made a career move into the insurance industry.  I had worked for an insurance company several years ago, for six months.  Two other BAs were hired by the company at the same time and neither of them had any insurance experience.  The average tenure on the BA team within the company is in the 20+ years.  So the team had extensive insurance knowledge, but had not really kept up on the latest trends and techniques of business analysis.  The hiring manager noted that sometimes key business stakeholders are left out of projects, which means that requirements are being missed.

My manager recently sat in on a Focus Group discussion on business requirements that I was leading.  Following the meeting she let me know that in hiring three BAs with relatively no insurance experience that she felt that you do not need in-depth industry knowledge to be an effective BA; excellent BA skills make up for that lack of industry knowledge.  She mentioned that I reaffirmed that opinion in the way that I facilitated the discussion, that I made the stakeholders think about the process under consideration while answering my questions.

So if you are considering a career move into an industry where you do not have industry knowledge, realize that you will be compared to other candidates that may have that industry knowledge, so give the hiring manager a reason to hire you instead by expanding upon your business analysis skills and competencies. Don’t let a lack of industry knowledge stop you from going for a good career move for you.

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Even if you are lacking the industry domain expertise required by one job posting, it’s quite possible you have specific skills and experience that will qualify you for particular types of business analyst positions.

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  1. Just because this is a message that BA managers need more than BAs, I just wrote another article to send them the link:

    BA Managers: Stop creating exacting job postings

  2. Syed Saqib says

    I do support the BA without domain knowledge !

    But like Anand said
    SWOT analysis
    Research on the domain.
    Knowing the key factors,
    Failures and their backup – this is where BA role play to avoid any such.

    But these come from experience in any domain as a BA.
    To enter into any new domain as beginner, i feel the important thing is “knowing the need of requirement is the most important thing and understanding reason for requirement along with whole process knowledge”, which offcourse comes with interest and time.

  3. I recently answered a similar question, and expressed an opinion that matches Aaron’s as well. Wanted to post the link here since the automated related articles didn’t pick up the similarity:

    (Read it especially for the wise words from David Wright, which I quote in the post and who also posted a comment to reinforce the same ideas Aaron and I shared.)

  4. The points mentioned by Aaron were quite convincing once again that fundamentals remain same, what changes how you deal with them. It doesn’t matter much what industry you are going to deal with rather you should be passionate about the same and to learn more from that industry being a Business Analyst. This makes you stand differently from other stakeholders because you can think directly or indirectly like a core person which others can’t.

    Thanks guys for your wonderful insights.

  5. Hi Michelle, it is really great to hear from you again. I am glad you relate to the article and got some value out of it. Excellent point of our BA skills being transferable across industries. That is the greatest selling point of any BA wanting to move into a new domain. Then point the prospective employer to this article!

  6. Anand, very good points! I could agree with you more. Self reflection is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but would be a great reflection when making any career move, not just to transition to a BA career. For those that find themselves interested in transitioning to a BA career, I would suggest to get to know our own Laura Brandenburg well. She has made a career out of helping prospects transition into a BA career. She has the resources available to make that transition easier.

  7. Michelle Swoboda says

    Aaron, great article! I really relate to this now as it is so difficult to break into the oil and gas sector without the experience. All our skills are transferable however the industry ‘speak’ and the specialization is not. Now that I am working at a firm in oil and gas – I get it but I also am learning fast. If you want to move into another sector – keep trying and sell yourself on your transferable skills.

  8. Hey Aaron ,
    Thanks for sharing this article and it is helpful for upcoming and aspiring BA’s.

    The question, whether Domain/Industry Vs Business Analysis skills is always the key thing when someone is looking out for transition into the BA role.

    Just to add to your points, I would always suggest people to think twice before they get into the BA role. Just because you are good at Domain Knowledge does not gurantee a success into the BA role!

    Some of the core Business Analysis skills like, Analytical Thinking, Communication (soft and written), Adaptability, and Getting along with the people does not come in a Day or Two! These are the skills as an individual we gain over a period of time and is greatly shaped by our education, upbringing culture and personal interests.

    Having said this, an individual must perfrom a proactive SWOT Analysis to see where he stands in terms of those above said core Business Analysis Skills and Competencies. Having gained a tremendous Domain / Industry Knowledge might motivate you at some point in carrier to move into the BA role! But, that’s right time an individual needs to take a step back and look into the mirror. When you do that, then you might realize the current roles and responsiblities that you have gained in your carrier because of the Domain/Industry Knowledge might be the right place where you need to be rather than shifting to the other untravelled paths.

    So, before You jump in:
    – Do SWOT Analysis
    – Know your inner motives and interests
    – Research on the BA role by connecting with thought leaders or doing some research or looking into great sites like this, to gain more understanding of what the BA role is all about.
    – Take your time and decide where you wanted to be.

  9. Nwankwo, that would be quite some move from Physiologist to BA. Without knowing your background I would not attempt to advise you. If you truly have passion for business analysis work I would suggest you connect with your local IIBA Chapter. Network with BAs in your local business community and get their advice on how to make the transition to BA role. Then I recommend you connect with Laura Brandenburg here at Bridging-the-Gap. She has many resources to help people transition to the BA role. On the top right of the home page sign up for the “I Want to be a BA” newletter series.

  10. Please am a physiologist, and i have a passion of becoming a business analyst, what step do i take?, do i need to go back to business school?

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