From Technical Writer to Lead Business Analyst and a $20K Salary Bump: Amelia McHenry

Today, we meet Amelia McHenry, a participant in the Spring 2018 session of The Business Analyst Blueprint®. Amelia went from reaching the ceiling of her Technical Writer role to a Lead Business Analyst Role making $90K/year in Brentwood, Tennessee. This move represented a $20K salary bump in less than a year.

Despite this phenomenal success, Amelia’s path wasn’t straight or simple. In between, she held two BA contract jobs, volunteered to finish the projects required to complete The Business Analyst Blueprint®, and overcame a lot of internal resistance to finishing the program.

She built her confidence and her skills one step at a time. I’m incredibly honored to share her story with you today. This is what SUCCESS and PERSEVERANCE look like as a business analyst.

Connect with Amelia McHenry on LinkedIn

 

For those who like to read instead of watch, here’s the full text of the video:

Laura Brandenburg: Hello, and welcome, everyone. I’m here with Amelia McHenry today. Hi, Amelia.

Amelia McHenry: Hey.

Laura Brandenburg: I am so excited. Amelia is one of the very few course participants I’ve actually met in person and gotten to hug, so that’s a special thing for me, and I’m excited. She’s had a lot of success since she joined The Business Analyst Blueprint® last year, and we really wanted to just share some of her story and some of the amazing things that have happened in her career to both inspire you and give you some practical strategies that you can use to achieve those results yourself.

Amelia, maybe just take us back to—it was January last year, a little less than a year and a half ago when you were thinking about joining The Blueprint. Where were you in your career at that time? What was your role like? What was going on?

Hitting the Ceiling as a Technical Writer

Amelia McHenry: I had been a technical writer for about 15 plus years, had gone, in the last 10 years of that, gone through a bunch of mergers and acquisitions of companies and splits and all kinds of weird funky business stuff. The last one was a split from the company that merged with another company.

About nine months after that, I got WFR’d from a job, and it was a job that my boss did not want me to go, but the company said, “She makes too much money,” because I was at the top of the pay scale for technical writers. Being a new business, they wanted to cut salaries and bottom-line type of things that businesses do. I was like, “What am I going to do? I had this great job making some decent money, and they’re not going to want to pay me that anymore because it’s at the top of the scale.” So, my boss told me that I could get into business analysis, and I was like, “Really? I can do that?”

And she’s like, “Yeah.” She started telling me a little bit about what it was that I did that would constitute as business analysis. So, I started looking at that and looking at jobs to maybe do that in the time that she helped me revamp my resume to show that.

I got a job as a contract business analyst, but I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I wasn’t confident, I wasn’t all this. So, I started looking online, and I found you and was like, “Oh, I need this.”

I made the jump of getting The Blueprint, which was all of the classes, and learned so much. It was invaluable, just absolutely invaluable, and it has helped me jump from there into being really confident in what I’m doing. Having the community there to assist when I had questions and…so, that’s where I was, was just this total…I was a tech writer. I was at the top of my financial game, and now I had nothing and was like, “What am I doing?”

Laura Brandenburg: And you were in this contract business analyst role, though, right?

Amelia McHenry: Yeah.

Laura Brandenburg: I kind of remember that you were…it didn’t quite feel like a business analyst role.

First Business Analyst Role – Not Quite As Expected

Amelia McHenry: Yeah. I mean, it was doing requirements, but it was these…yeah, it was weird because when I was doing the classes, there was this one project that I was like, “Oh, I can do this. The process stuff,” and then the project got put on hold. It was like I didn’t have anything else that I could do that with. It was like, “Ugh.”

So, I had to go outside of my business analyst role to find projects to work on for the homework, which helped my husband out because he had stuff that he needed to do, and it was like, “Yeah.”

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, and I think that’s so powerful. You could have the title but still have this constraint in your work experience that you couldn’t actually use the skills in your job. So that must have felt very…”I finally got this title after this pretty scary experience of losing my job, but now I’m not quite sure what I should be doing, and I’m not even allowed to do the things that people are telling me should be business analysis.”

Amelia McHenry: Yeah.

Laura Brandenburg: Like, “Where is this going to go? What does this look like in three to five years?” Yeah.

Amelia McHenry: Exactly. It’s been…yeah, it was kind of crazy. It was…yeah. Kind of crazy.

Laura Brandenburg: You took the jump, the plunge through all of that, and you joined The Blueprint. What were your expectations going in?

Amelia McHenry: Just to learn. I just wanted to know what business analysis was because I’d heard the term, I’d worked with the people, but I didn’t understand what it was. What was the job? I just had no clue, and I didn’t want to be a fraud in saying…you know, I put this on my resume that, “Hey, I’ve done this,” and I’m like, “I don’t know what this is, but my boss said I did it, so I guess I’m going to say I did it because she said I did it.” [Laughter]

So, the expectations were about learning what the job was. What’s the terminology? What’s the experience (which is really great that this class gives)? You get practical experience that you can speak to in a job interview. You can say,

Yes, I’ve done these things, and I have a clue.” It may be this big, but I’ve got a clue. Learning the terminology, feeling legit.

I felt legit afterwards.

Volunteering to Finish the Course Work – And Building Valuable Experience and Confidence Along the Way!

Laura Brandenburg: Awesome. Let’s talk about this because you’ve alluded to helping your husband and how…because this is a challenge that we do have that part of the real-world experience. There are tons of benefits that come from it, but when you feel like you can’t do it in your job, or you don’t have a job, people are like, “What do I do? How do I finish the course?” I would love to hear how it came up, even, that you found out that your husband could use this and created that role. It was a really unique, innovative way to create success.

Amelia McHenry: I was looking around my job and just going, “I thought I had this one project that I could do this with. It was going to be great.” I got excited about it, and then it got put on hold. Basically, I just came home to my husband and said, “I need to find something that I can do process work on. Do you have any processes that you need to be checked out and worked on?”

And he was like, “Actually, yes I do. I’m doing a disaster recovery revamp,” because he’s the infrastructure director at a healthcare company that he’s in.

They were re-looking at their disaster recovery process, and I was like, “Perfect. Let’s do that.” Normally, he and I bonk heads when we’re trying to work on work stuff, but it actually worked out really, really well because it was like, “I’m in this role now. I’m not your wife. I’m in this role, and I’m going to ask you all the questions. ‘What’s the process? Who does what? When do they do this? What if that doesn’t happen, and if this happens?’” Going through all the happy paths and then all the funky things that could happen, and it worked out really well.

He shared that with his boss, and his boss was like, “Oh, my God. This is great. Fabulous. Let’s get that in the documentation.” We had meetings with them, as well.

So, I got to talk with his other people, and they were like, “Thank you so much for coming in. What do we owe you?”

I’m like, “This is fine. I just want the experience.” What was the next one? The wireframing was the next one. I’m like, “This is my next project. You got anything else?”

And they were like, “Yeah, we’ve got the marketing group setting up our website and revamping that, so here. Work with them.”

And I’m like, “Awesome.” So, I got the first two of the sections of this course, I got to work with them. They got improved things, I got to learn.

They knew I was learning, so it wasn’t, “Oh, why don’t you know this? We’re paying you for this. Rah rah.” It was this really great relationship that we had. Then the other thing was that my husband is also a musician and putting out albums just as a hobby. So, for the data mapping and getting all that big data stuff together, I used his and my youngest daughter’s albums as customers who are buying. The customers. Do we want their address? How does that match up to PayPal? Getting all that data mapped out. That was just an internal hobby that we used to do this data mapping work, and man, talk about a rabbit hole. That was…

Laura Brandenburg: You think, “Oh, this is so simple. We’re just shipping out some CDs,” right?

Amelia McHenry: Yeah, I know. That was such a serious rabbit hole, but it brought a lot of clarity to what we’re doing, and even though it’s a hobby, yeah, he’s trying to get some money out of it. It’s a little money, side gig thing. Not much, mostly spending up, but it’s fun, and it was great experience for my daughter because that’s the business she wants to go into. She’s going into the music business, so it’s learning. “Oh, you’ve got to capture this. You’ve got to talk to these people. You’ve got to capture your email stuff. You’ve got to capture your vendor stuff, what you’re sending out. All these things that just…” It makes it make sense. That’s where I found my projects. Like I said, just a little hobby thing at the home. You can do that. It’s business experience.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah. That must have been—after that feeling of being in the role but uncertain—that must have been incredibly validating, right? To do it and to…you had three different, very different experiences where you were able to apply these skills, so you had lots of things to talk about and to really appreciate the depth of it.

In a New Business Analyst Role – Blowing Them Away with Powerful Questions

Amelia McHenry: Right. Then when that contract was over, I got another contract, which was a little more in line with the business analysis. Because of taking the class and going through those things, I was really able to just jump right in and say, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. Oh, you want to do process work. Okay. Here we go. What is this? What is that?” All those questions that you ask. Then, there was one—I don’t know how many people catch this, but you have some questions in one of your videos that talk about getting to know the…I just lost the word. Getting to know the domain. How do you get to know the domain? How do you get to know what the project is about? I wrote them down. I played the video, wrote it down, stopped it. I captured all those questions.

Laura Brandenburg: I’ll have to create a checklist for that.

Amelia McHenry: Oh, they’re fabulous. They were fabulous. I wrote that for the project that was into on my next job, and I put that out to them. I said, “What are your answers to these?”

And they were like, “Oh, my God. These are great questions.” And this is Fortune 500 company that has their act together when it comes to this stuff. I brought in these questions, and they were blown away. My experience and their estimation jumped tenfold, hundredfold, thousandfold because I just had these simple questions that you asked. “Ask them about this.

  • What’s the project?
  • What’s the financial gain?
  • What’s the measurement you’re going to have?
  • What’s this?”

Thinking about all these things that they think about in the back of their mind, but they don’t settle in. That blew their minds. They were like, “Oh my God. We’re so much clearer on what this project is. Thank you for that.” I mean, just those questions alone helped them define their project and get it clear in their minds what was going on.

Laura Brandenburg: Right. I really think that as BAs…questions are our superpower. Asking the right questions at the right times. Yes, you had the questions from the course, but you also asked them in the right context to the right people at the right time, it sounded, with the right framing. So, you created this…I love how you talked about that jump. I was going to say, “This perception of a jump,” but it really wasn’t that. I think it was a perception in your head, but you really were in that space. You were adding value at that level.

Amelia McHenry: Yeah. I still talk to a couple of the people from that contract, and they were like, “Man, I wish we could’ve hired you on, but it was just a contract thing for this one little project.” But they loved it. I mean, I’m on Facebook with them now, and they love me. They’re like, “How’s your job doing? We want to get you back here.”

I’m like, “Yeah, well, you know I’ve got a job now.” [Laughter]

Up-Leveling to a Lead Business Analyst Role at $90k/Year

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, tell us about that.

Amelia McHenry: My contract ended, so I was looking for another job. I had two interviews with two different companies. One was going back into a more senior technical writer role, kind of managerial type of thing, and it’s something that I could’ve gone back into and done with no problem. It’s like, I know that job like the back of my hand. I can do that.

Then there was this other job. They weren’t paying as much as the technical writer one, but it was the one that I was like, “Oh, it’s a business analyst role, and this would really stretch my learning because it’s a completely different industry than what I was in.” I was in healthcare. I know healthcare like the back of my hand. I can do that in my sleep.

This is in the auto insurance industry. So different. You’re still dealing with federal stuff, but it’s so, so different. And I was like, “I kind of want the BA role, but the money over here at the tech writer thing is so much better.” I was hemming and hawing about it. They were actually creating another position at the other side for me because once they found out my experience, then they wanted me to do a center of excellence for technical writers. I was like, “Yeah, that’s awesome. I was stringing along the guys who were offering me the job because this one was really cool, too, and it was more money.

When they found out that it was more money, the BA job went to their human resources and said, “We want her. She’s being offered $90,000 at this other place. Let’s bump it up.” So, they bumped up their offer by $10,000.

Laura Brandenburg: Wow.

Amelia McHenry: And a jump in position. It was just a business analyst. They gave me the lead business analyst for the $90,000, and I was like, “Oh, yeah. I can’t string these guys along anymore. And these guys I’m still waiting on to hear if it’s even going to happen, so I’m going to go with the eggs in the basket and go with this.”

And it’s been really, really good. It has definitely stretched my abilities. I’ve gotten into doing gap analysis and just learning this new industry domain and using those questions again.

What is this all about? What are the metrics? What’s the big picture of why we’re doing what we’re doing? I’ve been really learning a whole lot about that.

There have been a couple of days that I’ve been like, “What did I get myself into? I can’t do this.” Then, I just breathe, and I go back, I read my notes from this course, or I call and go into the Facebook group. Then, I’m like, “Okay. Oh, yeah. Okay.”

Back into the stride of things. It’s been really good in stretching what it is that I’m capable of, concreting the training that I’ve gotten, exploring other avenues within that training. It’s like, “Oh, well, how about this over here?” Gap analysis is something that is new. That’s something that I would love to take a course on. Wink, wink. [Laughter]

Laura Brandenburg: All right. I’ll get on that.

Amelia McHenry: You know? Because that’s a different way of thinking, as well, but it has opened me up to a lot of new things and solidified the training that I do have. They’ve been really, really happy with me so far. I jokingly went in on one of my one-on-ones, and I was like, “So, are you going to fire me yet?”

And they’re like, “No way. You’re great. Bring it on. Keep bringing it.” But it’s kind of interesting because one of the questions in the interview was, “Are you afraid to ask the stupid questions?” and I went, “No. Not at all. That’s kind of my job.”

And my boss was like, “Fabulous. That was the right answer.” Yeah. I’m going to ask the stupid questions, right?

Bringing the BA Confidence to the Job Interview

Laura Brandenburg: Can we talk a little bit more about, whether it’s the interview or the…how that came to be? Because, obviously, they were super excited to hire you, right? You were in a position of strength in that negotiation, which is where we all want to be, as job seekers. So, can you just walk us through how that…what do you think created that point of leverage for you? What was it that they were looking for, and how were you able to position yourself and your skills?

Amelia McHenry: I think some of it was personality. I tend to be kind of gregarious and bubbly and unashamedly me. So, I think that’s part of it, but I think the other part was that I could speak to what they were looking for, that I could use the terms when they asked me about what tools I’ve used. I mentioned Balsamiq, and the guy’s eyes just got bright and wide, and he’s like, “You had me at Balsamiq.”

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah. It’s not like you knew that going in, right? There was a certain amount of how things fell into place.

Amelia McHenry: Yeah. I didn’t have a clue about that. Being able to talk about creating the processes, the documents, or refining those with both my husband’s work, with the job afterwards and being able to speak to the things that I worked on through the training and through subsequent positions, and I was able to speak to it with confidence.

It wasn’t like I was like, “Well, I kind of worked on this project and um…” It was, “Yeah, I worked on this project, and we had this problem, and we did this, and this was the solution.”

I think one of the biggest questions that assisted in them really wanting me was he brought up a meeting that he’d had, and he said one person, a key stakeholder, was getting defensive, or very adamant, in that he wanted something a certain way. It had to be this certain way. Come to find out the guy was cursing out people. He was yelling. He was like, “No, we’re doing it this way.” But he was very diplomatic in the interview. So, he was like, “What would you do with a person like that?”

And I sat, and I thought. I thought back to your trainings, and it was like…it’s not about the “how.” It’s about the “why.” Why does he want that thing? What is it that he thinks he’s going to get out of that “how” that the technical people are going, “There’s no freaking way you’re getting it?” That where the consternation was.

It was like, “What is it that he’s trying to get to?” Trying to figure out what it is he’s trying to get and maybe there’s a different way to get there that the technology people can do.

So, he was trying to get a particular API, and the technology guys were like, “That’s not going to work. That just doesn’t fit in this API framework or whatever.”

It’s like, “What does he think he’s going to get out of that?” It’d be asking him those questions. What is the endgame, and can we find a different bridge to get there? I think that was another question that he really just went, “Yep. That’s the person,” because it’s not about the “how.” The “how” can happen any way.

It can be if you want to build a bridge, you can build it out of steel, you can build it out of wood, you can build it out of stone. How big does it need to be? It’s not that it has to be this stone bridge. It’s just that it needs to be a bridge. What do we got right now? We’ve got wood. We don’t have stone. So, we can build it out of stone. “But it’s got to be a stone bridge.” No, it doesn’t. It just needs to be a bridge. I think that was another huge question that he just was like, “Oh, yeah.”

Laura Brandenburg: Just to reflect back to you what I feel like what you’re representing there, there are few things that people miss. One is that you took a moment, like you said, “I took a moment to think about it.” And I think sometimes in interviews people think, “I’ve got to have this answer right away,” and so they just say the first thing that comes to their head. It’s okay to stop and think.

Amelia McHenry: Definitely.

Laura Brandenburg: You’re a gregarious person. It’s still okay to stop and think. [Laughter]

Amelia McHenry: Yeah. It’s okay to just go, “Hmm.”

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah. You need a minute, and it’s okay, in a meeting, too, to do that. We put so much pressure on ourselves just to be in this go-go-go. Some of our best value is in that just stopping and thinking and giving yourself space to find the answer.

The second thing I just want to reflect back to you, which is so beautiful, is you have internalized. You keep referring to this training, which is awesome. I love that it’s had that impact, but you have internalized that into a mindset of being a BA, which has allowed you to connect those dots. I think that’s because you’ve applied it a few different times and found new ways to apply it. So, it’s just become part of your way of thinking, and that will serve you for a long time.

Amelia McHenry: Yeah, it will, and thank you very much.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah.

Amelia McHenry: Because I go back to when I lost my job being workforce reduction and going, “Really? I can do that?” to this, “Really. I can do that. It’s such a huge transformation of confidence that…yeah. I really do owe it all to you and your training. I mean, I would not be here today if I didn’t have that.

You not only taught me the skills, but within that, gave me the confidence that I could do it because I was able to do it in the class, and it came back with great comments, or, “Here. Tweak this a little bit.” That’s the other thing: the coaches. Coaches are great. I got great coaches, and I was really glad to be able to meet some of the coaches.

Laura Brandenburg: Paula.

Amelia McHenry: Paula. Yeah. I was really glad to meet her. That was really fun, to meet her. The coaches are fabulous and gave great feedback. When I got stuck, especially in the data mapping—that was the one that I got stuck with the most. I was like, “What?” I’m analytical but not that analytical. So, their feedback during that process was really invaluable.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, they are, and their heart is in it. The instructors are amazing. They want your success.

Amelia McHenry: You can totally tell.

Laura Brandenburg: Thank you. It’s always good to share the love with them, too. I get to do these interviews. I hope that they watch them because they get to hear, so that they can hear about all the awesome things that they’re helping create in the world, as well.

Amelia McHenry: Oh, yeah. They do a great job of it, too. They’re on it. Really good feedback, really good suggestions to improve, really good cheerleaders on, “Hey, you did this really great.” and really good cheerleaders on, “You could make this even better.” It felt good getting their feedback.

Some Tips on Finishing The Blueprint Program

Laura Brandenburg: That’s amazing. So, I know you had some concerns about finishing. I think this is something that holds a lot of people back. What helped you have a breakthrough on that?

Amelia McHenry: That’s a good question. I have a tendency to start things and not finish them, and I think that just comes from fear of success. I actually have a really big, huge fear of success. “My life will be so different when I’m so successful that it’s scary. It won’t look like what I’m comfortable with.”

How did I get over that with this class? Because this is one of those classes that I’ve actually finished, that I’ve gotten over that. Where would I be today? Yeah, how did I finish that? I think I cried a lot, and…I honestly don’t remember what I was going through at that time.

Laura Brandenburg: And you persisted.

Amelia McHenry: Yeah. It was one foot in front of the other. It was just a determination of, “I spent the money. I’d better finish it.”

Laura Brandenburg: There’s a huge value of spending the money. [Laughter]

Amelia McHenry: Yeah. “I spent the money. I’d better finish this. I’m so close.” That last…it was the data mapping. That was so hard. It was so hard. If that had been the first, I probably wouldn’t have finished because it was like, “No, too much.”

I think it was just something that I had a feeling was really going to help me in my financial situation, in my skill sets…and just get it done. I don’t know, really, how good my last assignment was that I turned it, but I turned it in.

Laura Brandenburg: And you passed. You’re here.

Amelia McHenry: I passed, and I’m here, and I got the certificate, which, I guess, is a message of: don’t worry about perfection; just get it done. Those coaches are great, and they will give you feedback. “Hey, try this one. Question about this. Did you really mean this, or did you mean that?” That assistance of getting through helped me just be like, “Okay. I’m just going to turn it in. It’s a mess. I know it’s ugly,” and then getting the feedback it’s like, “No, it’s actually really good. It’s on point.”

It was like, “Oh, really? I did good? Thanks.”

Laura Brandenburg: That’s awesome. And just to congratulate you for that success, too, and that it’s achieved the things that you were looking for it to achieve. It started with you pushing through that resistance, for sure. The resistance happens.

Amelia McHenry: Absolutely, and a lot of my fear of success is that I’ll lose everything. Because I’m successful, everything else will go away because I’m in this box. Yeah, no.

That little box just got bigger. Everything is still in it. It’s all still good. It just got bigger, which is something I need to remember when I get up to that wall of success again. “Oh, I’m going to make it. I better not do it.” It’s like, “No. The box just gets bigger. Everything is still in the box. It just gets bigger. There’s more room for it.”

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you so much for all of this. It’s just been a beautiful…it’s been beautiful to hear your story full out, but before we close, are there any last tips that you would like to share with somebody following in your footsteps?

Amelia McHenry: Take the course. [Laughter] Take the course because there’s so much valuable information in it. Do the work, ask the stupid questions, take that calculated risk. This is a calculated risk. Your training, jumping into the BA role. Even if you don’t take the course, jumping into it and asking the stupid questions and taking that calculated risk is going to be invaluable.

Joining a group like Bridging the Gap on Facebook. It doesn’t have to be that one, but this is a great group. But joining a group of like-minded people that are striving for the same things, that have your back and are going to support your growth. Join that. Take that risk. It’s worth it. It will improve you dramatically. I’m living proof.

Laura Brandenburg: Awesome. And I’m just so excited to hear about everything that’s happening, and even seeing the BA you’re going to be three, five years from now and how awesome and everything that comes from here. Thank you. Thank you for sharing.

Amelia McHenry: I’m happy to share. Absolutely.

Laura Brandenburg: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Amelia.

Amelia McHenry: You’re welcome.

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