Thomas Clarke Goes From Research Assistant to Business Analyst in Just a Few Months

Today we meet Thomas Clarke who transformed his career from data entry to research assistant to business analyst! Thomas leveraged his participation in the BA Essentials Master Class from Bridging the Gap to learn how to apply more structure to his work, and engage with more confidence.

In this case study, Thomas reveals lots of juicy tidbits about how he made this transformation happen so quickly, and what the keys were to his success. It’s a short and sweet 15-minute interview – well worth your time to check out!


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

Laura Brandenburg: Well, hi Thomas.

Thomas Clarke: Laura Brandenburg.

Laura: Yeah, hi. I just want to, first, thank you for being with us today. For anybody watching in, Thomas Clarke is from the Essex. Essex in the UK. Is that correct? Did I get that right?

Thomas: Indeed.

Laura: And he’s just here to talk a little bit about his experience with some of our courses today.

First, I know that your first course with us was the BA Essentials Master Class. Tell us a little bit about where you were before you joined that. What was your job title and work environment?

Thomas: Within my company, I had spent several years as a research assistant, which was mostly a data entry rated role. There wasn’t much analysis involved, but I eventually demonstrated diligence to move up to research analyst, which involved turning the corporate governance data that we collect into reports that our customers can use.

In the several years that I had been a research assistant, I had become very familiar with all the different aspects of the data collection process, which was very useful for this sort of a role. And moving into the analyst role, then, gave me access to understanding how, what the data really meant to the analysts and how it was used by the customers, which is a considerable extra level of detail, which was nice and stretching and that being stretched in my job is partly what pushed into going and getting some more education.

Laura: Now, what were you considering as you were thinking about growing into a business analyst role?

Thomas: So, my background is in psychology with a Master’s in Occupational Psychology. What I’d like to do one day is become a Management Consultant. But I’ve always had that mindset of analyzing what I’m doing, fixing problems, can we make it more efficient, is it we’re communicating properly, does everything make sense? There are redundancies in the process, for instance. Business analysis seemed, to me, to be a culmination of all those times in my life when I had just gone and fixed something and looked at a process that I was going through and realized these three steps don’t work, this one could be made more efficient, and if we change the way that we end this, then everything will make much more sense and we get a much better end result.

Laura: Yeah, so you really; you said you were a research analyst, but it sounds like you’ve been doing some business analysis along that path.

Thomas: Yes, pretty much.

Laura: How did you find Bridging the Gap?

Thomas: I was looking around for business analysis courses because looking at BA jobs and things, that may have been the actual link that I arrived at BA jobs. I believed I passed Bridging the Gap has BA jobs board. I may have read it there.

Laura: We don’t. No.

Thomas: Fair enough. But I was looking at…

Laura: It’s on the list of things to do, yes.

Thomas: I may also have been looking at, for instance, jobs at McKenzie, for instance. And going through the profiles of the people there, seeing where they’ve been, what sort of things that they do, realizing that maybe rather than just sort of throwing myself into this field, perhaps I should do a little bit of research, get some formal education so that I know what I’m doing wrong and try to improvise.

Laura: Right.

Thomas: I think I’ve come across the BABOK, Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, before in researching anything I could do to improve myself. What sort of business knowledge would be useful? Oh, business analysis. That sounds like a useful thing. And here we are.

Laura: Alright. What was your thought process around joining the BA Essentials Master Class, specifically?

Thomas: I wanted a stepping stone into it to see, I mean, it looked like a broad useful thing, a general process I could use to apply, which is always useful. A step-by-step, you can do this, now do this, now do this, rather than just stepping into a problem and not knowing what direction you’re supposed to be going in. And I decided that because more qualifications are always good. I’d like to, one day, become CBAP certified. And I noticed that your course offered the credits for it, whereas other places didn’t.

So, I decided I’d sign up for the Essentials Master Class to see what it was like, get some basic education, and if not, at least I’d then have something that I could apply to everything else anyway, because the great thing about the process that the Business Analysis Essential Master Class gives you is I could apply that to doing Christmas dinner. I can apply that to buying a new house. It’s one of those useful things how to go about doing a project, and I really like that.

Laura: It’s interesting you say that because we have people, sometimes, who are like, “I don’t know what my project should be.” Well, it doesn’t have to be like at work. You can apply it; we had somebody apply it to retirement planning. It was really interesting.

Thomas: Interesting.

Laura: It was a fascinating project.

Thomas: I applied my first, and for the Essentials Master Class, I actually did a project that I’d done a while ago. I did a retrospective on one of the elements of my role as research assistant was processing, which is take the report that’s been created, publish it, and put it through the machine so that the customers, then, have access to a nice finished format. And somebody said, “Well, Tom, this process has been around for a while. What can we do to improve it?” This was a few years ago, and this was one of the things that made me realize that maybe I ought to do this as a profession.

So, I looked at the elements of it. I realized that several bits of it weren’t necessary. We trimmed out the expensive parts of it and gave my company the finished result, and they really liked it.

Laura: And so you used this as your project?

Thomas: Yes.

Laura: What were your insights from that?

Thomas: That what I was doing was rudimentary and required some polishing, which the class really gave me. It was nice to have a label for that thing that I was already doing because, then, it’s about knowing your enemy, basically. Now that I know what it is that I’m doing, now I can have a label to, an anchor around with me. Thoughts and experiences can form.

So, next time when I go through this step, which I recall being quite difficult last time, I know that I can break it down into these bits and here are the ways in which I can tackle that.

Laura: Beautiful. Those insights have had that more structure next time.

Thomas: Exactly.

Laura: Very good. When you were still considering, what did you feel like was on the line for you?

Thomas: There’s a bit of an opportunity cost for it because my company, unfortunately, is very small, and I don’t have a very large pay packet. I figured that it was an important investment to be making in my life. It took me; I spent about a week weighing the pros and cons. Am I really going to use this? Yes, I probably am. It’s going to be used in my general life anyway. Can I afford it now? And I figured I may as well. So, I went with it, and I was really glad that I did.

Laura: Yeah, awesome. And, now, how is life? What’s different? I know you had some pretty amazing transformations happen.

Thomas: Yes. I was a research assistant, then became research analyst, and now I’m a project manager for my company. I have formally transitioned in a role away from data entry and appropriation team into my job is, now, fixing things. I’ve had this week off to focus more on the next step in the class, the business process analysis which, incidentally, was the first step in this new project that I’m taking on documenting the existing process. I’m figuring out where I need to go from there. Where are the major time sinks? Where are the major money sinks? That sort of thing.

With some background, internal analytics for who is taking how long to do what, what’s that costing us, etc.?

Laura: I knew the one, but I didn’t know there were two steps. Can you just step me through the timeline on that, because it was pretty quick?

Thomas: Yes, it was all in the space of a few months, and it’s been quite a lot to get my head around because the first shift was just before last peak season. So, March, April time. January time took on a whole bunch of new training. Then learning more in-depth through everybody else because I was going to move from governance analysts to a new analyst, which I’ll probably end up doing the training for anyway because I’ve still got to learn about their step in the process. I am drinking from a fire hose nearly every day, which is, actually, really enjoyable because I like learning. One of the great things about being a business analyst is you are always learning rather than doing the same thing every day. Every day is a new challenge, and that’s really engaging.

Laura: Now, we go so many questions about how these shifts happen for people. I know the coursework was part of it, but there were lots of other actions you took that made it happen, about sharing in your company, and…

Thomas: Indeed. I was emailing my manager, who emailed the CEO, because it’s a small company. There was a brief meeting to just go over in detail the sort of things that I could offer the company which felt quite informal. Because changes had been happening so swiftly, I think I just edged in, carefully, while there was an opening, which was really nice. But I sat there with my manager a couple of days later and she and I both agree that if I focused all my time and energy on the project, rather than spending my mornings doing data, in the afternoons, I’d be tackling the problem because it is important to really give your time and energy to a project if you want to get the best outcome. One of the things I learned from psychology is that all the best decision making is done earlier in the day, and the more decisions you have to make in a day, the worst they progressively get.

Laura: Yeah, you can almost flip that around, but it’s great to just wipe that other part out completely.

Thomas: So, I have moved desks away from the data team nearer to management so they can come and nag me whenever they need to, which happens a lot. But it’s also been an important personal shift. So, I am now no longer a researcher. Now, I feel like I am a project manager/business analyst. That shift in mindset is, actually, really gratifying. I notice I feel more responsible for things, and that’s really, really nice.

Laura: Yeah, that’s awesome. Anything else you’d like to share about that?

Thomas: It’s tough, because a sudden shift in responsibility is on top of learning quite a lot because I also have to learn how to use two other programs, Power BI, and Draw IO. The latter for purchase flow charts, the former for a lot of analytics. And I feel, honestly, it’s quite emotionally draining, but you do just have to hit the ground running and take everything step-by-step.

Laura: And any kind of personal growth is, and so is any kind of struggle; kind of staying in that thing. Like the win, though, because it sounds like the data entry, you’d outgrown that, significantly.

Thomas: Was quite dull. Yes. And the opportunity to tackle new problems every day and to make everything work smoother and nicer, and have a lovely finished end product is also really gratifying. Being able to say to the company, “I designed you a new tool. I hope you like it.” And going through that process with them and engaging with people is also really nice because one of my favorite parts from my psychology undergraduate was interviewing people and having focus group sessions. I was really good at those. And that element of business analysis is really quite nice. Getting to understand what people want and need, teasing information out of them, clarifying it with them, the whole stakeholder engagement thing, I am completely down with, and it’s really nice.

Laura: Awesome. Well, just one final question, because we receive messages all the time from, you mentioned that week of thinking it through; you were on the fence in that similar way. What would you say to them?

Thomas: I would say you need to consider what you’re going to do with it in the future. Don’t pick up a thing randomly because it seems like a good idea at the time. Really, genuinely consider am I going to use this in my life, and is that cost going to be paid back over the course of my career?

Now, I’m 26, so I’ve got a lot of career ahead of me, and I know that a few grand spent now is a fraction of what I’m going to end up making, particularly, if I become a CBAP Certified Business Analyst, if I make it into management consultancy. It is so worth it, and particularly the cost in question is just so generally applicable. I always recommend taking it on its own terms. You can use it in any business environment and any…it’s not just for business analysts, either. If ever you, in your company, need to change something, the course is going to be useful for that because it’s all about change management. Business analysis is not its own separate magisterial. It’s something that everybody can use.

Laura: Well, thank you so much. I’m so excited about the three-month path that you just went through, and that we could be a part of that at Bridging the Gap. And thank you for sharing your story.

You’re a superstar. Thanks, Thomas.

Thomas: My pleasure. And thank you, Laura.

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