The data analyst is responsible for helping to distill an organization's technical data in a way that is meaningful to business decision makers.

The analyst job in a company is essential for a variety of reasons, making it a strong career choice if you have the required skill set. In addition, firms in just about every industry need a data analyst's expertise.

Christina Giglio, regional manager for Robert Half Technology, says raw data would be “useless” to nontechnical users without analysis from data analysts. “Technical information needs an interpreter,” she says.

A data analyst (or business analyst, as the position is sometimes called) appears to have solid job opportunities over the next decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts data analysts under "market research analysts," and projects the field to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Use the Salary Guide to find the latest data analyst salary information specific to your city.

Getting a data analyst job

If you’re thinking about exploring an analyst career, here are some of the qualifications that a potential employer will be looking for in any industry:

  • Several years of experience working with major database platforms, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and IBM DB2
  • Strong analytical, quantitative and problem-solving abilities
  • A thorough knowledge of relational database theory and practice
  • A bachelor's degree in computer science, information systems or a related field
  • The ability to work both independently and collaboratively with data systems teams
  • Strong verbal and written communication, analytical and problem-solving skills

Giglio says that an ideal candidate for the data analyst job will have an average of five years of experience with accounting or financials. For students seeking a data analysis career, she suggests obtaining a degree in computer science or statistics and taking courses in math, data integrity and data modeling.

For aspiring data analysts already on the hunt for entry level positions, Giglio says, "Look for opportunities doing data analysis with databases such as Microsoft SQL Server to get the key skills needed for your resume."

The analyst job description

Data analysts are responsible for data analysis of complex data systems and documenting data elements, data flow, relationships and dependencies at a company. In addition, they are often tasked with developing automated and reusable routines for extracting requested information from database systems.

Data analysts also will usually work in partnership with business analysts, data architects, data scientists and database developers to build data transaction and warehousing systems. Compiling detailed reports using data reporting tools such as Crystal Reports is another typical responsibility of the data analyst.

“For this role, candidates need to be skilled in the tools used to retrieve and manipulate data,” says Giglio. “An understanding of the Microsoft stack of technologies and the Microsoft .NET development system can be helpful.”

She adds that experience with Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle or IBM DB2 is also important for data analysts because these types of tools are essential for management of the data. While the data analyst job description is similar to that of the business intelligence analyst, data analysts do not typically play a part in making business decisions — although management may ask them to make recommendations based on their findings, says Giglio.

Also important for this role: excellent communication skills. It's one thing to be able to analyze data effectively, but written and verbal communications skills are key for any analyst because they'll need to clearly explain their findings to senior executives, as well as counterparts in marketing, accounting, etc.

Check out the Robert Half Salary Guide for starting compensation trends for a wide range of IT jobs — including data analyst.