You’ve heard the job title “data analyst” floating around lately. It sounds like an intriguing career. The idea of working with data and technology has piqued your curiosity. But what does a data analyst do, exactly?
It’s one thing to daydream about a job—and another thing to perform those job duties every day. You need all the facts before you choose to pursue a new career. We did the digging to uncover what data analysts really do all day. Read on to find out what a data analyst is discover some of the daily job duties that could be part of your future career.
What does a data analyst do on a typical day?
Generally speaking, a data analyst will retrieve and gather data, organize it and use it to reach meaningful conclusions. “Data analysts’ work varies depending on the type of data that they’re working with (sales, social media, inventory, etc.) as well as the specific client project,” says Stephanie Pham, analyst for Porter Novelli.
Companies in nearly every industry hire data analysts, from healthcare providers to retail stores to fast food chains. The insights that data analysts bring to an organization can be valuable to employers who want to know more about the needs of their consumer or end user.
Regardless of which industry they work in, data analysts can expect to spend their time developing systems for collecting data and compiling their findings into reports that can help improve their company.
“Analysts can be involved in many parts of the analytics process,” says Michael Reddy, founder and chief analytics officer at Digital Acumen. As a data analyst, you could be included in everything from setting up an analytics system to providing insights based on the data you collect—you may even be asked to train others in your data-collection system.
Now that you have an idea of what a data analyst does in general, you’re ready to dig into the specifics of life on the job as a data analyst.
What are some common data analyst job duties?
Data analysts play an important role as companies have begun adapting their strategies to meet the changing landscape of the digital economy. The specific job duties will vary depending on the employer, but there are some general responsibilities that typically fall under the role of a data analyst. Learn about four of the most common ones:
1. Producing reports
“As an analyst, I spend a significant amount of time producing and maintaining both internal and client-facing reports,” says Casey Pearson, marketing analyst at Delphic Digital. Those reports give management insights about new trends on the horizon as well as areas the company may need to improve upon.
Writing up a report isn’t as simple as throwing numbers onto a blank page and sending it to your manager. “Successful data analysts understand how to create narratives with data,” says Jess Kendra, manager of analytics at Porter Novelli. “To remain valuable, the reports, answers and insights data analysis provides have to be understood by the next decision-maker, who frequently is not an analyst.”
2. Spotting patterns
"Successful data analysts understand how to create narratives with data."
In order to produce those meaningful reports, a data analyst first has to be able to see important patterns in the data. “At the base level, data is used to find trends and insights that we can use to make recommendations to our clients,” Pham says.
Reporting in regular increments, such as weekly, monthly or quarterly, is important since it helps an analyst notice significant patterns. “They all contribute to an overarching timeframe where we can see trends over time,” Pham adds.
3. Collaborating with others
Surprised to see this on the list? The word “analyst” might make you think of someone working apart from the rest of the company, but that’s far from the truth. The wide variety of data analyst job duties means you’ll collaborate across many other departments in your organization, Reddy notes.
“Your success is dependent on your ability to work with people—the people you are gathering the research questions from, peers you collaborate with to execute the work and the people you deliver the final presentation to,” Kendra says.
4. Collecting data and setting up infrastructure
Perhaps the most technical aspect of an analyst’s job is collecting the data itself. This often means working together with web developers to optimize data collection, according to Pearson.
Streamlining this data collection is key for data analysts. According to Robert Half, “developing automated and reusable routines” for mining data is one of their essential job duties. Analysts keep a handful of specialized software and tools in their arsenal to help them accomplish this.
What tools do data analysts use?
Data analysts rely on various tools to collect and make sense of their data. Kendra’s team uses specialized tools to efficiently gather data from social media, news sites and magazines as well as tools to sort and categorize data to visualize that data for reports and presentations.
These are some common tools in a data analyst’s tool belt:
- Google Analytics
- Visual Website Optimizer
- Google Tag Manager
- Google AdWords
What is the main goal of a data analyst?
All these job duties drill down to one main goal for data analysts: “By analyzing data, we hope to move our clients’ business forward based on their strategic goals,” Pearson says.
Data that is collected without proper examination is worthless. A data analyst’s true job is to add value to a company—either their own or their clients’. “Through making the data we collect insightful and easy to understand, we provide additional value to our clients to help them make informed decisions for their business,” Pearson says.
How much does a data analyst make?
It's only normal to be curious about the earning potential of any career you're considering. The good news is that data careers are some of the most in-demand positions today. And that demand comes with good earning potential.
According to the 2018 Salary Guide for Technology Professionals from Robert Half® Technology, the median annual salary for a data analyst is $62,500.* However, as with most positions, the compensation can range based on the experience and education level. Entry-level data analysts can expect an annual salary of $55,250, according to the salary guide.* The highest-level of professionals in this field earn around $117,000.*
Is a data analysis career in your future?
So what does a data analyst do? A lot more than you might think. Now that you know the teamwork, technical skills and strategizing that go into this up-and-coming profession, you may be considering pursuing a career in data analysis yourself.
Learn more about how a Data Analyst Degree can help you acquire the skills and hands-on training you need to succeed in this up-and-coming career.
*Salary info comes from the Robert Half Technology 2018 Salary Guide for Technology Professionals. Data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in April 2017. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2018.