Careers as an analyst – what makes a good one?

January 25, 2016 Opinion

At the November IOF Insight Conference I spoke on a panel about careers within the charity sector. Alongside two other ‘young’ analysts we discussed the things we thought were important for career progression. There has been plenty of coverage about a skills shortage in the industry, but what skills are important?

Good numeric skills is an obvious one. But none of us speaking had a degree in Maths or Statistics. As long as you have a good grasp of numbers and can get on board with coding and statistical techniques you’ll be fine. With that as a base, most new things can be learnt.

Problem solving was also talked about a lot. Being curious about data and how to use it to drive change was one of the main motivators for a career as an analyst. With this curiosity also comes greater opportunities for progression. The more you want to learn and to try new things with data the more likely you are to impress and forge a path for yourself. So stay curious – as they say – and keep solving problems. It will get you far.

For me, the other two analysts I spoke with represent the future of insight for charities both small and large. And they both spoke incredibly well. They explained their stories and the things that they felt had been important in their work lives so far. The people asking questions learnt from them. It highlighted another core skill that an excellent analyst would do well to possess: the ability to communicate. Presenting back the work you do in a jargon-free way will mean it can be applied far more effectively. The teams that are making decisions will understand what it tells them about their supporters and what they are doing.

Someone asked whether there will be a Director of Fundraising at a charity that has progressed to that role from an analyst. I think there will. An analyst with common sense, strong communication skills and an aptitude for data could go on to lead a fundraising team extremely well. The more analysts can get involved with other areas of the organisations in which they work, the easier progression into other areas will become. One other barrier is still the preconception that analysts are solitary types who are only interested in numbers. Such attitudes could put off many young people from entering data analysis as a career. The truth is that there are huge opportunities for anyone who has an aptitude for data. In fact, that interest in analysis is more important than it has ever been to progress in roles leading teams throughout an organisation.

Andrew Sargent   Consultant Analyst, Wood for Trees