How To Be A Great Analyst: Part 2


Last week, I wrote a post on how to be a great analyst. It was the first of a series, and I got a number of positive responses and great feedback. One of the most poignant remarks made by several of my readers was that this advice is not only relevant for analysts, but also for people all the way up to CEO. In addition, some of my engineering friends reminded me that this is applicable to other entry-level or early-stage career paths, not just business analytics. Keeping that in mind, I hope this advice can be more broadly applicable to everyone.

Below are additional tips and tricks I would advise of new employees starting down the path of becoming an analyst. But first, as a refresher, last time I said that in order to be a great analyst, you should:

  1. Always try to solve the problem before asking someone for help
  2. Be scrappy and resourceful
  3. Ask questions
  4. Listen actively
  5. Carve a niche or become the expert on one task

Here are some more tips I adhere to, and I’ve also incorporated advice from various friends who have suggested additional advice on how to be a great analyst.

6. Set expectations correctly (courtesy of Mike): whenever you are asked to perform an analysis or complete an assignment, one of the first things you should do is set out an agenda for yourself. Know when the project is due, and set expectations for your manager accordingly. One of the biggest secrets in the world of an analyst is to always “under-promise and over-perform.” In other words, don’t promise the moon and hand in B- work 2 days late. Set an expectation slightly below the bar of what you are capable of achieving, and then go for the gold.

7. Anticipate the next question before it gets asked: inevitably in an analytical role, you will be asked to come up with a story for a large set of data or craft an argument for why your company should go in a strategic direct, etc. If you are conducting this analysis, the person presenting or listening to the pitch will have follow up questions about why you didn’t cut the data a certain way, why you omitted a certain argument, or why slide 4 came before slide 6. The difference between a good analyst and a great analyst is that you have already thought of the answers to those questions (and likely addressed them in the appendix of a pitch deck, for example). Being prepared and thinking on behalf of the other person means that you are professionally mature.

8. Bring a good attitude (courtesy of Jeff): No matter what your mood is or what might be affecting your happiness level at work or outside of the office, come in with a positive demeanor and a can-do attitude. It seems corny, but I would much rather trust someone who is generally happy to be there with a large, meaningful assignment, than someone who begrudgingly does their work. A smile and an eager spirit will advance your career tremendously.

9. Treat everything with a small dose of skepticism: just because a process or a document preceded you, does not necessarily mean it’s correct. When I was in banking, I inherited many documents and systems that had to be updated weekly, but it didn’t necessarily mean that everything that came before me was accurate. More importantly, in fast-moving corporate environments, documentation can be sparse and outdated. Don’t take everything at face value, but figure out the right answer and document it appropriately.

10.  Understand that no piece of data is impossible to find (courtesy of Kevan): “Almost anything triangulated one way or another.” In other words, get creative. Just because you can’t figure out that exact data point doesn’t mean it can’t be fabricated or calculated by using other data that is available to you. In addition, if you are going down a rabbit hole with your data analysis and a data point is too difficult to find? You’re probably barking up the wrong tree and you’ve picked the wrong metric. Use a proxy metric or an associated data point to come to the assessment you are looking for.

11. Make airtight conclusions: Don’t assume that just because the data tells one story that it is the only correct assessment. Data can be read in more than one way. If there is even the possibility of a loophole in your argument, address it either in the data assessment or to your manager. If you brush it off or pretend it doesn’t exist, and you’ve noticed the loophole, chances are someone you work with will notice the same. Better to address counterarguments on your own terms.

12. Always confirm receipt of an email, especially if it includes an assignment: professional responsibility means sending a confirmation response, even if it’s just one sentence. Your manager will be grateful to know that you acknowledge that you received whatever he or she has sent your way than to play the guessing game. It will also keep you organized as far as understanding your tasks and to dos.

13. Know when to send raw data versus a clean copy: For spreadsheets containing raw data and/or your own original work, when sending something external, never leave formulas in Excel. They should never see how the sausage was made, everything should be values. Conversely, if you’re sending something internal, always leave the formulas. You’re all on the same team: no point in making someone internal recreate your work. The same goes for PowerPoint or Word: while it’s more difficult to send somebody something with formulas, PDF the presentation or document if sending externally.

14. Pay attention to the details: As an analyst you have one job: to perform high-importance analysis of information. If you get a detail wrong, the basis of your entire analysis is incorrect. In my opinion, the highest praise of an analyst is that his or her attention to detail is fantastic. Take a deep breath and proofread before you send anything out (even a 1 sentence email should be re-read; Google labs 10-second undo send will become your best friend). Spot check your calculations and cross reference them with another source where possible. Know where every piece of data was retrieved even if you did not perform the first analysis. You will be asked where the data came from at some point in the process.

15. Make allies with your fellow analysts: This should go without saying, but think of yourselves as one team, even if you don’t necessarily perform the same tasks or functions. You are most likely experiencing similar issues, problems, frustrations, questions, etc at the same time and can help one another through the journey. And when new junior people come on board, them too. You never know when that connection will come in handy, and you need people to rely on when you need help.

I have a list of about 60 best practices for analysts regardless of field. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to Tweet at me and I’ll be happy to share. As always, please feel free to comment here or email me if you have additional suggestions!

How To Be A Great Analyst: Part 2

Thank You Note Etiquette


The thank you note is one of the few forms of interaction that hasn’t changed much in the digital age. Written thank yous are still considered obligatory in most circumstances (both professional and personal), and I would hope that these manners are perpetuated despite the changing media.

This weekend, however, @davidneckstein, @countdasilva and I found ourselves disagreeing about content and length of a thank you note. One of us received a lovely, yet lengthy, email from a prospective candidate for one of our teams. While the email was thoughtful and harkened back to exactly what was discussed during that meeting, I believed that the correspondence was much too long. The email was 3 paragraphs of text that included highlights from entire conversation and why he or she was excited about the opportunity. Some other the readers thought that it was sincere and earnest, but even they felt it was a little over the top.

In my opinion, the perfect thank you note is 3 short sentences. I’ll use the example of a post-interview note of gratitude:

Dear X,

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. I especially enjoyed our conversation about xxxxx. I look forward to being in touch soon.



What I think is so crisp here is that you show gratitude, harken back to something in the conversation to jog their memory and show that you were listening, and then allude to future steps. In my opinion, anything beyond that is gratuitous. Also note use of the word today: don’t ever send a thank you note more than 24 hours after the meeting/dinner/party/interview, etc. In the age of instant correspondence, this is tardy.

On another note It used to be the case that interviewers would bring business cards to the interview. At some point in the discussion, either before the interview has started or as it is concluding, the interviewers hands the prospective candidate the card; in part for posterity, in part so that the interviewee remembers that person and what their job title was, and most importantly because for their email address. My banking superdays were filled with these, and I wouldn’t have been able to sort through the whirlwind of discussions without them.

In tech, however, although I usually wear the hat of an interviewer these days, I notice that this tradition is no longer alive. It is now customary to go through the recruiter to email a note of thanks to the interviewer instead of emailing directly. I would speculate this has something to do with regulating the notes and limiting the number of email addresses that are revealed. I generally don’t care, and usually provide my email address if asked.

If you forget to ask an interviewer for the best way to reach them, don’t forget to email a thank you note through an intermediary. Something is better than nothing at all.

Finally, since I have been both the sender and recipient of thank you notes, I will mention that a quick 1 sentence reply/acknowledgement of receipt is important. Saying “you’re welcome” or “it was a pleasure” in return can brighten up the day of the initial sender.

So I’m curious: what are your thoughts on thank you note etiquette? Am I wrong in thinking they should be short and sweet? Send me your thoughts @ellenjdasilva.

Thank You Note Etiquette