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:
- Always try to solve the problem before asking someone for help
- Be scrappy and resourceful
- Ask questions
- Listen actively
- 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!