Read as Jonathan Babcock  talks about his career as a Business Analyst.  Find him at www.practicalanalyst.com and on his Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I am a business analyst (BA), and manager of a team of business analysts within a large wholesale and retail distribution company.

How would you describe what you do?

To distill the business analyst role down to a few sentences, I’d say that I help my company change to achieve its business goals. I do that by helping business decision makers determine which potential improvement initiatives they should pursue, and then help participants in the resulting projects reach a shared understanding of what success for the effort “looks like” and what is required to make it successful.

Business analysts are most known for working, eliciting and specifying requirements for solutions involving a mix of people, process, and technology. Those requirements are then used as a guide by those who create or build the solution, and as the standard for quality assurance to confirm that the solution has been properly built. Requirements are then used to to measure results of the finished project against the expected business outcomes.

What does your work entail?

My work entails asking a lot of questions of business management to learn about their problems and goals so we can determine the best way to address them. Often, solutions to business problems include changes to business processes, technology, or human resources. My job is to analyze the needs of the business, and help the decision makers determine how their limited resources can best be spent addressing their problems.

Business analysis is 95% communication (I made that number up, but it sure feels right). We facilitate meetings among stakeholders, learn about the needs of users and customers in the field, we document requirements and processes to ensure that they’re well understood, and then we demonstrate solutions throughout the course of their construction to make sure that we stay on the right track.

What’s a typical work week like?

A typical work week might include meetings with business stakeholders, meetings with software developers and QA analysts, and time documenting and modeling requirements.

How did you get started?

I studied business in college, and started my career as a management consultant. I did this, first, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew consulting offered variety and challenging work, and because I wanted access to and insight into the business decision making process. As my young family began to grow, the consulting lifestyle become more of a challenge, but I wanted to maintain the type of variety and challenge in my work, so I sought employment as a business analyst, which, in many respects, is similar to the management consultant role except it is a resource internal to the company instead of contracted.

What do you like about what you do?

What I love most is the fact that every project represents a new challenge; a new puzzle to solve, and the opportunity to make a big difference for the better. It’s always a challenge to find just the right mix of people, process and technology required to address a business problem. I also enjoy the fact that business analysis enables me to be around and active in technology solutions even though I’m not all that technical a person myself.

What do you dislike?

Honestly, there is nothing I dislike about the business analyst role. Obviously, sometimes project work can be high-stress, and people can be less than cooperative, so those are a couple things you have to cope with, but I think they are common to most jobs.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

Business analysts are typically either salaried employees within a company, or contracted resources paid hourly.

How much money do Business Analysts make?

There is a fairly broad salary range for business analysts as there are a number of advancement and growth paths available, but according my experience (work and hiring) and market research, an analyst with 2-5 years of experience, or transitioning from another role with significant relevant experience, can expect around $80,000, with most salaries falling between $75,000 and $85,000 annually. An experienced senior analyst with 5+ years can reasonably expect between $85,000 and $95,000 per year. Analysts with extensive experience and deep skill in a particular high-demand business area or technology are known to make $100,000 or more.How much money did/do you make starting out as a Business Analyst?

As a hiring manager, I would expect to pay a brand-new, entry level analyst a salary in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, but I cannot speak to an entry-level business analyst salary personally, as in my company there is no entry-level business analyst role, nor did I start my career as a business analyst.
In most cases in the industry, analysts start out doing something else, steadily gaining expertise in the technology or business segment and then use their accumulated relevant experience to transition into an intermediate business analyst role. For example, I began my career as an IT consultant performing a quality assurance role, then used my QA experience to gain system knowledge and expertise which enabled my transition to business analysis.What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

Generally, business analysts will have a degree in a business or technology related field, and some experience in IT or a solution delivery role. Most don’t start their careers as business analysta as there aren’t that many entry-level business analyst roles available yet – although the number is increasing, and we’re starting to see college curricula geared toward business analysis.

What is most challenging about what you do?

The most challenging thing I do is to facilitate buy-in among multiple stakeholders at various levels of responsibility, and with different motivations regarding what “success looks like” for a business solution. While we are analysts, and there is certainly that analytical component to what we do, there is definitely an art and a soft-skill side to facilitating understanding and agreement.

Dealing with the people aspect of the role is what I enjoy most, but it is also the most challenging and unpredictable!

What is most rewarding?

To me, seeing customers or users benefit from solutions I’ve helped define and implement, and seeing the company realize value through my efforts is the most rewarding.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

It’s important for would-be analysts to know that business analysis is a very social profession. It involves regular and constant interaction to facilitate understanding and agreement among individuals and stakeholder groups.

I would advise the prospective analyst to learn the concepts of software/solution requirements, and solution delivery methodology as demonstrating knowledge of these principles can be your foot in the door when the opportunity arises.

While business analysts are often associated with software development, I also think it is important to recognize that a business analyst is, first and foremost, a business role. The best business analysts I’ve known were experts in general business concepts, and in the specifics pertaining to the company or market they’re working in.

One of the best ways to fill some of these knowledge gaps and prepare yourself for the next BA opportunity is to find a mentor who has experience as a business analyst, or to seek out training on the principles and practices of business analysis. There are lots of great and affordable resources available online and a thriving business analysis community on LinkedIn and Twitter (check out hash tag #baot for business analysts on Twitter).

How much time off do you get/take?

Typically, an analyst will get between 2-4 weeks of vacation, and it is common to be offered flexible/remote work arrangements for part of the time. Obviously, there are times when an analyst needs to be on site to meet with project team members and business stakeholders, but for “heads-down” time working on documentation, sometimes working remotely is just the thing.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

One common misconception is that a business analyst is primarily a document writer. While an analyst’s documented deliverables are important, the most significant portion of our time and effort is spent analyzing the business, eliciting and negotiating requirements and determining just the right way to model them for maximum communicative effect. We also spend a lot of time resolving customer concerns and building relationships of trust with key stakeholders. So while the documentation is the most visible or tangible part of a business analyst’s job, it is really just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I thoroughly enjoy business analysis. It offers a challenge, variety, and rewarding work that makes a difference. My goal for the future is to continue to do business analysis, but to broaden the impact of what I do by implementing good analysis processes and procedures as well as coaching and mentoring within my entire organization to build up the overall business analysis competency.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

Business analysis is something that has been done for ages, but is just recently come into its own as a distinct profession, but is rapidly growing and increasing in recognition. The emergence and popularity of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) http://iiba.org serves as evidence of this growth and serves the emerging need for standards and certification for business analysis practitioners. Business analysis is a dynamic career option with opportunity for growth within the analysis domain, or without. If you enjoy a challenge, teamwork, and understanding what makes business tick, business analysis might be just the career for you!