How data skills can improve your career prospects

Some have called data the new electricity, as it powers the modern world in various unseen ways, giving rise to technologies we take for granted. And like electricians, people who can work with data are essential to virtually all sectors of the economy, from business and finance to the police and public sector. Understanding the value of data skills may encourage you to develop them early in your career, which can broaden your horizons and increase your earning potential. 

Below, we discuss why data skills are in such high demand and explore some potential career options.

Why data skills are valuable to employers

Properly gathering, analyzing, and applying data can help businesses and institutions in many ways. It can help them uncover the causes of problems and find intelligent solutions, understand business performance, and make well-informed decisions based on probability models. For these reasons, professionals with skills in data visualization and analysis are in increasingly high demand, even in jobs not specifically relating to data analytics. Marketing, for example, is now a field that relies heavily on data, and data experts can have lucrative careers in the field by applying their expertise to generate customers for businesses.  

Data is like unmined gold; without the skills and knowledge needed to extract, process, and refine it, it’s useless. This is why data experts are coveted by employers, as they can look at problems, extract insights from data sets and translate them into practical solutions. It removes the guesswork from decision-making, saving businesses money, and helping them maintain upward trajectories in their respective markets. According to Gartner: “Data and analytics will become the centerpiece of enterprise strategy, focus and investment.” In the coming years, businesses simply will not be able to compete if they aren’t using data to their advantage.

How to acquire data skills and knowledge 

If you are interested in a career in data analytics, it is important to first develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed. Here are some options to consider that can help you gain the necessary hard and soft skills: 

Obtain a bachelor’s degree

Studying for a bachelor’s degree in a subject such as business analytics, computer science or statistics can equip you with the expertise needed to analyze data and apply findings. If you have a career path in mind, select a degree that aligns closely with your goals. These courses can help you develop your math and statistics skills, as well as train you to use data analytics software. Having at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field is a requirement for most data analytics positions. 

Study for a master’s degree

Having a master’s degree is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for a career in this field and create a competitive edge. Gaining a business analytics master’s degree, for example, can make you an extremely valuable asset in corporate settings, as it can train you to use your skills to help businesses. Master’s degrees are more career-oriented than bachelor’s degrees, so they can help you capitalize on your data skills and apply them in the marketplace. Master’s graduates have more earning potential than bachelor’s graduates due to their advanced topics. 

Gain certifications

Certifications are not typically necessary for securing work as a data specialist, though they can bolster your skills and help you stand out to recruiters. Popular certifications include the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate, the SAS Statistical Business Analyst Professional Certificate and the CompTIA Data Analytics Plus certification. Each course comes with its own cost and entry requirements, so it is important to research these when exploring certification options. The Google certification is more of a beginner option and has no entry requirements, but costs around $40 per month. 

Develop listening and speaking skills

The ability to listen and speak effectively is an essential soft skill for data professionals, as it enables them to understand the needs of customers and stakeholders while communicating solutions. Understanding how to work with data is one thing but being able to fix real-world business issues by gathering and applying data is another entirely. The only way to diagnose problems is by listening carefully to those affected or invested, and the only way to implement solutions is by communicating them to the right parties. You can develop these skills through your education or by practicing them in everyday life. 

Gain experience

Aspiring data professionals and recent graduates can develop their skills and demonstrate their practical competence by gaining some work experience. This may involve working in an entry-level position as a junior data analyst, as many businesses, particularly marketing companies, need junior data analysts. You may also find work experience while studying for your degree, or through a graduate program upon leaving. During your work experience, create a portfolio of work that shows how you used data and what your findings were. You can then show this to other employers to demonstrate your skills. 

Engage in networking

Professional networking is a great way to build a contact list of business associates, and a way to exchange information with like-minded people. With a substantial network in place, you can call on acquaintances to ask them about things you are struggling with or to enquire about potential job openings. This can fast-track your development and potentially get you a job. You can also learn about industry events through your network and attending these can further bolster your knowledge and expand your list of contacts. Use professional networking social media websites to build an initial network.

Practice critical thinking

Data specialists constantly ask the question ‘why?’ and use data to justify the answers. Why is a problem occurring? Why is my proposed solution likely to work? Harnessing data can help you answer such questions, but it is important to be a critical thinker first, so you can investigate issues properly. You can practice critical thinking by constantly asking questions and using your logical faculties to understand why things are the way they are and work the way they do. 

How having data skills and knowledge can help you in unrelated fields 

Having an advanced qualification in data and business analytics can help you in areas that do not directly relate to these fields. This is because data forms the basis of reasoning and calculation; it is the raw material from which all thinking and decision-making arises. Someone who knows how to use data typically knows how to think clearly, investigate problems, pay attention to details, find solutions, and otherwise display competence in their work. Data professionals are often very good with mathematics, listening, speaking, and leading on projects, among other things. For these reasons, data qualifications can improve your employability in general. 

Regardless of what kind of job you are looking for, having data skills and knowledge as part of your professional toolkit can be highly beneficial. You are more likely to be considered for managerial positions if you are proficient in working with data, as it means you can analyze all available information and make smarter decisions. It is also an impressive qualification to have, as data science and statistical study are advanced fields. While there is no shortage of job openings relating directly to data analysis, there are still plenty of opportunities outside the conventional fields. 

Transferable data analyst skills

Business analysts and data specialists have a lot of skills that are useful in a range of careers, which is why they are highly coveted by employers. Here is an overview of the transferable skills data analysts possess:

Mathematical ability: Data experts are highly trained mathematicians because much of the data they work with is numerical and many analysis techniques are mathematical. Statistics, algebra, and calculus are all essential elements of data science. 

Ability to analyze, model, and interpret data: Data is an extremely valuable resource in the modern world, as it enables businesses to make much better decisions and increase profits. As such, being able to use data and make well-informed decisions can make you more effective in virtually any job you hold. 

Highly accurate: To reach appropriate conclusions, data experts require precision in their work. For this reason, these professionals tend to be highly accurate, which is a skill that many employers can use. 

Team-working abilities: Data experts work closely with customers and stakeholders to understand the requirements of projects and communicate results. This makes them effective team players, which can help them succeed in other cooperative positions. 

Critical and logical thinking: Data specialists are typically highly intelligent individuals with strong critical thinking skills and logic. These skills are essential in various professions, especially those that involve producing compelling arguments. 

Computer literacy: Data specialists spend a lot of time working on computers and using complex software to analyze data. For this reason, they are typically very good with computers, which can help them succeed in many other roles involving IT. 

Ethical understanding: There are ethical and unethical ways to extract and use data, and these professionals are acutely aware of these ethical standards. This understanding easily transfers to jobs that involve strict data protection measures, for example. 

Problem-solving skills: Data specialists ultimately solve problems. Being an efficient problem solver is a useful skill in virtually all professions. 

Interesting opportunities for business analysts and data experts

If you are armed with the skills and knowledge needed for collecting, interpreting, and using data, then you are able to select from a broad range of career options. Here are some interesting opportunities open to data experts, along with some you may not have considered:

Data analytics consultant 

If you are interested in a high-paying career that enables you to be your own boss and work with whichever clients you choose, becoming a data analytics consultant might be a good choice. These professionals have several years’ worth of experience working with data and are equipped to provide expert-level support to their various clients. You may work for a consultancy firm as a freelance contractor or acquire your own clients. Consultants benefit from working on different projects and performing different kinds of analyses, which can make the job more varied and interesting.

Marketing analytics

This is another potentially high-paying field that is not especially hard to enter. Data specialists working with marketing firms perform analyses to understand business performance and the effectiveness of marketing communications. They may also gather data on market segments and figure out how best to reach a particular type of customer. The main goal of a marketing analyst is to understand consumer behavior so that businesses can solicit more sales using the insights provided. The better you are with data, the more effective you can be in this line of work and the faster you can ascend the ranks.

Law enforcement 

Data specialists are in increasingly high demand in various areas of law enforcement. For example, the police require business analysts to support them in delivering IT projects and translating business needs into actionable solutions. Data scientists are also in high demand in the police force because they can take advantage of big data to help organizations with strategic decision-making. These jobs can pay slightly less than data jobs in the private sector, but they can be exciting and rewarding career options for those who are interested in doing something for the greater good. 

Machine learning engineer

These multi-skilled professionals have extensive knowledge of both data handling techniques and computer programming. Their work is essential for the creation of machines that can learn and perform functions without being commanded to do so by a human. Machine learning engineers produce the frameworks, models, systems, and algorithms that allow machines to learn independently. They also create and use data models by translating them into code for production purposes. These job holders can see their annual earnings go above $100,000 annually, and the better they are at their job, the faster they can expect their earnings to rise.

Financial analyst

This is another lucrative career option to consider if you are a data specialist with an interest in finance and high-level business decision-making. These experts use data to discover opportunities for businesses and to determine the most likely outcomes of business decisions. They also make investment recommendations and develop investment theses, which are investment recommendations based on research and analysis of profit potentials. Financial analysis positions are competitive, so to get a career in this field, it helps to have a master’s degree in a field like business analysis, economics, or data science. 

Information security analyst

Cybersecurity is a rapidly growing field, and those with the right skills and professional objectives can have rewarding careers working in it. These professionals are also in very high demand, so with the right training, getting a job as an information security analyst should not be too difficult. Their job involves protecting organizations on their IT front from the attacks of cybercriminals using security data and by monitoring systems and networks. It also involves locating weaknesses in IT systems and networks and finding ways to get rid of them, which prevents unethical hackers from gaining access to sensitive information. 

Chief technical officer

This is a senior position that is suitable for those with advanced qualifications in data analysis. Chief technical officers take the lead on research and development for organizations and manage their technological requirements. They interpret the needs of their organization through examination and analysis and make investments to help them meet their short-and long-term goals. These professionals often work for large corporations and their salaries can range into the hundreds of thousands per year. There are several types of chief technical officers, including strategic planners, infrastructure overseers and strategic thinkers, all of whom have slightly different responsibilities.