Data analysts are hired to collect, interpret and evaluate various forms of information to help businesses make better short- and long-term decisions. The types of businesses that require data analysis run a wide gamut, from science labs and health care facilities to investment firms and major retailers. As data and technology increase, women in general will find the rapidly expanding job market provides ample opportunities for career growth, while young moms in particular might benefit from greater work-at-home prospects offered in the field.
You compile and review data to draw conclusions based on company objectives. Sales figures, shipping manifests, operating expenses and market research statistics are common examples of data sources. You work with specialized computer applications that allow you to import, clean, validate, transform and model the data. You search for trends and patterns in the data that help you formulate an assessment. Eventually, you translate your findings into easily digestible reports, charts and graphs that non-analysts can understand. Then you present those findings to your superiors. Your objectives might include finding ways to reduce transportation costs, identifying under-served markets, or determining acceptable price points for the sales department.
Strong mathematical and analytical skills are essential for crunching large amounts of data and identifying numerical patterns. Logic and critical thinking also come into play when considering fresh ways to view data or determining which factors are relevant. You must be a gifted communicator, both verbally and in writing, as the position requires you to explain complex ideas in ways that are easy to understand. In addition, you should be comfortable sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time. Experience with statistical analysis software such as Microsoft Excel, SAS and SPSS is a big plus, as is knowledge of structured query language, or SQL, commands.
Training and Education
Most entry-level data analyst positions require you to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in mathematics, statistics, computer science or a related hard science field. Management and other advanced positions usually require a master's degree as well, although significant work experience may suffice instead. Additionally, you may need to attain certification depending on your chosen field. For instance, a Certified Health Data Analyst designation from the American Health Information Management Association is recommended for work in health sciences, while the International Institute of Market Research and Analytics awards a Certified Data Analyst course helpful to those working in market research.
Economic Outlook and Work Environment
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2010, approximately 282,700 workers were employed as data and market research analysts. Future prospects for analysts appear extremely bright, with the expected creation of 116,600 additional jobs between 2010 and 2020. This represents a 41 percent increase in employment, nearly three times faster than the projected growth rate for all U.S. occupations. One major factor spurring growth is that analysts are employed in nearly every major American industry. While some analysts occasionally deal with the public for data-gathering, most work is done alone at a computer terminal, where long hours are sometimes necessary to meet deadlines.
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