How to identify a good (and bad) Business Analyst?
Over last 6 years, I have come across more than hundreds of analysts and have conducted almost equal number of interviews. Over this time, I have developed a knack of differentiating best analysts from good and good analysts from bad. If you face this challenge regularly, this post might help you.
So how do you differentiate between good and bad analysts?
Thankfully, it’s not that difficult. I have put a framework around how to judge an analyst. You can use the same to make your life simpler. This framework has it’s genesis in hiring guidelines at Capital One. I have modified it to adopt it in Indian Analytics industry.
This is the most important attribute that distinguishes a good analyst from bad. This attribute is not only required to be a successful analyst, it becomes absolutely critical for a person managing Business Analysts.
So what is Structured thinking?
Structured thinking is a process of putting a framework to an unstructured problem. Having a structure not only helps an analyst understand the problem at a macro level, it also helps by identifying areas which require deeper understanding.
How do I test for structured thinking?
Typically I test this by throwing a open business problem at an analyst and then observing closely how he / she is solving it.
An example is asking a question like: “You have been appointed as CEO of a loss making restaurant at Delhi / London Airport and you are expected to join the company in a week. What would you want to do as a CEO of the company as soon as you join them?”
If the person lays out a nice structure about where the problems could be, he has already ticked one box. If he starts giving you answers out of his hat (e.g. I would be looking at what marketing are we doing?), you should consider it as a red flag. He will not be able to sail through the world of Analytics.
There is a reason why Business Analysts are called so and not just Analysts. Until a person understands what he is trying to solve and the business owners are confident that he can solve problems in meaningful manner, he is a dead analyst.
So, how do you test for business understanding?
For an experienced analyst, I typically start judging this by asking about business context for the projects he might have worked on. If he can explain that clearly, it’s a good start. If he can’t, you can almost make your hiring decision here. Next, you can look at the answers a person gives in response to question asked for judging structured thinking. If he gives answers based on numbers only, you need to probe him further. He needs to put a business thinking hat and provide some out of box suggestions.
If a person is not detail oriented, he can never be a good analyst. Every analyst should have the ability to understand business at high level, but he should be able to get down to nuts and bolts of all the levers you might have.
So how do you judge for attention to details?
Start by looking at the CV of a person, has he spent time choosing words carefully? Has he mentioned impact of the projects he might have worked on?
For an experienced analyst, probe on the projects he might have worked on before. Did he consider all the aspects and possibilities? How much time does take to explain his previous projects?
Another way to judge it is by asking the candidate to a guess estimate, something like “Estimate the number of smartphones used in India” and looking at how the candidate answers them. How many factors does he consider to come up with answers? How many segments does he consider to arrive at sizing? These aspects should give you a good read on how detail oriented a person is.
While the first three characteristics help you identify a better than average analyst, this characteristic and the next differentiates best of analysts from good analyst. This is an activity I love to do and something I know every good analyst loves. This is the ability to set up equations on page and then do back of the envelope calculations to answer 80% of questions without touching any excel / calculator or laptop. It is also the ability to arrive at a number through various sources and then validating them.
How to judge ability to triangulate numbers and do back of the envelope calculations?
Guess estimate comes to your rescue here. Just ask the candidate to perform the guess estimate on a paper and then ask him to validate the number through an alternate approach.
Any analyst is only as good as he can communicate. If a person can not take the complex world of numbers and create a meaningful story out of it, he will always be looked upon as a nerd. He can be a good analyst, but not the best one. Ability to create a story and present it almost has an equal, if not higher influence on your customers and hence increases the chances of success of any analytics project.
How do you judge communication skills?
You can get a sense on this through the entire interview. If this is very critical to the role you are evaluating for, you can provide datasets in excel and ask the person to present some open ended questions
Hopefully, this framework will help you for any analyst hiring in future. In case you have some suggestions, do let me know.
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