- Worldwide, less than half of currently open business analyst positions demand a degree from applicants.
- Make passing the ECBA certification exam a near-term goal – it does not require a degree and is highly valued by employers.
- Over the next ten years, the job prospects for business analysts are very positive, with twice the national average job growth.
The demand for business analysts is on the rise – and for good reason. Businesses of all sizes are recognizing the need for data-driven insights to inform their decision-making. And, as more and more companies adopt data-driven strategies, the demand for talented business analysts will only continue to grow from here on out.
This is also reflected in the statistics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for business and management analysts is expected to grow at a rate of 14%: nearly double the American national average of 7.7%.
Best of all, the salaries for business analysts are nothing to sneeze at. The median yearly salary for a business analyst is currently $82,218, and the median hourly pay is $38. This means that the salaries of business analysts are above those of other well-paid career paths such as data analysts, web developers, or stockbrokers.
But, how does one start a career in business analysis?
The obvious choice would be to go for a bachelor’s degree in finance, marketing, economics, or even psychology. Yet, it’s not the path I will be laying out for you in this article.
While a degree may give you a leg up in the job market initially, there are plenty of ways to break into the field of business analytics without one.
In this article, you’ll learn:
What does a business analyst do?
In a nutshell, a business analyst is someone who aids businesses in determining and resolving problems. They do this in a variety of ways – by regularly assessing the performance of a company, collecting and analyzing data, and then making recommendations to upper management based on their findings.
Because of this, business analysts are often called the link between the more technical departments and the upper management of a company. That is also why business analysts are required to have both strong analytical skills as well as excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
In some cases, the business analysts role can also entail a more hands-on role in the company. For example, their job responsibilities may include things like overseeing the implementation of new production techniques, being active in recruiting suitable employees for the company, and providing training for the employees of the company.
The exact business analyst job description can be very different depending on the industry and company they work in. If they have one thing in common, it is this – their day-to-day work consists of improving the overall performance of a company.
Do you need a degree to become a business analyst?
No, you do not need a degree to become a business analyst. Worldwide, there are more than 40,000 open no-degree jobs for business analysts, and less than half of all open positions demand a degree from applicants.
Once again, hiring managers from the United States place more importance on having a degree than any other country or region. This is a common theme we have seen across a wide range of occupations, and the job of a business analyst is no exception.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, though, people residing in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and India have the best chances of success of finding a no-degree business analyst job.
Here’s a chart that highlights the differences between countries:
And, here are the exact figures:
- Worldwide, there are 43,628 no-degree business analyst jobs available out of a total of 79,335. Thus, 54.99% of business analyst jobs worldwide do not require a degree.
- In the United States, there are 16,434 no-degree business analyst jobs available out of a total of 34,638. Thus, 47.45% of business analyst jobs in the United States do not require a degree.
- In the United Kingdom, there are 3,966 no-degree business analyst jobs available out of a total of 5,925. Thus, 66.94% of business analyst jobs in the United Kingdom do not require a degree.
- In the European Union, there are 8,888 no-degree business analyst jobs available out of a total of 13,099. Thus, 67.85% of business analyst jobs in the European Union do not require a degree.
- In Australia, there are 1,306 no-degree business analyst jobs available out of a total of 1,981. Thus, 65.93% of business analyst jobs in Australia do not require a degree.
- In Canada, there are 1,551 no-degree business analyst jobs available out of a total of 2,629. Thus, 59.00% of business analyst jobs in Canada do not require a degree.
- In India, there are 4,156 no-degree business analyst jobs available out of a total of 6,702. Thus, 62.01% of business analyst jobs in India do not require a degree.
While there are some major differences between countries and regions, it’s worth noting that even countries with the biggest appetite for degrees such as the United States have tens of thousands of jobs available for business analysts without a degree. Thus, there’s no reason to believe that not having a degree should be a hindrance to your career as a business analyst.
What skills does a business analyst need?
Business analysts are required to bring a unique mix of technical skills and soft skills to the companies they work for. While the specific skills required will differ depending on the company and industry, there are some essential skills that all business analysts need to have. And, many of them are transferable skills that can be acquired through experience, on-the-job training, or certification programs – without the need for a formal degree.
Some of the most important skills a business analyst needs are:
- Critical thinking skills. A business analyst needs to be able to rationally identify, assess and solve problems. They need to recognize patterns and see relationships between different data points. They should also be able to break down a complex problem into smaller, more manageable pieces. Generally speaking, the critical thinking skills of a business analysis tend to evolve over time – the more experience they have, the better they become at identifying and solving problems.
- Analytical skills. Closely related to critical thinking skills, analytical skills involve a business analyst breaking down data in order to identify trends and patterns. This could involve anything from analyzing financial reports to understanding customer behavior. A good business analyst will have strong numerical skills and be confident working with large amounts of data.
- Good communication skills. You can think of a business analyst as the glue between business stakeholders and IT. They need to be able to effectively communicate with people from both sides. This means being able to understand the needs of the business and then translate them into technical requirements and vice versa. They also need to be able to explain complex concepts in simple terms and tailor their communication style according to their audience. That is why communication skills are some of the most important skills for business analysts.
- Problem-solving skills. Business analysts need to be able to juggle multiple tasks at the same time, prioritize their work effectively, and find effective solutions to a wide range of potential problems. They also need to be able to manage complex projects, often with tight deadlines. As such, organizational skills, together with excellent problem-solving skills are essential for any business analyst.
- Creativity. Business analysts need to be able to see relationships and patterns in how a business operates, but they also need to be able to come up with new ideas and solutions. This could involve anything from developing an entirely new business model or creating a blueprint of a new product to improving the production process. In order to improve the efficiency and profitability of the organizations they work for, business analysts must be able to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions.
- Commercial awareness. A business analyst needs to understand how businesses operate and the factors that affect their success or failure. This includes an understanding of the competitive landscape, current and future trends, and the overall financial health of a given industry.
- Information technology (IT) skills. Some of the IT skills that are beneficial for a business analyst include an understanding of basic coding languages such as HTML, CSS, and SQL, the ability to use common business software such as Microsoft Office and Google Suite, familiarity with common project management tools such as JIRA and Asana, together with common data visualization tools such as Tableau and Microsoft Power BI.
- Domain knowledge. Domain knowledge is the term used to describe an individual’s understanding of a particular industry or subject area. For example, a business analyst working in the retail industry will need to have a good understanding of how the retail sector works in order to be effective in their job. This includes an understanding of common terminologies, processes, and regulations. While switching industries as a business analyst is common, you will have a smoother introduction to the job if you start in an industry you are already familiar with.
What business analyst certifications should you aim for?
If you don’t have a college education, your best bet for landing a decent entry-level business analyst position is to get a certificate.
The International Institute Of Business Analysis (IIBA) is the most well-known authority when it comes to business analysis certifications. I strongly recommend passing at least one certificate exam from IIBA as it will give you a significant advantage over other candidates, even if they have a degree.
One thing to keep in mind is that in order to qualify for any of the business analyst certification exams mentioned below, you need to have completed a set amount of Professional Development (PD) hours. These can be earned through classroom courses, online courses, or hybrid learning. I recommend going the online route as it’s typically cheaper, quicker, and more convenient. But, more on that later.
There are countless certifications for business analysts, but these are the most sought-after and recognized:
- Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA)
- Certification of Capability in Business Analysis (CCBA)
- Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)
- PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
Let’s go over each of them in more detail.
Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA)
First and foremost, I suggest starting with the Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA) from IIBA. ECBA is the industry-standard certification for entry-level business analysts and is typically the minimum requirement for most entry-level positions. It’s also relatively simple to pass, and you can take the exam via online proctoring.
Applying for the exam does not have any prerequisites besides having at least 21 professional development hours under your belt. And, it’s relatively easy to pass, as long as you have some basic business analysis knowledge. More than likely, you’ll have gained that knowledge by the time you have completed the 21 required hours of professional development.
The ECBA certification exam covers the following main topics:
- Basic concepts of business analysis
- The role of the business analyst
- Fundamental business analysis techniques
- IIBA’s Code Of Conduct
Certification of Capability in Business Analysis (CCBA)
The second certification exam I recommend prioritizing is the Certification of Capability in Business Analysis (CCBA), also from IIBA.
Unlike the ECBA, the requirements for taking the CCBA are much more stringent. Namely, you need to have a minimum of 3750 hours of working experience as a business analyst. This means that until you have multiple years of experience under your belt, you should focus on gaining some more work experience before pursuing the CCBA.
However, once you do have the required experience, taking the CCBA is a no-brainer. Not only is it a great way to show off your experience and expertise, but it’s also an excellent way to boost your career prospects and earnings potential. Many business analysts have the ECBA, but relatively few have the CCBA, so passing it will help you stand out from the crowd.
Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)
The Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) certification exam is even tougher than the CCBA exam, which is already tough enough on its own. To qualify for the CBAP, you need to have at least 7500 hours of working experience as a business analyst.
However, if you have the required experience and are confident in your knowledge of business analysis techniques and strategies, then passing the CBAP will truly put you ahead of the competition. Very few business analysts have passed the CBAP and doing so is a truly great way to demonstrate your skills and expertise.
By the time you are eligible to take the CBAP, you should be already getting into the territory of senior business analyst roles, and passing the CBAP will help you further accelerate your career.
PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
Finally, there is the PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA) certification exam. Unlike the previous three, this exam is offered not by IIBA, but by the Project Management Institue (PMI).
PMI is the leading authority when it comes to project management certification, and the PMI-PBA is their flagship certification exam for business analysts. While IIBA remains the leader in the business analyst certification landscape, PMI is certainly a close second, and their certification exams are highly respected in the industry.
To take the PMI-PBA exam without having a bachelor’s degree, you need to have 60 months of business analysis experience, 35 hours of professional education in business analysis (including online courses), as well as a high school diploma. No college degree is required, although having a degree is helpful as it reduces the length of working experience needed to 36 months instead of 60.
In terms of required experience, the PMI-PBA is roughly on par with IIBA’s CBAP exam, meaning that it’s targeted mostly towards very experienced business analysts who are looking to take their careers to the next level.
Where can you get employed as a business analyst without a degree?
In a data-driven world, virtually any business can benefit from the services of a professional business analyst. With that being said, here are some of the most common places of employment for business analysts who don’t have a degree:
- Big tech companies. These days, nearly every big technology company will have a business analyst or an entire business analytics branch on its payroll. This is because business analysts are essential in helping companies engineer new products, improve the production process, and improve the products they already have on the market. I strongly recommend you make working for an established tech company a long-term goal as the salaries tend to be far superior to the alternatives.
- Startups. Startups are another great option for business analysts without a degree. Many startups are open to hiring candidates with little to no formal education, as long as they can prove their worth through their work experience and/or relevant certifications. Working for a startup is a great way to get your foot in the door of the business world and gain some real-world experience.
- Business analytics companies. These companies specialize in helping other businesses reach their goals by analyzing their data and providing solutions to improve their processes. Examples of such companies include Accenture and Tiger Analytics.
- Public sector. Federal, state, and local governments hire business analysts to help them run more efficiently. This could involve anything from analyzing crime data to streamlining the process of issuing passports. Sometimes, the public and private sectors intertwine, for example in the case of Palantir: a private company that provides business analytics services to the federal government.
- Management consulting firms. Management consulting firms help businesses solve various problems, reach their goals, and improve their processes. Many of these firms have a dedicated business analytics branch to help their clients with data-related issues.
- Freelance work. Experienced and in-demand business analysts often take on contract-based work and work as freelancers, providing their services to multiple clients at once. While this can be a great way of having more control over your work-life balance, it is very difficult for inexperienced business analysts to find consistent, reliable, and well-paying work through platforms such as Fiverr or Upwork.
Steps to becoming a business analyst without a degree
Follow these steps to become a business analyst without a degree:
- Map your existing domain knowledge.
- Learn the fundamentals of business analysis.
- Take an IIBA-endorsed business analytics course.
- Get first-hand experience with business analytics tools.
- Build a public business analytics portfolio.
- Pass the ECBA certification exam.
- Start applying to no degree business analyst positions.
1. Map your existing domain knowledge.
Most organizations prefer to hire business analysts who have a background in the industry they operate in. This is good news because it can give you big leverage when a business analysis job should become available in an industry that is familiar to you.
Think about it – if an organization needs a business analyst, they can save a lot of time and money on training by picking a candidate that already has some domain knowledge.
For example, let’s say that you have experience working at a law firm. Now, if a law firm is looking for a business analyst and you have some skills relevant to both law and business analytics, then you are automatically a very strong candidate for the job. Even if you do not have a formal degree relevant to business analysis.
Or, the same applies if you have experience working in a healthcare setting – you could use that experience to demonstrate your knowledge of the various rules and regulations involved in providing medical services.
Before you start self-learning the specifics of the business analysis field, map your domain knowledge of different industries and do some research on the role of business analytics in your industry. You can even go a step further and try to find out which business analysis tools, methods, and processes are commonly used in these industries. The more research you do, the easier your learning path will be.
If you don’t have any existing domain knowledge, then simply pick a career path you’re interested in, and stick with that. You’ll find that it’s much easier to build a career as a business analyst if you stick to a specific industry rather than trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none.
As an example, here are some of the most common industries where business analysts are sought after:
- Banking and finance
Whichever path you choose, make sure that you are interested in the industry. While market demand and growth opportunities are also important, being passionate about the industry you analyze will help you work smarter, faster, and better.
2. Learn the fundamentals of business analysis.
Once you have mapped out your domain knowledge or picked a new path, it’s time to start learning the basics of business analysis/. This will allow you to start connecting the dots between your chosen industry and business analysis.
To start off, you should familiarize yourself with the key concepts and tools of business analysis, such as:
- Data analysis
- Requirements gathering
- Process mapping
- Business modeling
- Project management
You can learn these by taking an online course, reading books or articles on the subject, or by attending workshops and conferences. There are also many free resources available online, such as blog posts, webinars, and video tutorials.
However, I strongly recommend following an online course that is endorsed by the IIBA, as that will allow you to get enough contact hours to take the ECBA exam as soon as you finish. Following YouTube videos and blogs is helpful, but it will not net you a certification, and they usually don’t provide you with the structured learning path that you need to become a well-rounded business analyst.
3. Take an IIBA-endorsed business analytics course.
Taking a business analytics course from an IIBA-endorsed education and training provider is the simplest way to learn the fundamentals of business analysis while also providing you with enough contact hours to take the ECBA exam straight away.
Even though the demand for business analysts is great, there will be lots of competition for job openings in this field. Many of your rivals for the job will have a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree. This means that if you are not certified, you will find it very tough to compete.
The following are some of the top online business analytics courses I recommend:
- Business Analysis Fundamentals (UC Berkeley Extension). This course is relatively pricey, but it’s a great introductory class that covers topics such as the role of the business analyst, common methodologies used in business analysis, and how to use various analytical tools and techniques. Plus, it will allow you to add the Berkeley name to your CV without you having to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt. This course provides 30 contact hours (enough to take the ECBA) and I recommend it to beginners.
- Business Systems Analysis (Getsmarter). This beginner-level course will introduce you to various business analytics methods and equip you with the skills needed to use them in a business setting. Led by the University of Cape Town, it provides 40 contact hours (more than enough to take the ECBA). I have taken GetSmarter courses of a similar length before and I have found the experience to be positive, albeit too easy at times.
- Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) Certification Training (Simplilearn). This is a very advanced course that is aimed at business analysts with seven to ten years of experience and who are planning to take the CBAP exam. It provides 35 contact hours and I don’t recommend taking this class if you’re a beginner.
If you didn’t find a course here that suits your interests, check out IIBA’s full list of endorsed education and training providers. They include both offline and online training in their list, and they show exactly how many contact hours you’ll receive for each of them.
4. Get first-hand experience with business analytics tools.
While theoretical knowledge is important, sooner or later you’ll have to start playing around with actual business analytics tools if you want to become a business analyst.
There are many different business analytics tools out there, and the choices will depend on the industry you end up working in. Regardless of industry, the one important concept I recommend tackling early on, though, is business process modeling.
Business process modeling is the visualization of a company’s business processes. It can be used to improve existing processes or to design new ones from scratch.
Simply put, if you want to be a business analyst, you need to be proficient in business process modeling. Business process modeling is a practice in which business analysts document how a company operates.
This includes creating diagrams that show the various steps involved in a business process, the relationships between different departments within an organization, and the data that flows between them.
There are many different software programs that can be used for business process modeling. Some of them are free, while others must be purchased. We recommend that you experiment with a few different tools. This will give you an idea of which ones you are most comfortable with and which ones will be most useful in your future career.
Some of the most popular business process modeling tools are:
If one of these software feels intuitive to you, then I suggest self-learning it via experimentation and online tutorials. Having a working knowledge of a professional business process modeling tool can give you a huge advantage over people with only theoretical knowledge. Even if they do have a formal degree.
In addition to these three, I also recommend getting first-hand experience with more general-purpose business analytics software such as:
5. Build a public business analytics portfolio.
When you are applying for business analysis jobs, employers are going to want to see examples of your work. The best way to showcase your skills as a business analyst is to build a portfolio of your previous projects.
You can find many project ideas online, or you can come up with your own. The important thing is that your portfolio demonstrates your ability to perform the essential tasks of a business analyst.
Here are some sample project ideas to consider for your portfolio:
- Analyze the business processes of a small company and recommend improvements
- Design a new business process for a company that is expanding into a new market
- Use business process modeling software to visualize the customer journey of an e-commerce website
- Track the efficiency (or lack thereof) of a company’s employee onboarding process
- Track the information flow between different departments in a medium-sized company
These are just a few ideas. The possibilities are endless. Use your imagination and come up with projects that you think will showcase your skills in the best light. For example, if you feel as if data visualization is your strong suit, then emphasize projects that revolved around that particular skill.
The idea here is to show your employers that you have the skillset that this job requires and you also have the ability to put those skills to use in a real-world setting. Also, here’s a great article by Coursera that provides you with some idea on how to structure an effective portfolio. While it’s aimed at data analysts, the principles remain the same for business analysts.
6. Pass the ECBA certification exam.
Getting certified is the best way to get your foot in the door if you don’t have a business degree. This is especially true in the business analysis sector, where one recognized authority establishes the standard for excellence: The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).
IIBA is the obvious choice when it comes to getting certified as a business analyst and what makes matters even more simple is that they have just one entry-level certification program: the Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA).
ECBA is an internationally recognized certification, which employers frequently demand since it demonstrates that you have the basic skills and knowledge to begin working as a business analyst. It does not require a degree and all you need is 21 hours of professional development hours to qualify for the exam.
If you followed this step-by-step guide on how to become a business analyst without a degree, then you should easily have the necessary hours. That is as long as you took an online class that is recognized as an endorsed education provider by the IIBA.
The test itself is not difficult, but you’ll still need to prepare for it, and I recommend taking a few practice tests to make sure you are fully prepared. For more information on the ECBA and other business analyst certifications, refer back to this section where I covered everything in more detail.
7. Start applying to no degree business analyst positions.
Once you have a portfolio of work to show off and a shiny new certificate in your CV, it’s time to start applying for entry-level business analyst positions.
To increase your chances of getting hired, you should focus on tailoring each application to the specific job posting. This means highlighting the skills and qualifications that are relevant to that particular role and emphasizing any previous work that is relevant.
Even if you don’t have any experience, there are many entry-level positions that you can apply for. Many companies are willing to train new business analysts on the job. So, don’t let a lack of experience discourage you from applying for positions that interest you.
To increase your chances of getting hired, we recommend that you target small to medium-sized companies. They are typically more open to hiring entry-level employees and giving them on-the-job training.
As we already mentioned, it’s also a good idea to apply for jobs that are in industries that you are already familiar with. This will give you a leg up on the competition, as you will already have some domain knowledge.
Some examples of entry-level business analyst positions include:
- Junior Business Analyst
- Associate Business Analyst
- Business Analyst Trainee
- Entry-Level Business Systems Analyst
If you have managed to reach and complete this step, then congratulations: you have now become a business analyst without a degree!