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Jun 5, 2024

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Business Intelligence Careers

A Roadmap for Breaking Into the Senior Level as a Data Analyst

6 min read

Jun 5, 2024

/

Business Intelligence Careers

A Roadmap for Breaking Into the Senior Level as a Data Analyst

6 min read

Jun 5, 2024

/

Business Intelligence Careers

A Roadmap for Breaking Into the Senior Level as a Data Analyst

6 min read

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A Roadmap for Breaking Into the Senior Level as a Data Analyst

If you’ve been working in Analytics for a while you’ve likely seen other Data Analysts get promoted to the Senior level, either at the same company or by joining a new company.

You may be wondering - how did they accomplish that?

The exact process for going from Analyst to Senior Analyst will be different for everyone (all organizations are unique), but there are a few common expectations you can use to guide your journey.

1. Senior Analyst Performance

Whether you’re pursuing a promotion at your current organization or looking to find a new role elsewhere, most managers will expect you to demonstrate Senior-level competencies before they’re ready to give you the Senior title. You have to build up a record of strong performance and gradually help your leaders understand that you’re not just ready to be a Senior Data Analyst - you’re already operating at that level.

So: what kinds of competencies help you get there?

Business Focus

The best data analysts don’t begin with technical approaches or tools - they start by working with their stakeholders to thoroughly understand a business problem. The tools and technical approach follow, based on the specific insights or data that are needed to drive the right kinds of decisions.

Asking questions is an important first step in understanding a business problem. It’s always worth asking an extra question or two to make sure you understand. It may take an extra few minutes up front, but it could easily be a few hours (or days) of work later if you build an Analytics solution without a full understanding of the problem your stakeholders are trying to solve.

It’s also important to continually build your domain knowledge. Deep domain knowledge allows you to ask better questions and navigate business problems more quickly. It also helps as you’re analyzing data - instead of going down several rabbit holes that lead to no insights, you’re more likely to see a trend or pattern in the data and understand the probable root causes. Strong domain knowledge is what allows you to translate your real-world understanding of the business into impactful insights that drive change.

Technical Expertise

Tools like SQL, Python, and Tableau are great for building solutions, but they aren’t ever the sole focus of our work. We must keep our eyes on the business problem and use analytical tools to deliver the right kinds of solutions.

That being said - something that Senior Analysts do very well is know how to apply the right tool in the right situation. Having deep expertise in Excel is great, but if your data is in a warehouse and needs to be piped to a BI platform for automated visualization, you’re going to need to know a lot more than Excel.

Senior Analysts work hard to develop a wide set of technical skills while also going very deep into a few of them. A great goal to target is developing deep skills in 1 querying or scripting language (SQL, Python, R, etc) and 1 presentation tool (Tableau, Looker, etc). Beyond that, you should be comfortable working in a spreadsheet of some kind (Excel, Google Sheets, etc) and in a variety of project management software tools (Jira, Trello, Asana, etc).

Multiplier Influence

Perhaps the most important competency managers expect from Senior Analysts is the ability to multiply their influence by growing other Analysts on the team. Once you reach the Senior level you begin to share responsibility for elevating how Analytics is done at your organization.

As a Senior Analyst (or an aspiring Senior Analyst) you will likely possess certain skills and abilities that go beyond what other Analysts can do. It then becomes your job to help your peers level up by sharing what you know and helping someone else grow their own skills. This can be done through group learning sessions, 1:1 mentorship, or even informal feedback given on team calls or private messages.

By taking this approach you move from just “adding” your own project wins together to “multiplying” the team’s wins as you help other Analysts reach new levels of performance. Your presence on the team becomes a game-changing factor for your organization.

2. The Promotion Process

You may have all of the right skills and competencies to become a Senior Analyst, but how do you make the promotion actually happen?

We’ll look at two ways: Internal Promotions (where you are promoted at your current company), and External Promotions (where you leave your company for a promotion elsewhere).

Internal Promotions

Some organizations will not promote people “in place”, meaning that they require the team to have a documented need for a Senior-level role before anyone can be promoted into the role. Other organizations are happy to promote individuals in place. It’s important to know which kind of organization you work at so that have the right expectations of what’s possible.

One other factor to consider is that most organizations only hand out promotions during annual or bi-annual performance review cycles.

If you have a goal to get promoted internally, it’s in your best interest to share that goal with your manager and then work with them (over time) to build your case for promotion ahead of the review cycle. Many teams require an extensive review process filled with documented evidence of your competencies and performance.

It can be a political process too - promotions spots are sometimes limited, meaning you might be unknowingly stack-ranked against other employees who are also seeking a promotion.

External Promotions

As you consider whether to pursue a promotion internally or externally, you should think about the trajectory of your organization as well as the support you have from your leaders, peers, and stakeholders. Do the people around you give you feedback that indicates you’re operating at the Senior level? Is the organization a place you want to continue working for the next several years?

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If you’re unsure about your future at your organization or don’t feel that you have the support of your leaders, it may be better to pursue a promotion through an external move. You’ll want to make sure you have a strong record of successful performance in your Analyst role, and you’ll need to document that in your resume through action statements that reflect the quantifiable impact you made for your organization.

External promotions also generally lead to higher increases in salary. Internal pay bumps for promotions are typically capped at 10-15% (on average), whereas external moves can lead to much, much higher increases if you find the right opportunity with the right company.

Putting It All Together

Growing into a Senior role as a Data Analyst will require a lot from you - dedication to learning and developing your skills, understanding how to navigate internal politics to your advantage, and potentially even exploring opportunities on the job market.

But if you focus on the business, keep picking up new technical skills, and dedicate yourself to helping others grow and be successful, you’ll be well on your way to that Senior Data Analyst role.

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