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How to Build a Strong Data Analyst Project Portfolio

7 min readView all articles
By Enrique Ruiz
May 30, 2023

It’s become clearer than ever that the strongest asset a data analyst can have to showcase their skills is a project portfolio. But the framework for building a strong project portfolio remains unclear. This article attempts to remedy that.

My goal is to help you create quality projects for a captivating portfolio, and get you one step closer to landing your dream job.

The importance of a data analyst project portfolio

Let’s start with the obvious. You would never hire a designer or an architect without looking at their work, so why would you hire an analyst?

Every analyst’s resume has a way of telling people the skills they have or the software they are proficient in. The problem is that this does nothing towards actually proving this is true. How do you differentiate two candidates with “5 star Excel skills” on their resume? You can’t. Sure, you can have them take a technical assessment or interview, but what if it’s actually 200 candidates and not 2? Suddenly, that’s not such a viable option.

This is why a project portfolio is the best way of showing someone what you can do as an analyst. Comparing Excel projects between those same two candidates is the perfect way of differentiating them. Now, I know what you’re thinking… what if you need to compare Excel projects between 200 candidates and not 2, is anyone really going to go through that?

Here’s the thing about that, and it’s something that rarely gets brought up in conversations around project portfolios: building a strong project portfolio is hard work. It’s certainly much harder than putting together a resume. So chances are that, while all 200 candidates may have resumes, they most likely won’t all have project portfolios. This is your chance to stand out!

Building your project portfolio

Once you’ve decided to build a portfolio, the first step is to decide where to host it. In the past, there weren’t any perfect solutions for this, which made taking this first step difficult. Most folks would use some combination of LinkedIn, a personal website, and tool-specific sites like Tableau Public to varying degrees of success. Lucky for you, at Maven we created a purpose-built platform for data analysts to host their portfolios and showcase their work, and it meets all our criteria for an ideal portfolio solution:

Portfolio Criteria

It even lets you embed Power BI or Tableau dashboards, as well as Excel workbooks and videos. I truly wouldn’t be recommending it if I didn’t firmly believe it was far and away the best option out there.

The key to a successful project portfolio

Now that you understand the benefits of building a portfolio and know exactly where to host it, it’s time to really get to work. Similar to a great dashboard, the key to a successful project portfolio is to start by defining its purpose and keeping its end user in mind.

Let’s start by defining its purpose. In other words, what is it trying to achieve? A great project portfolio should highlight these aspects of you as an analyst:

  • Technical proficiency
  • Strategic thinking
  • Communication skills
  • Business acumen
  • Passion for analytics

If I’m being honest, this is quite a lot to accomplish. And a major pitfall is trying to accomplish too much of it too soon. Trying to convey all these things effectively is challenging, and trying to convey them immediately is impossible - so don’t try it. This is where the end user comes in.

If you think about the prospective employer or client that you’re trying to prove your skills to as weighing you between 200 other options, then you quickly realize that you don’t have much time to make an impression. Here are my recommendations:

1. Keep your “about” section brief and original.

This is your first hook, and can be used to display your passion for analytics, as well as communication skills (it’s much harder to be concise than long winded).

Stacy's Portfolio

2. Take advantage of the “header image” real estate.

Anyone looking at your portfolio will glance at this, whether they intended to or not, so try to add in a bit more information about yourself (like certifications or credentials).

Gerard's Portfolio

3. Use engaging project titles and excerpts.

You can’t pay off your entire project in a few seconds, but what you can do in that time is get someone interested enough to click into it.

Mark's Portfolio

You may notice that none of this goes very far in highlighting the aspects of yourself I outlined earlier, but that’s ok. That’s where the projects themselves come in.

The elements of a winning project

A great portfolio project should be clear and easily consumable, and guide the viewer through your thought process and approach:

Elements of a Winning Project

1. Start with the background or business case

This first step is key, as you may lose your audience if you dive straight into the technical stuff. So always lead your project’s description with high-level context, including an overview of the business case and the problem you solved. Once the audience is aware of the context, describe the key insights you derived in your analysis and the impact they drove for the business. This will emphasize your business acumen and your ability to communicate effectively.

2. Show your insights & impact

With the starting and ending points for the project established, it’s time to connect the dots and outline your process. This is where you want to flex your strategic thinking, and showcase how you approach and solve problems as an analyst. You don’t need to worry too much about getting into the technical details here, it’s more about making it clear that you are able to generate good ideas and can execute on them.

3. Use data and visuals to tell the story

Data visualization is your best bet at bringing the data into play for any audience to understand, which is why charts, graphs, and dashboards represent the ideal use of images in a project. In my opinion, the main dashboard (if there is any) should be included in the main project image, and any supporting views can be added to the additional images. Finally, you can add charts you used to explore the data as part of your process inside the project description itself.

4. Provide some technical depth

While not every “end user” will be particularly interested in diving into the technical weeds of your project, it can still be helpful to include some depth. The key, again, is for it to have purpose. Technical depth used simply as a “flex” is ineffective, but if it’s paired with a strategic decision or idea that was particularly challenging to pull off, then it’s a great complement. Finally, try to always embed your Power BI or Tableau dashboards when possible, especially if they have some sort of interactivity or tooltips. This is a powerful way of showcasing what you can do technically in a way that anyone can appreciate.

Need inspiration? Check out Marjolein Opsteegh and Gerard Duggan’s projects.

The best places to find projects and get started

Now that you're ready to build a strong project portfolio, you may be left thinking… I don’t have any projects! I’m sorry to break this to you, but that’s no excuse. If you’re just getting started and learning the skills, you can still package any course projects you complete and add them to your portfolio. Already have the skills but just need real-world data to practice with? No problem, you can look for datasets on our Data Playground, or join one of our Data Challenges, all of which come with a prompt and objective!

My final suggestion is to go with topics you’re excited and passionate about. Remember, it’s hard enough putting these together, so you might as well go with something you’ll have fun with.

Happy analyzing!

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Enrique Ruiz

Enrique is a certified Microsoft Excel Expert and top-rated instructor with a background in business intelligence, data analysis and visualization. He has been producing advanced Excel and test prep courses since 2016, along with adaptations tailored to Spanish-speaking learners.

Enrique is a certified Microsoft Excel Expert and top-rated instructor with a background in business intelligence, data analysis and visualization. He has been producing advanced Excel and test prep courses since 2016, along with adaptations tailored to Spanish-speaking learners.

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