5 Questions to Ask Before Taking that Analyst Job


Most of my work has been about how you as an analyst can impress at interviews.

But we should look at this from the other side of the table, too. How can you protect yourself from getting into a lousy job?

Here are a few questions for you the analyst to ask.

1. Where is my data coming from? How does it get to me? How many data sources will I need to be drawing from? 

I’ve repeated ad nauseum the statistic that analysts spend half their time preparing data. Get used to it.

But some organizations are worse than others. Many managers do not understand the complexity of syncing data across multiple platforms for reporting.

You do not want to be in a job where you are both the producer and consumer of your own data or are constantly cross-referencing multiple data sources.

It’s nice to be needed, but when work tasks so convoluted that only one person can pull them off are too risky.

2. How much cross-training between analysts is there?

If you call in sick, can someone step in to do your job? What about vice versa? Many analyst jobs involve reporting so obscure and convoluted that you are the only person in the organization who knows how do to it.

In a cynical way, this makes you irreplaceable. But you won’t feel so smart when you’re walking your manager through a report as you lay in bed with a fever (been there, done that!).

So ask the manager what kind of cross-training exists. Are there procedures in place for you and other analysts to step in for each other? This collaboration can be incredibly helpful — you learn a lot, and get feedback from others on how to improve your work.

Unfortunately, through politics or sheer inaction, this does not happen in many organizations.

No man is an island — but an analyst’s data is often cast off from IT.

3. How much is IT on board with what we are doing?

IT: can’t live with them, can’t live without them, right?

But in an information economy, management problems ARE information problems.

As analysts, we are frequently tasked with projects that should be entreprise-level concerns and that require enterprise-level resource allocation.

But often IT either does not have the resources or the knowledge to assist. This is not a good sign. Again, you don’t want to be tasked your own data fiefdom.

Analysts should be tasked first and foremost with, well, analyzing. We are not software engineers or information architects, although we often have to be.

Get specific on this one, seriously. Ask for names and/or projects. You want to make sure you have the resources to solve your business problems — which, like we’ve said, are now information problems.

What is the paper-to-noise ratio of your reporting load?

4. How many reports do you receive? How many am I responsible for? 

Don’t expect an answer, but test the reactions here.

Some organizations, hearing about the “big data” craze, have turned this into “big reporting.” These are not the same!

A good organization gets exactly the right information to the right people at the right time. As an analyst, you are often the collateral damage in the “Big Data = More Data” craze. I’ve often heard analysts complain that they spend so much time preparing reports that they don’t have time to actually analyze them.

Ask your manager this and judge the reaction. If she is made visibly uncomfortable by this question, wonder about what is going on at the organization.

5. Can you recommend any books on this career path or industry? 

I’ve heard that 40% of college alumni never read a book after graduation. Sad!

A rapidly changing economy requires constant retooling. Everyone should consider themselves permanent students. Unfortunately, most professionals have become so overwhelmed with the demands of their job that they never consider how to work smarter, not harder.

I am only now as a graduate student reading books about my previous jobs. It never occurred to me to do this as an analyst — it was a hand-to-mouth existence, just trying to get the reports out on time and not screw the numbers up.

This question will test if your manager has truly embraced the craft of his profession, or is just going through the motions.

Other questions?

A poor job choice can have negative implications for years to come. You want to be in an organization that will value your contribution and allow you to invest in your own future along with the company’s.

Unfortunately, many analysts become little more than paper-pushers or Excel-savvy secretaries. Avoid that fate with these questions.

Thoughts? Other questions to use? Go for it!


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