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Skills Every Data Analyst Should Have

If you’re a student looking for career advice or a specialist seeking new job opportunities, find out if a data analyst job is something worth considering. In today's article, I explain the essential skills required for data analysts and benefits that come from performing such a job.

What Is a Data Analyst?

Let’s start by defining exactly what a data analyst is. A data analyst is someone who uses their skills to collect, analyze, and report insights from company data.

On a daily basis, a data analyst will use SQL to pull data out of a company database, and use programming skills to analyze and visualize that data. As a data analyst, when you are done creating a report, you will have to use your communication skills to present it to a larger audience.

Thousands of data analyst job postings are published each day, and even non-techies can learn to become one. Almost every company needs a data analyst, and the median salary for someone with an entry-level experience sits at over $67,000. Data analysts with 10+ years of experience will earn even up to $83,000. It's a satisfying job that pays well.

Being a data analyst also gives experience that can be a stepping stone to more advanced roles, e.g., a data scientist.

Some of the key skills every data analyst should have are:

  • Problem solving and critical thinking.
  • SQL.
  • Statistics.
  • Data visualization.
  • Presentation skills.

Skills Every Data Analyst Should Have

1.   Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

According to the U.S. Department of Labor [source],

Problem solving and critical thinking refers to the ability to use knowledge, facts, and data to effectively solve problems. This doesn’t mean you need to have an immediate answer, it means you have to be able to think on your feet, assess problems and find solutions. The ability to develop a well thought out solution within a reasonable time frame, however, is a skill that employers value greatly.

Skills Every Data Analyst Should Have

To succeed as a data analyst, you have to think like a data analyst. If you want to use data to get answers to questions, you have to know what questions you should ask in the first place.

Also, it is very important that you not rely on the theses that already exist. Instead, try to take into consideration various possible scenarios.

If you want to improve your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, be sure to check this career guide.

2.   SQL

SQL (Structured Query Language) is a language used to communicate with databases. You will use it to track, add, modify, and delete data in a database. Unlike other computing languages, SQL is simple and based on regular English; SQL commands sound more like sentences than computer code.

SQL has been the industry standard for over 50 years. As shown by the constant demand for this skill in the labor market, it is not going anywhere.

If you still wonder if SQL is for you, check out Who Should Learn SQL? You can also read why a data analyst should know SQL.

Because SQL can deal with larger datasets than Excel, it is often seen as the “upgraded” version of Excel or “Excel on steroids.” In this article, you can see how much advantage SQL has over a spreadsheet.

If you are looking to learn SQL from scratch, or if you want to try if SQL is for you, you can do it online with the SQL Basics course at It’s the first course in the SQL A to Z track that everyone serious about a career in data should consider. This track is a set of interactive SQL courses, designed thoughtfully so that the learning process is quick and painless. By solving exercises, you write real SQL queries and verify the effects of your work in real time.

If you’re up for learning more on why and how to successfully master SQL, read the article my colleague Jakub wrote, Want to Work With Data? Learn SQL!

3.   Statistics

This is an important skill for a good data analyst. You should have at least some basic knowledge of statistics. For this, at least superficial knowledge of calculus and probability will also be useful. Why? Because a dry report alone is not enough; you will need to be able to spot trends and fluctuations.

With the knowledge of the theory of statistics, you will not only be able to create a data statement but also understand why you got the specific results.

Skills Every Data Analyst Should Have

Of course, the required level of knowledge in the field of statistics will vary depending on the specific position or role you will play within your team. You don’t want to neglect this area.

You can also try another interesting course: Introduction to Statistics on Coursera. This course is prepared by the experts at Stanford University. Access to the course is free, but you will have to pay if you want to obtain a certificate of completion.

4.   Data Visualization

To tell a story with your data and get your point across, you will need data visualization skills. To excel as an analyst, it's crucial not only to master SQL but also to enhance your ability to visualize data. Today's analysts need tools that can simplify complex data into clear visuals. Using a visual flowchart creator can greatly help in narrating your data's story, making it simpler for stakeholders to gain insights. Visualizing data can help you emphasize the importance of trends and patterns you’ve identified. Data analysts use different types of charts and graphs to present their findings in a concise and compelling way.

Tableau and Power BI are the best-known tools that let data analysts visualize their data easily. Tableau specializes in making beautiful visualizations, whereas Power BI uses the existing Microsoft systems (like Azure, SQL Server, and Excel) to build data visualizations that don’t break the bank. The undeniable advantage of Tableau and Power BI is their user-friendliness. Both have their limits, though.

As an alternative to the available tools, you can learn Python or R to visualize your data. This way, you will have no limits, and you won’t have to request additional budget. R and Python are open-source, so they are available for free to anyone. With R or Python, you will perform advanced analyses and predictive analytics on huge amounts of data.

Python Basics

5.   Presentation Skills

5 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People from Weinschenk on Vimeo.

The more in-depth your report is, the more concisely it should be presented. As a data analyst, you need to be able to explain the most important elements of your analysis to a variety of audiences, including team leaders and board members.

If no one understands your report and the insights that flow from it, no one makes meaningful strategic decisions based on it. That means your work was, well, for nothing.

If you analyze data, you must be able to story-tell about it and show the conclusions of your analysis to the management.

You should sound like an expert when speaking about your impact. For more information on how to improve your presentation skills, read this Zippia’s article.

Get the Skills Required for Data Analysts!

If you are serious about stepping into a data analyst career, there are many ways you can develop the skills I described in this article. I recommended some on the go, but how quickly you can develop them depends solely on where you are right now – what your background is and how much time you want to commit.

To work as a data analyst, you’ll need to think like a data analyst, work with SQL on a regular basis, and go beyond SQL by learning R, Python, or some other analytics tools like Tableau and Power BI.

Remember, learning is an investment that always pays off. Each skill you acquire now will bring you fruits in the future. Those fruits can include a lucrative data analyst position!