5 key skills to look for when hiring a Data Analyst

5 Key skills to look for when hiring a data analyst

The role of a Data Analyst was hardly ever heard of five years ago.  With the explosion of Big Data and Data Analytics, the demand for them has never been higher.  The worldwide shortage of Data Analysts makes it a challenge to find the right one?  Here’s our take on the 5 key skills to look for when hiring a Data Analyst.

A good data analyst isn’t necessarily a good mathematician, data cruncher or programmer.  A great data analyst can interrogate data, explore, analyse and hypotheses, extract valuable insights and effectively communicate these findings to the C-Suite.

A rare combination!

Universities are already offering courses in Data Analytics and Data Science but it’ll be a few years before that source starts to have a positive impact.

In the meantime, the hunt for a quality Data Analyst will become more competitive.  Here are the 5 key skills to look for in a Data Analyst:

1. A good storyteller

A good data analyst needs to be able to communicate well.  There’s no value in learning an exciting and powerful insight on a business if you aren’t able to articulate it in a way that non-data analysts don’t understand.

2. A little bit nerdy

The exploratory nature of data science means your DA must be able to code.  You need an analyst who isn’t afraid to look for a needle in a data haystack.

3. Mathy, but not too mathy

A comfortable understanding of mathematics, statistics and the workings of modern day Data Analytics models is essential.  There would be some value in having a deep understanding of the mathematical basis behind all (some field of maths) but a person’s brain is only so big and…

4. A little bit designy

Great communication skills are crucial and part of this includes being able to present answers visually.  A good data analyst must be comfortable with at least one of the main BI tools.  They should be able to create a dashboard or series of dashboards that intuitively and elegantly present their answers/findings to an audience.

5. Has an inquisitive

Not every DA project succeeds.  In fact, a high proportion fail.  However, the key is not to concentrate on failure but to use the outcomes to narrow your future focus.  A good DA will explore these results and use them as scouting exercises.  Who knows?  One path may lead to your very own Holy Grail.


This combination of technical ability and communication skills is hard to come by.  Your DA will ideally be an all-rounder.  The phrase, ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ springs to mind.

However, remember that these skills can also be developed and complemented by others.

A DA with a deep specialisation in Machine Learning, but poor interpersonal skills will be of value but will need to have their communication style developed or alternatively be paired with someone more articulate.

Here’s a great article from 2014 which is still very relevant today: Data Science Skill Sets Explained

So even though you’re very unlikely to find an all-rounder data analyst and design soloist wunderkind, you can solve your data problems with a team of quality coders, mathematicians and people who are adept with BI tools, curious about data and are great communicators.