No Smokescreen Area: Tips for Hiring Analysts

May 10, 2011
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Lately there’s been talk about a shortage of analytic talent.  The perception that there is a shortage of analysts surprises me, since I know many capable analysts who are looking for work. What’s more, as a former corporate trainer and university instructor, I’ve seen that many people can become effective analysts given the right training. So where’s the shortage?

Lately there’s been talk about a shortage of analytic talent.  The perception that there is a shortage of analysts surprises me, since I know many capable analysts who are looking for work. What’s more, as a former corporate trainer and university instructor, I’ve seen that many people can become effective analysts given the right training. So where’s the shortage?

Reports claiming a shortage of analytic talent look a lot like a smokescreen for other issues. Hiring processes are now centered on automated keyword search and commission-based third-party recruitment. The vast majority of recruiters are simply unfamiliar with analytics. Some managers expect that any list of keywords and checkboxes will be fulfilled. And there are even analysts out there feeding the fire – claiming that a good data analyst must have a PhD, or that hardly any analysts with business sense are available, or that business understanding is innate and cannot be taught. What a lot of nonsense!

Let’s look at it from the hiring side. You’re in the market to hire a data analyst. How are you going to go about it? Heaven help you if you just read one of the bestsellers on analytics published in the past few years – there’s precious little concrete advice in those.  Maybe you’re expecting a recruiter to find the right candidates for you. What direction will you give the recruiter? What relevant knowledge does your recruiter have? Are you paying the recruiter on commission? If so, what’s the incentive for that recruiter to spend time on the unfamiliar process of finding you a data analyst when there are easier and more lucrative searches to be done?

If you want analytics help, you’re going to have to think it through. Nobody can do it for you. If you don’t properly assess your own needs and goals, you will have no adequate way to determine what you need from an analyst, and your hiring process will flounder.

You can find the right talent if you are prepared to ask the right questions. For starters, ask questions of yourself! Questions like these:

Why do you need an analyst?

What is the value of analytics to your business?

What do you require that you and your current staff cannot do?

What options do you have for fulfilling those requirements?

Self-inquiry sets the stage for your search. If you don’t clearly understand your own needs, how would you expect anyone to fulfill them?

Why do you need an analyst?

What do you want out of this? Is your business facing some problem that you want to address, such as high customer acquisition costs, a reduction in profits or poor response rates for your promotions? Is business going well enough, but you believe there is some opportunity that you’re missing, such as a new market?

What is the value of analytics to your business?

Estimate the value to your business of addressing each of the needs you’ve identified. You shouldn’t invest a million dollars to solve a half-million dollar problem, and it’s just as foolish to resist spending to address problems that are draining revenues from your company.

What do you require that you and your current staff cannot do?

Do you know what steps are needed to address your problem, but lack time (yours or your staff’s) to do it? Or do you need guidance, because analytics in general, or perhaps just the specific type of analysis you need right now, is new to you?

What options do you have for fulfilling those requirements?

Is this a total start-from-scratch situation or just overflow? Perhaps you could take advantage of resources you have already if you were willing to reconsider priorities or get the right training for your current staff. If you have no analytic talent in-house, what do you want most, quick advice (which might be an indicator for using a consultant) or internal resources for the long term? Will you need someone who is best as an individual contributor or who can lead a growing team of analysts?

Asking yourself these questions will set the stage for you to define the questions specific to your own situation that will help you to outline your own requirements, and prepare you to search out and interview candidates.  The analytic talent your business needs is out there, and there are excellent analysts on the market who want to find you just as much as you want to find them.

For more on the analytics hiring process, read my article – Analytics, Schmanalytics: How to Evaluate an Analyst.

 

©2011 Meta S. Brown