A business analyst (BA) has one of the most crucial jobs in the modern enterprise: leveraging data analytics to bridge the gap between IT and business. In doing so, they engage with business leaders and users to better understand how data-driven changes to process, products, services, software, and hardware can improve efficiencies and add value.
For many, a BA job is an entry point into the business world. But as they expand their knowledge and skills, it becomes time to contemplate career and salary growth.
We spoke to a number of current and former business analysts, as well as career specialists and those who work with BAs regularly, to find out how you can charge up your career and boost your salary as a BA. There are a number of routes to a bigger payday, some of which involve staying put in your current job and others involve moving on. But you’ll begin the journey by applying to your own professional life some of the skills you normally use to help your clients.
1. Gather data
As a business analyst, you already spend your working days closely examining data to make business decisions. To boost your salary, why not apply those same talents to your own career to find out if you’re being underpaid?
“There are many resources available on the market to identify if your salary is competitive; two of the best are LinkedIn Insights and Glassdoor,” says Diane Davidson, owner of Clever Fox Advisory. “I would begin by searching for your current job position on LinkedIn in the open jobs section and seeing the compensation that LinkedIn is proposing.”
This process involves more than just searching for “business analyst” and writing down the first number that comes up, of course. “The title ‘business analyst’ is vague and can have a wide range of salaries,” says Lindsay Francis, a business analyst in the publishing industry in New York City. “It’s important to know the market rate of business analysts in your specific industry or department.”
In fact, this data gathering phase can be eye opening for business analysts who may not know how much more (or less) they could be making at a different company or industry. “The truth is that a business analyst can be paid twice as much if they work for the big five tech companies,” says Dr. Maria Mirzaei, a career and leadership consultant who started her career as a business analyst. “If you are checking the job offers, make sure you are comparing your job to a similar one in a similar company. Most entrepreneurial companies pay business analysts half of the salary they’d see in big tech — with the exception of tech startups in Silicon Valley, which usually pay a similar wage.”
And to be fully armed for any job search or salary negotiation, you’ll want to turn that data lens on yourself as well. “One of the best ways to ask for a raise or promotion is to compile a list of your achievements in the past year and produce a cost/benefit analysis,” says Davidson. “For example, if you worked on software implementation and it ended up saving the company $200,000 a year, you could attribute a portion of your efforts to that cost savings. If you were one of ten full-time members on the team, attribute $20,000 (10%) of the cost savings to yourself. This builds the case for the raise and justifies the dollar amount.”
2. Don’t be afraid to ask
Experts we talked to almost universally said that, if you’ve crunched the numbers and think you have a good case for a raise, you should be proactive about seeking one out and be specific about what you want.
“I firmly believe in suggesting a percentage increase or asking the company for the promotion instead of deferring to the company to make the suggestion,” Davidson says. “By presenting the raise or promotion, you portray that you are confident and serious in your request. My motto is, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease.’”
While the thought of asking your boss for a raise may be nerve wracking, particularly for those early in their careers, it shouldn’t be, says Francis. “Managers value loyal employees and want you to succeed,” she says. “You may be pleasantly surprised after having a salary conversation.”
And many organizations have a typical internal cadence of recurring evaluations that will make it clear when you should make this ask, says Anton Derkach, delivery manager of Intellectsoft. “Once or twice a year, they set individual goals, track achievements, and review financial compensation based on results,” he explains. “By all means, it is worth taking advantage of this process as a classic tool for career development and growth. It is the most transparent and straightforward way, plus you’ll have all you need to negotiate a raise: stats, results, and a manager ready for the conversation.”
3. Make yourself bankable
Let’s say you’ve evaluated the data and have concluded you aren’t quite in a place to ask for that raise yet. Or maybe you feel like you deserve one, but your department is unable or unwilling to come through with the salary boost. Matt Collingwood, managing director VIQU, says there are short- to medium-term steps you can take to improve your prospects. He’s worked in IT recruitment for more than 20 years and has found positions for hundreds of business analysts.
“Some of the most successful business analysts I have worked with invest a significant amount of time and effort into personal development,” Collingwood says. “They will often read books and attend external workshops to improve their skills and abilities. One BA who VIQU has placed into a number of positions and has seen their career flourish told us they spend five hours each week on personal development. They will often mention this at the interview stage, which has always impressed potential new employers. This personal development can also include softer skills, such as people development and effective communication.”
If you’re looking to establish yourself as a high earner in the long term, it may paradoxically pay off to forego big professional paydays in the shorter term and instead pursue opportunities for learning and professional growth. As Mirzaei puts it, “You have more flexibility in a smaller, entrepreneurial environment, which you usually don’t have when working for big tech companies such as Google or Facebook.”
“Salary and rate are important, but balance that off with the experience you’ll be gaining,” urges Collingwood. “We have seen some business analysts take up new posts because they pay an excellent salary, but they have found themselves working in legacy environments, often learning little and applying dull working practices. Those working for progressive companies can get exposure to the latest technologies and market trends, which can catapult their value significantly. I know of one BA in the CMS space who would only chase down cutting-edge projects and employers, and he’s always in demand as clients see his skills and experience as being 12 months ahead of his competition.”
The tale of the CMS ninja points to one very bankable quality in a business analyst: specialization. While generalists have their place, companies looking to hire or retain talent often want business analysts who truly know their business and are familiar with all the ins and outs of their specific economic sector.
“We’ve seen those who truly specialize as business analysts in vertical sectors or horizontal technologies earn 20% more than generalist BAs when it comes to permanent salaries,” says Collingwood. “They bring increased skills, experience, case studies, and knowledge to their employers. Often this can quickly improve processes and products, and in turn deliver a better return on investment and market edge for the company.”
Collingwood tells of a management accountant who specialized in the upstream petrochemical industry. Because of his depth of knowledge from the user perspective, he was able to shift to a BA team. “He fast tracked his career over graduates and juniors who joined as BAs simply because of his user knowledge. This saw him secure various promotions and the top-level pay grade for his position,” Collingwood says.
5. Consider an internal move
If you feel your current position is a salary dead-end, you may have other opportunities within your organization. “Sometimes, teams are unable to give out promotions or pay raises due to their budgets,” says Francis, the BA working in publishing. “It is not always necessary to leave a company in order to receive an increase in salary; switching to another team is also an option if promotions are unavailable.”
You may also find yourself promoted to a new job at your company that keeps you within the business analyst world but brings new responsibilities and challenges. “Traditionally, analytics has two promotion tracks: vertical and horizontal,” says Intellectsoft’s Derkach. “The vertical track entails training and mentoring junior employees, supervising, and optimizing the business analysis process. If you go down this road, you have the full potential to manage the entire business analysis department. It is a long-term development plan, which requires long-term fruitful work in the same company, and happens organically. The shorter-term way is horizontal, where the analyst can assist in interactions with the client or business unit.”
6. Lay the groundwork for an external move
If you think your higher-paying future lies somewhere other than with your current employer, you need to build up your network and not be shy about showing off your skills. “Business analysts by their very nature are good at working with users and stakeholders at all levels,” says VIQU’s Collingwood. “In addition to doing your job, make sure these skills are used to fly your own flag. BAs should use the opportunity to network and stand out. Often, when senior stakeholders take up new posts elsewhere, you want them to reach out to you directly when they are hiring. Connect with them on LinkedIn and make the effort to keep in touch. The best BAs are often invited back to return to employers, or approached by their former managers and stakeholders throughout their careers.”
7. Consider your BA job a foundation, not a destination
Ultimately, you may decide the best route to a higher salary is to move on from being a business analyst. Mirzaei outlines the “classic paths” that BAs typically take as they move into different areas.
“There’s the old-fashioned choice of sales managers, or a newer and trendy choice of tech and data engineering,” she explains. “Both paths are paid better than business analysis. In the sales case, you are usually on some sort of commission plan that is directly connected to your sales results; in the engineering case, not only is the monthly salary higher, but because these kinds of engineers are hard to find, companies usually provide other perks such as stocks and shares as well.”
Mirzaei also sees BAs moving into project management — “though a project manager position is not as sexy as a sales manager or data engineer, and the role is becoming extinct in many new tech companies,” she says.
If you do decide to move on, that doesn’t mean your time in the BA world has been wasted; in fact, you’re likely to look back at it being crucial to your career. “I loved being a business analyst,” says Nikki Coates, who held the job about fifteen years ago. “The traditional promotion route after that in the org I worked for was to project management, but the skill sets are not at all the same.”
Today, she has what she calls a “weird consultancy-esque job as an in-house policy expert” at a regulatory agency in the United Kingdom. “My business analyst experience has been extremely helpful,” she says, “because I have learned to ask the telling question.” That’s surely the kind of skill that will help boost your salary no matter where you end up.
Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.