Business analysts, also known as management analysts, work for all kinds of businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. While job functions can vary depending on the position, the work of business analysts involves studying business processes and operating procedures in search of ways to improve an organization's operational efficiency and achieve better performance. Business analysts work with management to devise new or enhanced systems and work processes designed to reduce or eliminate inefficiencies, reduce costs and improve the firm's competitive position in the market.
Many large organizations have business analysts on staff who continuously monitor operations and devise and implement process improvements. Business analysts also work as external consultants, providing targeted analysis and recommendations to organizations on a short-term contractual basis. Business analysts who work in consulting firms often specialize in an industry, such as health care or manufacturing, or develop expertise in a specific business area, such as supply chain management or information systems management. Organizations also hire business analysts for assistance in planning and executing a major business project, such as moving into a foreign market or developing an e-business strategy.
Many business analysts begin their careers working in entry-level business positions related to their undergraduate degrees. Work experience provides young professionals with a better understanding of how businesses operate from the inside, which is invaluable to the work of analyzing and improving business processes. With sufficient experience and good performance, a young professional can move into a junior business analyst position. Some choose instead to return to school to get master's degrees before beginning work as business analysts in large organizations or consultancies.
With greater experience and expertise, business analysts can move into more senior positions with greater responsibility and influence. A senior analyst may be responsible for a team of professionals planning and executing a business process redesign or another complicated project. The best-qualified, top-performing business analysts can move into high-level management positions in companies and other organizations. High-performing consultants may rise into leadership positions in their firms or strike out on their own to start new consultancies.
Most entry-level business analyst positions require at least a bachelor's degree. However, since there are few undergraduate programs in the United States designed specifically to train business analysts, most employers look for job candidates with degrees in business disciplines. Subjects such as business administration, business analytics and business information systems are good options for jobs in this field, as are business degrees in operations management, human resources, logistics, finance and accounting.
Many employers hiring for senior analyst or consultant positions, or looking to promote within the organization, look for candidates who hold master's degrees in business administration (MBAs) or other relevant business fields. It's not uncommon for junior analysts to return to school for master's degrees after several years of experience working in the field. However, a master's degree is not generally an absolute requirement for advancement. Sufficient work experience, specialized knowledge and a record of high performance may suffice for a job candidate who does not hold a master's degree.
Two major certifications figure prominently in the business analyst profession. The International Institute of Business Analysis offers the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) designation to analysts with at least 7,500 hours of qualifying work experience in the previous 10 years. To obtain the CBAP designation, candidates must also complete at least 21 hours of professional development training and pass a written exam. As this certification is designed specifically for experienced professionals, it is generally considered a qualification for advancement into more senior positions in the field.
The Institute of Management Consultants USA administers the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation, a professional certification for experienced business analysts who work as consultants. Basic certification is available to candidates who have bachelor's degrees, three to nine years of qualifying management consulting experience and at least five satisfactory evaluations from past consulting clients. To obtain the CMC designation, candidates must pass an oral exam and a written exam. This certification is considered a qualification for senior analyst positions in consulting companies and other organizations. Independent consultants also pursue the certification as a marker of professionalism and experience.