In the current business climate, skilled data analysts are some of the most sought-after professionals in the world. Because the demand is so strong, and the supply of people who can truly do this job well is so limited, data analysts command huge salaries and excellent perks, even at the entry level.

Data analysts take mountains of data and probe it to spot trends, make forecasts and extract information to help their employers make better-informed business decisions. Data analysts work for a diverse mix of companies. Any company that uses data for reasons that include making investment decisions, targeting the right customers or deciding to whom they should lend money is a potential employer for a data analyst.

Demand has reached a point where well-known universities, recognizing this job market opportunity, are implementing programs focused on big data. Arizona State University and the University of Georgia offer majors in data analysis. Jobs in the field are plentiful, salaries are high and the career paths you can take are abundant.

Data Analyst Qualifications

Graduating from a data analysis program, particularly if you have a strong grade point average and a high ranking in your class, should lead to an entry-level data analysis position without much trouble. Even a less-focused degree in mathematics, statistics or economics from a reputable university is enough to get your foot in the door. Though the job is entry-level, the pay is more than seasoned professionals in most fields make. The most sought-after data analyst candidates earn $125,000 or more during their first year out of college.

Experienced professionals can make double or more what an entry-level data analyst makes. Experience can come from working as an entry-level analyst or from a related field, such as investment analysis. However, education is the most important thing on your resume when applying for a data analyst job. Few people get hired without strong academic performances in math-related fields of study.

Data Analyst Career Paths

The career path you take as a data analyst depends in large part on your employer. Data analysts work on Wall Street at big investment banks, hedge funds and private equity firms. However, they also find employment at large insurance companies, credit bureaus, technology firms and throughout almost any industry you can think of. Big tech companies such as Facebook and Google analyze big data to a dizzying degree. To do so, they employ many of the top data analysts.

At financial institutions such as investment banks, the management track is the most common career path analysts take from the entry level. If you prove that you are among the best of your hire group, your superiors are going to look to you as someone who can shepherd the next group of hires that come in. Prove yourself in management, and you could be looking at a career as a department head or vice president.

The dynamic tends to be the same at big insurance companies and in fields such as health care. Advancing in your career as a data analyst means assuming responsibility for others and having their successes and failures ultimately fall on your shoulders.

Technology companies are unique because as technology changes rapidly, the dynamic of the company often changes as well. Departments are constantly being created to tackle new challenges and pursue new market opportunities. Data analysts who excel in their existing roles are usually the first ones to be chosen to be leaders when new departments are created. This provides an opportunity to lead others, and it allows you to take ownership in a segment of the company.