How to Mentor an Aspiring Business Analyst


You walk into your local IIBA meeting and introduce yourself to a new attendee. They ask you what seems to be one of the toughest questions in the world: “How do I become a business analyst?”


How do you become a business analyst? If you are like me, you probably feel that luck played a big role in how you ended up as a business analyst. Or, like many others, you were researching careers or job techniques on the web and discovered the name for the fun stuff you had been doing all along.

But, telling someone to wait for lady luck isn’t a very helpful answer, even if it seems like an honest one. So what do you say?

First, let’s look at why there is not an easy answer to this question. Here are a few harsh realities.

  1. There are very few “entry-level” business analyst jobs.

  2. There is no one qualification that solidifies your career as a business analyst.

  3. The certifications that have value (CBAP and CCBA) require experience. This is the classic chicken-and-egg scenario – you can’t get the certification without the experience but you can’t get the experience without the …

Wait. Stop right there. In this very thinking lies the problem. Who is to say that this person standing in front of you, asking you for advice, doesn’t have a lot of valuable experience?

How to Mentor an Aspiring Business AnalystI’ve mentored several aspiring business analysts and the quality of the experience that they bring to the table might shock you.

  • My very first mentee ran a 2-day requirements workshop on his very first consulting engagement as a 100% business analyst.

  • Another mentee had her MBA and, among other impressive qualifications, had validated stakeholder requirements with over 50 subject matter experts before I helped her position herself in the business analyst job market.

  • A course participant had 25 years of professional experience in software development and change management.

Any one of these people could align their experience to the BABOK and qualify for one of the IIBA certifications. But they all had questions.

Tick. Tick. Tick. This professional is still waiting for your answer.

Now, you realize there isn’t one answer and you say realize that “it depends.” But as much as we know “it depends” we hate to say it!

Yet it’s the absolute truth. The path this person standing in front of you should take into business analysis depends. It depends on all of the following things:

  • Their career experience, whether or not it’s “business analysis” experience.

  • Their training and education.

  • Their special skills, whether they be IT skills, Six Sigma training, or expertise in insurance, just for a few starters.

  • Their tolerance for risk – do they like to sink or swim in the deep-end of the pool or would they rather start in the kiddies’ pool or somewhere in between.

  • The strength of their communication skills.

And while we’ve been thinking about why it depends, this person is still staring at you, waiting for an answer. In fact, they are getting a bit impatient.

What now? Do what business analysts do best.

Ask a question. I recommend “tell me a bit about your career background” or “what’s pulling you towards business analysis.” Do whatever you need to do to get the conversation going and get yourself off the hot seat. Because, once you discover where they are at, whether fresh out of college or brimming with impressive professional experiences you wish you could add to your resume, then you’ll be able to provide some sage advice.

That advice might include:

  • Comparing what they’ve shared about their experience to your own, so they can begin to identify with the business analysis profession.

  • Debunking common myths, such as “you need IT skills to become a BA” or “without expertise in a particular industry, you’ll never become a BA.”

  • Share your own career transition story and why it worked. (And it probably wasn’t luck. I’m guessing that you were doing more than you think to get yourself on the path to business analysis. As an example, I share my path from Quality Assurance to Business Analysis.)

If you want to go above and beyond you might also:

  • Help them perform a competency assessment. (Most aspiring BAs don’t talk the BA talk well enough to fully assess the value of their past experience. Honestly, if you weren’t here reading ModernAnalyst, would you know what “requirements elicitation” means? An aspiring BA needs help understanding that, for the most part, it’s just a fancy term for asking a bunch of questions and running meetings, things they very well may have done in different contexts.)

  • Allow them to shadow you in a meeting, on a conference call, or review some of your sample work over coffee.

  • Coach them in a variety of BA techniques and help them apply them so they can build on-the-job experiences in business analysis.

  • Review their resume and perform mock interviews to help them position the BA experiences they have to a potential employer.

Mentoring aspiring business analysts might be the most difficult work you ever do, but it’s also extremely rewarding. Thank you for your efforts in growing our profession one business analyst at a time!

Author: Laura Brandenburg is on a mission to help 50 professionals start careers in business analysis in 2012. Interested in starting a career in business analysis? Join our free email course.



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