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The Soft Skill that Drives Your Analytics Team

January 10, 2013 – Among all of the data crunching skills and experience with cutting-edge platforms, the soft skill of curiosity seems to be the one that makes for solid analytics professionals, according to a new assessment of analytic professional demographics and characteristics.

In "the 2012 Analytics Professionals Study,” the International Institute for Analytics and vendor Talent Analytics, Corp. broke down the demographic makeup of analytic employees and teams, and passed along recommendations for expected enterprise needs. The survey parsed responses from 302 analytics professionals across various enterprises in the summer of 2012.

Across all analytic positions, the top workplace characteristic found in the survey was “curiosity.” The best and brightest enterprise analytics teams will be able to spot those curious candidates or interested in-house employees for growing data teams, says Greta Roberts, IIA faculty and CEO of Talent Analytics.

“It will be important for business to move beyond being dazzled by software skills and learn how to identify and hire analytic talent from within their own company as well – there is a lot of untapped talent already under the same roof. That said, there will always be a demand for smart, well-educated, good workers – it's not a crisis so much as the business or human condition,” she says.

The survey broke analytic careers into four clusters, based on how respondents spent most of their working time: data preparation (focus on acquisition, preparation and analytics); programmer (primarily programming and related analytics); management (including administration, presentation and design); and generalist, which was a bit of everything. Generalists and managers were much more likely to hold advanced degrees than programmers, who carried less work experience and degrees in mostly math-based fields.

Throughout these four cluster groups, use of R, spreadsheets and commercial software far outnumbered regular use of platforms like Hadoop, which Roberts attributed to the differences in business experimentation with data rather than general interest in “the latest and greatest technology.”

Of those surveyed, 57 percent were younger than 40, 72 percent were male, and degrees were predominately in business or mathematics/statistics. In addition, 88 percent of those surveyed had been at their present analytics position for less than five years. The IT industry in general is no stranger to change and evolution, and Roberts says analytics roles have commonalities with most IT jobs in terms of having a younger workforce. But analytics stands apart from IT due to the rate of “change and self-definition,” Roberts says.

“New methods, algorithms, and data types are constantly changing the way that analytics is seen and practiced. It might be compared to the advent of the personal computer and the historical shift from mainframes in IT,” says Roberts.

Roberts offered these four suggestions for nailing down curious, creative analytic talent:

Build your analytics brand. Analytics professionals want to solve interesting problems and will be drawn to interesting work. Get the word out about the interesting analytics problems you’re solving.  Mention the kind of challenges they’ll be asked to work on in job ads and on interviews.  They’ll be drawn to this work.  Interesting problems to solve are kind of like a duck call to an analytics professional.

Begin to systematically create a close, proactive relationship with colleges and universities. Learn to know the professors in the Physics, Math, Statistics and Computer Science departments, hold info sessions throughout the year and sponsor computer clubs. When it comes time to have career fairs the students will flock to you since they know you and the work you’re doing.

Have some of your analytics professionals attend “meet-up groups” where they might be able to spread the word about open analytics positions.

When it is clear that the role requires some natural traits (DNA) your team simply doesn’t have, as-a-service is a great option. But, make sure you’re hiring as-a-service DNA and not skills.

The new analytic employee assessment is a microcosm of a career that carries different definitions, but little doubt over hiring. Reports on the number of jobs in need across analytic practice areas waver in the millions, and universities are reaching across degree programs to present rounded degree options that reflect real-world capabilities.

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