The term business intelligence isn't new; yet BI has become more crucial (as well as complex), as artificial intelligence (AI), predictive analytics and customer personalization are incorporated into the ever-changing digital transformation landscape.
Companies of all sizes face challenges with some aspect of data, according to a February 2020 report from CompTIA. "The classic 3 Vs of big data -- volume, variety and velocity -- require companies to think holistically about their data structure, data siloes and data management on the back end. Optimizing these elements is the conduit to more insightful, actionable and real-time analysis and reporting on the back end. While [no one individual will] typically be responsible for all these elements, a BI professional is an integral piece of the puzzle in bringing value to the organization."
CompTIA analysis of job posting data from Burning Glass Technologies Labor Insights reveals nearly 21,000 job postings among U.S. employers for BI analysts during Q1 2020, an increase of 20% from Q1 2019. Listings for business intelligence architect/developer rose 50% to more than 21,000 and postings for data/data mining analyst increased 19% to more than 25,000.
Other job titles in this field include BI engineers, BI project managers, BI directors and BI consultants. This list is far from exhaustive, however.
The Skills You Need for a Business Intelligence Job
"Business intelligence" is so broad that it touches on just about every company, many departments within those companies, and employees with different job titles and a vast assortment of skills. BI refers to the processes, architectures and technologies that enable raw data to be transformed into actionable insights so that business leaders can make informed decisions. However, the processes and technologies organizations employ vary from firm to firm.
Tim Herbert, executive vice president for research and market intelligence at CompTIA, points to three components to BI job duties: data, analytics and reporting. "The data component typically requires a BI professional to understand, manage and sometimes create the processes for collecting, storing, structuring, cleaning and anything else to make data usable for analytics," Herbert explains. "The analytics component may entail trending analysis of data over time, developing summary metrics, applying descriptive statistics and related [steps].
"Lastly, the reporting function entails equipping company executives and business unit staff with actionable data to make smart business decisions. Over the years, this has meant moving away from long, static reports to shorter data visualizations, online dashboards or other real-time data reporting applications."
Success in business intelligence and related fields requires myriad technology skills, such as computer programming and database familiarity, as well as soft skills, such as interpersonal skills. The software, hardware and services needed for BI success change over time. So, professionals seeking positions related to BI should be versed in state-of-the-art as well as emerging BI technologies, tools and practices.
Good analytical skills are necessary for deciphering large amounts of data and transforming it into actionable information to make the right decisions to boost company profits. Gathering data and mastering statistical and analytical tools for data extraction and interpretation are also essential and require professionals knowledgeable in database management, data queries, coding data, drawing inferences, applying scientific methods to gathering data, quantitative analysis, SQL programming, establishing benchmarks, identifying and measuring correlations, classifying data and strategic planning.
BI professionals must also be adept at describing the data, explaining their analysis and offering potential solutions. Communicating clearly and effectively is important because they need to be able to explain complex technical information to non-BI professionals. BI professionals may also have to persuade others to adopt ideas, manage projects or spearhead brainstorming sessions. Their skill list might include technical writing, pitching proposals, making presentations, facilitating group discussions and teamwork, and conveying complex information in clear terms.
Tips to Prepare for the Interview Process
When you're invited to interview for a BI job, what's the best way to get ready? Do some research and strategizing ahead of time so that you can comfortably answer general questions about the BI field and your background. Research the company online and request a description of the potential job, the organization or client for which you'll be working. Review key BI skills that the company might require and spend some time thinking about how yours match up. Look for clues about the company's BI strategy.
You'll undoubtedly learn more about the organization and its needs as you interview with different people at the company, but here are key questions to think about before your interviews.
1. What is your definition of "business intelligence?"
"Business intelligence" is an umbrella term and refers to roles that are continuously evolving, so interviewees should be prepared to offer their definition of the term to show that they understand the field, its importance and how it is changing.
Be familiar with textbook definitions for BI, but consider adding your own twist, potentially by discussing your experience in applying BI processes and tools.
Be aware of key elements of BI, including query generation, data mining, data modeling (including fact tables) and analysis, creation of dashboards and visualization charts, and production of analytics reports. Make sure you are up-to-speed on recent and emerging developments in the field.
It might also be worth distinguishing between business intelligence and data science, a different but closely related data analytics field. According to Dataversity: "While BI helps interpret past data, data science can analyze the past data (trends or patterns) to make future predictions. BI is mainly used for reporting or descriptive analytics; whereas data science is more used for predictive analytics or prescriptive analytics." Knowing both terms might be helpful because some BI jobs may incorporate elements of data science, or the BI professional might work closely with the data scientist.
2. Why is business intelligence important?
When you walk in for your interview, you need to be prepared to speak at length about business intelligence. This extends to what BI is important, as you need to be able to contextualize your job in the bigger picture of the business.
Business intelligence is important because it can help improve all parts of a company through data. By improving access to the organization's data, BI can translate data into valuable insights into business processes. These insights can help leaders make informed decisions that lead to better efficiency and productivity, which fuel revenue and growth.
Business intelligence tools can help organizations:
- Improve decision-making with data-driven insights
- Identify market trends
- Identify weak points in their business operations
- Increase efficiency of operations and internal processes
- Gain advantages over market competitors
When preparing for this question, reading about current events and emerging trends in BI technology can be a good way to help form a strong answer.
3. What interests you most about the BI field?
Companies are looking for individuals who are committed to a data-oriented culture and enthusiasm over BI's potential. You might describe BI's benefits such as improving decision-making, operational efficiencies, and top- and bottom-line growth as well as providing competitive advantages. A follow-up question might be how to apply BI's benefits to the company for which you are interviewing.
Another way interviewees might show enthusiasm for the field is to discuss how it is evolving, with BI software becoming more collaborative, proactive, insightful and better equipped to handle big data as well as fostering more automation and greater integration with other key platforms. Show an interest in where an interviewer stands regarding recent trends in mobile business intelligence or AI adoption, for example.
Citing trends can also make a positive impression with the interviewer. A few current BI trends include:
- BI teams are becoming more diversified, including business-side users among the BI developers, architects, analysts and data scientists.
- Many organizations are now starting to replace Waterfall development methods with Agile development. Agile breaks up BI development projects -- which are delivered to BI analysts to use -- into smaller pieces. These pieces are delivered iteratively. Agile allows businesses to implement new functionalities faster and make refinements or modifications in response to business needs (which are subject to change).
4. What can you tell me about yourself and the BI projects you have worked on?
Use this and other questions regarding your background to discuss BI-related projects you've been involved in. Discuss current or recent BI roles you've had or would like to have as well as what you've learned or would like to learn. Mention degrees, internships, bootcamps and certification programs that are relevant to the job.
Advanced degrees are not typically required to be considered for full-time BI analyst positions; BI analysts do need undergraduate degrees, however. Common areas of study for BI analysts include business administration, IT, data science, engineering and other related fields.
Make sure to emphasize any courses that offered relevant skills and experience, such as:
- Data collection, analysis, visualization, architecture
- Business strategy
- Risk mitigation
- Accounting software
When giving an overview of your background, avoid getting bogged down with extraneous details. You might focus on the present and future -- and briefly touch on the distant past.
5. Which BI tools do you have experience using? Which ones are you interested in learning more about?
For technical interviews, candidates will likely be asked specifics about the tools they use. The required tools are typically outlined in the job description. According to Simplilearn, the top 5 BI tools are:
Other tools include:
- IBM Cognos
- Oracle Business Intelligence
- SAP HANA
- SAP BW
- Tibco Jaspersoft
- Zoho Analytics
Interviewers will ask this question to understand the time and resources needed for a candidate to be productive. During the interview, be honest about which tools you have or haven't used. If you do have experience with the tool(s) in question, share your level of expertise. If you don't have any experience, ask the interviewer if this itself is a deal breaker. Make sure to include any other business intelligence tools that you do have experience with, and mention any areas of overlap between these tools, which can flatten the learning curve. If you have solid experience with multiple other business intelligence tools and mention that you are a quick learner, then your interviewer will have more confidence in your ability to bridge the learning gap and become a productive member of their team.
6. Which tools and skills are you interested in learning through this position?
While interviewing for positions, it's important for you to communicate your desire to learn and improve your business intelligence analysis skills. The last thing an interviewer wants to see is a potential employee that's complacent with their skill set.
To answer this question, pick two or three and be prepared to explain how it fits into your interest and goals. Potential answers might include dashboard design, database management, advanced statistics and analytics, and Python or other programming languages.
7. What is included on a business intelligence dashboard display?
This question seems intuitive, but a novice might not be able to answer this question at the top of their heads. A BI dashboard displays on a single screen the status of business analytics metrics, KPIs and important data points for an organization, department, team or process.
8. What is the biggest technical challenge you have faced in your career? How did you address this challenge, and what did you learn?
When asked this question, explain clearly about a BI challenge with which you are familiar so that potential employers can gain insight into the thought processes that you might put into identifying problems and contributing factors, proposing alternatives and estimating costs to address them. Employers might be wary of candidates who cannot come up with any challenges they have faced.
Now for some hard questions. When asked to provide some of the toughest questions that could be lobbed at a candidate during an interview for a BI role, Paul Farnsworth, chief technology officer at DHI Group, Inc., parent company of Dice, offered the following:
- Explain the difference between Kimball, Inmon and Data Vault data warehouse designs, and give examples of when you would use each.
- Explain the following three things: common table expressions (CTEs) vs. temp table vs. physical staging table. Give examples of when you would use each.
- Databases have come a long way with features for analytics-focused databases. How do you tune for analytic performance in modern database solutions?
- Explain the benefits of cloud data warehouses (Redshift, Snowflake, BigQuery, etc.) vs. on-premises solutions.
- Explain the following and what role each one serves in the data warehouse ecosystem:
- Explain some of the different types of slowly changing dimensions.
9. What is the biggest non-technical challenge you faced? How did you deal with this, and what lessons did you take away from this?
BI professionals must also be adept at describing the data, explaining their analyses and providing potential solutions. They may also have to persuade others to adopt ideas, manage projects or spearhead brainstorming sessions. Their skill list might include technical writing, pitching proposals, making presentations, facilitating group discussions and teamwork, and conveying complex information in clear terms.
Whether you are answering a technical or non-technical question, always try to distinguish yourself from others and explain why the company should hire you -- without being conceited, insincere or dishonest.
Interview Advice and Questions by Position
Not all jobs pertaining to BI are alike. Each job opportunity and interview are different, particularly in this broad field. The requirements will be different, depending on the job title, company size and culture, industry sector and the candidate's experience. While some jobs may only incorporate a few elements of BI, others may be fully immersed in it.
Although some interview questions may be tailored for specific positions, keep in mind that a job title is often in the eye of the beholder. The interpretation of job duties for different titles varies and job categories may overlap. So, it is worth looking at advice for related BI jobs.
Glassdoor offers guidance to those seeking BI analyst positions, but the following suggestion might benefit those applying for related BI positions: brush up on financial math and SQL skills and learn about the company's competitive space. Glassdoor also notes that "a few years of experience and a degree in business, finance or computer science is required."
The same might apply to questions regarding tools. Power BI is a popular tool not just for BI analysts, but also others focused on data modeling. According to Edureka, users of Microsoft Power BI might be asked about Data Transformation Services (DTS) and SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) components and architecture, and control flow and data flow.
Other questions for BI analyst positions require knowledge and skills in a scripting language such as Python or a programming language like R, advanced Tableau desktop and server abilities, and advanced Excel skills, according to 365 Data Science. 10. What is your experience in systems development life cycle (SDLC) and user acceptance testing (UAT)?
The introduction of new software to a business needs to be well thought out, tested and deployed effectively. BI analysts should be able to facilitate this process efficiently.
11. How do you feel about Agile software development for BI projects?
Agile software development has been well-received for encouraging collaboration with an organization's clients and the end users, which helps cross-functional projects to run more smoothly. However, some companies prefer more traditional structured development methodologies. Try to learn the company's position on Agile before sharing your opinion.
365 Data Science recommends tempering your answer as follows: "Agile software development is much more collaborative in comparison to other software development models. I believe Agile can be the best solution in many projects. However, maybe that's not always the case. That said, I'd love to get familiar with the methodologies employed here. At the end of the day, it's the end results that matter most, and not the methodologies behind the projects."
12. How do you define "benchmarking," and why is it important?
Benchmarking refers to the evaluation and comparison of an organization's business processes to those of its competitors. These insights will help the organization establish standards and improvements its business performance. BI analysts would study processes and metrics such as product development and manufacturing procedures.
Another job title, BI developer, often refers to those who build and maintain financial and market-related data warehouses to generate reports to facilitate business decision-making. Candidates need strong data analysis skills and the ability to design and maintain data warehouses, according to Betterteam, which also recommends these questions for BI developer interviews:
- Which reporting tools do you prefer and why?
- How would you analyze information for data warehousing?
- What type of data warehouse system do you prefer and why?
- How would you handle a situation where a customer made a bad business decision based on one of your reports and blamed you for the business loss?
- What do you predict will happen in the financial market in the foreseeable future?
Meanwhile, BI architects often focus on data and reporting related to designing and implementing the infrastructure, applications and reporting tools for supporting the BI function. However, exact duties may depend on company size; larger firms may have a dedicated BI architect, but in small- and medium-sized firms, one person may be responsible for the BI, business analysis and architecture roles.
Glassdoor posted some questions an environmental services company asked a candidate for a BI architect position:
- Describe a situation where the recommendations that you made for the project were accepted and the situation where they were not accepted and the reason why they were not accepted.
- Describe a situation where you resolved conflicts between business analysts and yourself, and how. How did you resolve the conflicts with the data analysts?
For management-related titles, such as BI project manager or BI project director, candidates may be asked to discuss their management styles. One good tactic is to say that your strategy depends on the situation -- and then give an example. As part of a discussion on management style you might also bring up the importance of building teams, and again, try to provide an example.
Other questions for BI job candidates might relate to the vertical industry in which they work or hope to work. This might include capabilities in industry trend analysis, comprehending professional literature, identifying best practices, the ability to develop relationships with industry experts, having a clear understanding how economic cycles affect the industry sector and participating in industry-focused meetings.
Don't forget to ask some questions of your own. Prepare a few questions ahead of time and come up with questions during the interview. If you haven't already done so, you might ask about BI challenges the company faces or plans for future projects. If you forget to ask a question, you can ask it in a follow-up interview. Be flexible and be ready for potential interview curveballs.
13. Tell me what you think about our product/service.
Be sure to plan out a thoughtful answer to this question as part of your interview preparation. This is a common question that interviewers like to ask -- both to gauge out a potential employee's level of passion and interest for that specific position -- and to assess the candidate's research skills and general preparedness.
The worst answer to this question is a short or unsubstantiated response. Interviewers are looking for candidates who want to work for their company specifically, as opposed to just any business intelligence analyst position.
To answer this question, try to research this company as thoroughly as possible. You can visit the company's website, search them on Google News and read about the company on Glassdoor. You can even use LinkedIn to familiarize yourself with other positions in the company. Try to understand what the company values in employees, and the direction the company is trying to move in.
This question will require critical thinking, so state your opinion and don't shy away from being honest.
When preparing to negotiate a company's offer, it's important to be ready with the proper knowledge. You should know the salary range and average salary for similar positions. For 2020, these are a few average salaries for BI analysts according to leading job recruitment sites:
- According to Indeed, the average BI analyst salary is $ 95,342.
- According to Glassdoor, the average BI analyst salary is $76,402
- Recruiter.com's salary range is $70,000-$90,000
It's important to know that these numbers factor in all experience and seniority levels. Analysts receiving their first BI job offer can expect a salary closer to the bottom of the range, while more experienced BI analysts can expect a salary closer to the higher part of the range. Along with experience level, salary ranges may vary according to location. Areas with high costs of living tend to have higher salaries.
When negotiating the salary for an offer, be sure to emphasize any value that you can provide beyond the basic job requirements. For example, if you possess relevant technical expertise beyond what is expected for the position's seniority level, that can provide leverage for a higher salary.
When building a case to negotiate your salary, your case should be based on evidence. Expect to face some resistance, and make sure to find the proper balance between being firm and flexible.