BI For Beginners

The complete guide to hiring your first business analyst

So the time has come to hire your first business analyst but you have no idea what to do next. In this mammoth guide I'm going to share everything I learnt while building my business analyst team at my previous company.

When it comes to hiring for any position there are certain variables like supply and demand, the level of higher education in your geography, salary expectations and awareness of your brand. I'm going to do my best to cover these aspects in a way in which you can make the best decisions.

During my career I've interviewed over 80 business analysts (95% in Israel, 5% in the UK) and managed to build a killer team for my previous company. Hiring for this position is no walk in the park but with some patience, the right process and a bit of luck, you'll be just fine.

Define the role, seniority, expectations and salary range

Before you can get started you need to define the role, set expectations and decide if you are hiring a junior or senior analyst. I highly recommend coming up with an internal job description like the one I've shared below.

Company X's first senior business analyst will be responsible for serving the marketing and sales department, for helping to build the company's data processes, and to help build, train and support a growing business analyst team.

Notice how I specifically mentioned the departments the analyst will support and their seniority.

Since you're just starting the team you'll need to decide if your analyst is an all-rounder or expected to specialize. This isn't a trivial decision and it depends on a few variables, notably the size, complexity and stage of the company.

The way my manager and I decided to do it in my previous company was to start with the most business critical departments at the time which were marketing and sales, and then expand from there.

If you are looking for an analyst that will quickly need to become a team lead and manage others then you'll need to add those expectations to your list.

Lastly you'll need to know the salary range the company is willing to spend. Do your research and try your best to not limit yourself because of salary.

You'll quickly learn the salary expectations in the market during your interviews.

Define the hiring process with human resources

Anyone who has been involved in recruiting knows what a nightmare it can be. The trick is good filtering at the early stages, and a well structured process.

If you have recruiters that will help you with the early stages of the hiring process then you'll need to help them understand the process and how to filter candidates based on their resumes and over the phone. I'll help you with this shortly.

The hiring process

  1. Advertise the position
  2. Resume review
  3. Phone interview
  4. Face-to-face interview
  5. Take home test
  6. Presentation
  7. HR interview
  8. C-level / VP interview
  9. Contract review & signing

That's quite a process. Let's dive into each in more detail.

Advertise the position

The first step in the process is to get the word out that you're hiring a business analyst.

The typical channels include social media and the jobs / career page on your company's website. Make sure you spread the word internally and ask people to post on their social media channels.

The internal job description that you wrote earlier will help you create a job description for the jobs page.

Don't discount head hunting, especially if you're in a tough market with either high competition or a shortage of quality analysts. I spent hours messaging people on LinkedIn and it was a successful channel for me.

You want a continuous flow of resumes coming in so make sure you are periodically spreading the word.

Some companies will even invest in paid marketing or PR to fill in certain roles. Use whatever you have to get the word out.

Resume review

This stage of the process is where the majority of candidates get filtered out. I would typically filter out 80 - 90% of candidates at this stage.

Your list of criteria will depend on a wide range of variables from your company culture, type of business, market conditions and the goals and expectations of the role. To help you come up with this list I'll share with you the list I used for recruiting my senior business analysts.

My list includes:

Minimum of 1 year of experience

At the bare minimum 1 year of experience as a business, data, or financial analyst in a "reputable" company. I put reputable in quotations because I was quite flexible on this point. Even small, unknown companies can have very strong analyst teams and it is a mistake to dismiss someone purely on the company where they worked. With that being said, I should say that highly potential business analysts can be ruined by being exposed to bad practices and weak managers in poor companies. I use to have a "black list" of companies where time and time again the analysts I met who had previous experience at these companies were extremely poor.

Strong command of English

English was the common language across the company and since my team's main responsibility was working with management and serving their needs, this was a must. You will need to decide which language is key for your team.

Undergraduate degree in either mathematics, finance, computer science, engineer, or information systems

I'm not the biggest fan of higher education but it does act as a filter, and generally speaking individuals who have obtained a degree in any of the disciplines mentioned above are highly intelligent, and good problem solvers. You'll need to research the schools in your city which are considered top in these disciplines and keep an eye out for them when going through resumes.

Mention of tools and technologies used in the market

Mention of their experience with tools of the trade like Tableau, Domo, PowerBI, Qlikview, SiSense, etc and languages like SQL, R and Python is something I expect to see from a strong senior.

The resume stage can be brutal but be patient and you may get a wave of great candidates for the next stage in the process.

Phone interview

Once you've identified a resume that checks all your boxes you should call up the candidate and do a short phone interview.

The goal of the call is to share a bit more about the role, team, company and expectations and gauge the candidate. If the candidate doesn't raise any red flags then you should schedule a time to meet face-to-face.

Some red flags to look out for:

Asking about salary

The reply to all questions relating to salary at this stage is "salary is discussed later in the process once we've gotten to know each other a bit better". It isn't a great sign when a candidate mentions salary so early in the process. From my experience this usually indicates that the candidate is way over confident and/or delusional in terms of the salary range for the position in the market; or simply inexperienced.

Struggles to communicate

I would always talk to candidates in English since this is the language they will be using most often in their role (Hebrew is the most commonly used language in Israel). If the candidate really struggled then I'd have the tough time of explaining that the role requires a strong command of English and that unfortunately we will need to pass. This was a rarity though since all Israelis learn English.

Asking about other open positions

This one always amazed me and thankfully it is quite rare. When a candidate is asking about other open positions in the company then this usually signals that they either aren't sure what they want, or worse, are trying to get an entirely different position to the one you are hiring for. Don't waste your time and politely let the person know you'll be passing on their candidacy.

Make sure you check if the candidate is interested in the role as you define it. Spend 2 - 5 minutes talking about the day-to-day and the high level expectations of the role. You don't want to create a misunderstanding where someone who wants a different role arrives for the first interview only to leave disappointed 10 minutes later.

Face-to-face interview

The goal of the face-to-face (f2f for short) interview is to answer a short but critical list of questions. I've listed these questions below but before we get to them I want to cover the structure of the interview since this will help explain the rest of the info I've shared in this section.

Welcoming the candidate

The first step of the interview is welcoming the candidate. You should personally go and greet the candidate at the entrance of the company and introduce yourself, ask the candidate if he would like something to drink and then walk with the candidate to the designated interview room.

A tip: select a meeting room which is far from the entrance so the candidate can see a bit of the office before starting the interview.

This will help reduce some stress and make him feel more comfortable. A short walk also allows for some chit-chat which will help break the ice. If the layout and decor of your office is something you aren't proud of them ignore this tip.

Set the stage for the rest of the interview

Once you are sitting in the interview room you should cover the structure of the interview with the candidate. Simply mention that you'll start by sharing some info about the company and role, and then you want to hear from the candidate, and that you'll end with a short test. Finish by stating that at the end of the interview you'll send the candidate on their way and the candidate will hear in a day or two if he or she is moving to the next stage.

This helps the candidate to know what to expect, once again, helping to reduce stress.

Introduce the company

I like to spend a good few minutes talking about the company. I cover the history (briefly), the different departments, the goals for the company this year, any fun facts like the opening of a new office or major milestone, and of course, the product and areas of focus.

I also like to use this time to briefly cover my personal history in the company. You aren't only selling the company to the candidate but also yourself. Spend some time covering the reasoning behind why the company is building a business analyst team. Don't forget company perks (free meals, fun days, etc).

This part of the interview should take 5 - 10 minutes.

Introduce the role

This part of the interview is critical and will be the part the candidate is most interested in. You want to cover as much detail as you can. Talk about the day-to-day, people the role will interact with, working hours, type of work they will be doing, the tools they will use, skills that are used most often ("you will be writing your own SQL" as an example).

Spend some time talking about the fact that if hired the candidate will be the first member of a team that will be responsible for X, Y, Z and that the candidate will need to help grow, train and even manage.

At this stage the candidate might push back and say things like "I have very little experience in A", or "I've never worked with tool B". This is great since it will help you understand how much training you will need to give the individual or if there are any deal breakers in terms of skills. In the case of skills which can be learnt quickly, explain to the candidate that we will fill in these gaps together.

This part of the interview should take 3 - 8 minutes.

Go over the candidates previous experience and get into the details

This part of the interview aims to answer the question "can this person do the job". You should start with broad open questions about their role and responsibilities in their previous company. You may have some candidates with many years of experience at numerous companies.

I like to focus on what they did at their previous company, not the one they worked at 5 years ago. Once you start to get a sense of what they did then drill in and try and learn as much as you can about the individual's preferences and the freedom they had to work.

Try and understand if this is an ambitious, passionate person who might of been in a company that didn't allow them to flourish. Try and understand if the candidate was a leader in the organization or someone who just sat back and was given tasks.

Finally, pick one or two interesting projects and really get into the details. You want to see how involved the individual was in the project and this will also allow you to gauge their passion for the role.

An important point I want to mention is that by the end of this stage you should already have a go-no-go on the candidate in terms of your gut feel.

If it is clear this person isn't the right fit then you can speed through the rest of the stages. It is rare but once or twice I told a candidate at this point that I don't think it is a good fit and I ended the interview. This can be quite controversial and I once got into trouble from HR for releasing someone within 20 minutes of starting the interview. Make a judgement call and try and not waste the candidate's time, or your own. 

Test the candidate

Once you're more familiar with the experience of the candidate you should start asking some questions related to your company. Ask the candidate things like "assume for a moment that department X needed help with Y, and I gave you that project, what would be your approach?".

Another good one is "based on the info I shared about the company earlier, what would be your biggest concerns?". The candidate might push back and say something like, "I don't really know enough to give a good answer", tell the candidate that you understand that it is a tough questions but to try their best. This will test a few important things namely if the candidate is a good listener, and if they are familiar with key business dynamics related to your industry.

This part can go on for a good 10 - 15 minutes depending on the candidate.

"Tell me about yourself"

If at this point you are feeling good about the candidate then spend a few minutes asking some personal questions to try and get to know the candidate a bit better. This helps to humanize the experience a bit and to start building a relationship with someone that you may end up spending a lot of time with.

The candidate will appreciate this and will help to shed a positive light on both you and the company.

This part should take about 5 - 8 minutes.

The mini test

At this point the candidate should be feeling very relaxed and the vibes should be positive. This is a good time to give them a stressful test the candidate hasn't planned for.

Below I've shared 2 examples of mini tests you can use.

Next steps in the process, thank you and goodbye

If you've given the candidate a green light to move to the next phase then go a head and give the candidate the news. Explain that the next steps involve doing a home test, and a presentation in which the candidate will come back to the office and go through the answers to their test. Explain that if that step goes well then the final stages involve 2 short interviews, 1 with HR and 1 with your manager. This will help the candidate understand what lies in terms of barriers to get the job. If the candidate failed this step in the process then just simply thank the candidate for their time and remind the candidate that he will hear from the company in a day or two.

Goals of the face-to-face interview

The goal of the face-to-face (f2f for short) interview is to answer the following questions:

  • Will I be able to work with this person? - As the hiring manager you will be spending copious amounts of time with this individual. You need to get a read on their personality and determine if you'll be able to work with them.
  • Is this person the right cultural fit for the company? - Remember, you aren't just hiring someone to join your team, you're adding an important building block to your organization. You need to understand if this individual will fit into the organization.
  • Can this person do the job? - This is a critical question which must be answered at this early stage. I like to try and answer this question using two methods. The first is a ladder interview style approach where I ask the candidate to walk me through the work he or she did in their previous company. I go deeper and deeper into the details of their previous responsibilities to try and determine if this candidate is a killer who can hold their own or a push over with little passion. You may find that the candidate was surrounded by strong colleagues and never had to put their neck on the line. You might find that the candidate was shielded from the real work by their manager and doesn't really have the experience they are selling to you. The second method I use is a mini test which aims to test the intelligence, experience and logical skills of the candidate. Below are two examples of tests I've used in the past. Feel free to use them.

Mini test #1 - The 5-widget dashboard test

By far my favorite test is the 5-widget dashboard test.

Start by giving the candidate 2 or 3 pieces of paper and a pen and then say the following:

Imagine you are hired by the company and for the first 2 weeks your job is to enter this room each morning and look at a huge dashboard on the wall. Your job is to spend a few minutes in the room each morning and then to report to the CEO. You must be able to confidently tell the CEO, from a high-level, how the company is doing.

I would like you to draw the different widgets you would have in this dashboard. Here is the tough part, you can only have 5 widgets. Imagine you have access to all the information you need but your focus should be on the core operational departments in the company (marketing, sales, product, customer service, etc), let's leave the accounting to the accountants.

After saying the paragraph above I ask the candidate if he has any questions and then I give him 10 - 15 minutes to finish the test.

I ask the candidate not to focus on the design of the dashboard, but rather on the types of visuals and information he would use. I then leave the room and check in every few minutes.

If the candidate needs a few more minutes to finish the test than be generous. Once the candidate is done or 20 minutes have gone by then ask the candidate to walk you through the widgets he chose.

Ask questions about why the candidate choose the visuals and KPIs that he did.

Mini test #2 - The data set test

The next test is one I've only used twice before. I would prepare a small data set (8-by-8 table) and purposefully make mistakes like incorrect ordering of Ids and timestamps and placing blanks and nulls in columns that shouldn't have them (think gender or age).

I also try and structure the info in such a way that it is easy to guess what exactly the data represents.

I would then give the candidate the data set and ask him to write a list of everything he can gather from the data set.

A strong analyst will pick up all or at least most of the errors and be able to provide context behind the data.

A weak analyst will pick up 0% - 50% of the errors and struggle to understand what you gave him or her.

You want to be impressed by the candidate since this is basic stuff.

Take home test and presentation

If the f2f interview went smoothly and the candidate handled your mini test then you want to move him to the next phase which is the take home test.

At the end of the f2f interview you should explain the details of the take home test. Depending on your business, industry, and geography you may want to skip this step entirely or really limit the complexity of the test. One of my clients in the UK told me that no one there would spend a week working on a test.

I'm going to share the approach I took in building my team while working for my previous company. My company and I were based in Israel where the hi-tech market is very competitive. A multi-step, intensive hiring process wasn't uncommon.

The way my home test worked was as follows:

Within 24 hours of finishing the f2f interview I would email my test to the candidates.

The candidates had up to a week to finish the test. This sounds like a long time but many of the analysts I met were either traveling, had families, part time students or were still working full time and had limited time.

I also liked the idea that you had to work hard to finish the test since this helped filter out candidates that weren't willing to show me that they were willing to put in the time and energy. If a candidate took more than 10 calendar days to finish the test then I usually stopped the process with them.

The test had 2 main components. The first part had 10 open questions covering a wide range of areas related to the role and the types of projects the analyst would be expected to take on.

The second part was a data set in the form of a Excel file which the candidate would need to analyze and then use to create a dashboard in Excel.

The candidate would need to create a PowerPoint presentation with his or her answers.

Once the candidate had finished the test he or she would need to email it to me. Iwould take a look and if it wasn't a complete disaster, I would contact the candidate to ask him or her to come back to your office to present their answers.

The candidate would come for a 45 - 60 minute presentation in which he would go through his questions.

I'd make sure the candidate feels comfortable, has a glass of water and understands that he has about an hour to go through everything, including some follow up questions from me. I'd explain that at the end of the presentation the candidate would be sent on their way and he would hear back from the company in a day or two. The one exception to this is if the candidate completely bombs the presentation. I think it is fair to be straight with the candidate and give him the bad news.

I'd stop every other question and ask the candidate follow up questions. I'd make it tough to see how the candidate handled the added pressure. This would help me determine if he could handle stressful situations and control his emotions. Don't over do it but prod a bit.

I'd make sure to keep track of the time and hurry the candidate along if he was taking too long on individual questions. A tip is to not get into heated debates over individual questions, and to try and keep a positive rhythm.

Once the candidate was done and I'd asked my follow up questions I would ask the candidate for their salary expectations. I'd acknowledge their number, thank the candidate for their time and walk him to the door. If the candidate throws a number way higher than my range then I didn't start negotiating with him.

You should let both parties sleep on it and you should call up the candidate the next day and explain the predicament. You might want to consult with HR about it. If the numbers are just too out of sync then there isn't anything you can do.

Some other tips to optimize this step in the process:

  • Try and include someone else from the company in the presentation. This will give you a second opinion and help give you feedback on the process. Since this is the last step before pushing the candidate to HR and your manager you want to get it right.
  • Every now and then you will get a candidate who created an awesome presentation but is having a bad day and just does horribly in the presentation. In this situation you might want to consider cutting the presentation short and asking the candidate to come back another day. This is a judgement call and should only happen if the candidate was very impressive in the first interview and in the work he or she did in their presentation.

HR interview

The HR interview always included the candidate and an HR representative, usually the VP of HR. The goal of this interview was for HR to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the company and to try and identify any red flags.

If you've done a good job up until this point then this interview is usually a formality.

Smart candidates will use this opportunity to negotiate on certain benefits like extra days off or even on salary. You should make sure that the HR representative is aware of the candidate's salary expectations before the interview.

Make sure you sync with the HR representative after the interview to get her feedback on the candidate and to learn about any red flags, and what was negotiated.

C-level / VP interview

The last interview would take place between the candidate and my manager. In your organization this may be the CEO, one of the co-founders, or the VP of HR.

If this individual trusts you and respects your decision making then this interview is also usually a formality. By this stage the candidate has jumped through quite a few hoops so he will be more confident and knowledgeable about the company, culture, goals, and role.

Only once did I get a candidate to this stage without the candidate being hired.

Contract review & signing

If these last two interviews go well the last step is to draw up a contract and get it signed. This step is usually handled entirely by HR or the founders. Make sure that HR are on top of it and get the contract to the candidate ASAP.

When a new candidate signs it is a big win and should be celebrated. Spread the news and give HR a high-five.

Make sure you phone up the candidate to congratulate him and verify their starting date and time.

Final thoughts

Hiring a business analyst can be a very tough and frustrating process. I've gone through it 6 times and on average it took me 3 months to get someone signed. All I can say is keep your head down, be patient and stick to the process I've covered in this blog post.

Good luck and please don't hesitate to share your process with me in the comments section below, on Twitter, or via email. I'd love to hear what you'd change in my process.