Call an analytics professional what you will, but all these titles -- even the new and trendy data-scientist label -- essentially describe the same type of individual. And what makes that individual a really great analytics professional comes down to five core traits: commitment, creativity, business savvy, presentation skills, and intuition.
Without each of these characteristics, an analytics professional may be good but not one of the best, according to Bill Franks, chief analytics officer at Teradata and a faculty member of the International Institute for Analytics (IIA), a research firm focused on how to achieve analytics excellence. Franks shared his views during a recent members-only IIA Webinar, "What Makes a Great Analytics Professional?"
- Commitment: The no-brainer among the traits, commitment is easy to see and quantify when talking to job candidates, Franks said. All you have to do is listen carefully to find out if a candidate has gone the extra mile. Someone who is committed might say, "Well, I thought A and B would solve the problem, but just to be sure, I also looked at C and D."
- Creativity: "This is one of the ones that's often surprising to people who aren't familiar with analytics talent… but it's very important," he said. "Every business analytics endeavor is different. You'll have a different problem to solve for which you'll have different data, and you'll have to pull it together in a different way -- and it takes creativity to figure that out. In addition, creativity comes into play in dealing with the inevitable data problems. "What do you do when you see outliers or data with errors in it? How do you deal with that with the confidence that the end result won't be compromised?"
Creative sorts are rare among analytics candidates, Franks said. "It's one of the big limiters, with maybe 10 percent to 15 percent passing my creativity mark." To determine creativity, he asks job candidates what they'd do at that "oh no" moment when the data clearly is problematic. Somebody who isn't creative will merely detail technical steps. Somebody who possesses this trait will tell a story around the technical details.
- Business savvy: This is the "softer side of the analytics professional" and the second limiter. Franks said business savvy, which is an inherent trait, does not equal experience. It's an understanding of the business combined with the ability to focus on what's important to it. This also involves cultural awareness, especially for globally competitive companies.
To assess business savvy, he asks job candidates why they've made a particular decision, and then he looks for an explanation of business implications and practicality in the answer. "There's a red flag if the answer is just technical."
- Presentation skills: "This is huge, but it's amazing to me how many people miss the boat on this," Franks said. "You've got to be able to present results in a way that a) you get the key parts across to the business person, b) they believe and trust you, so that c) they'll take the right action."
To determine presentation skills, he suggested giving analytics professionals a test drive during the interview process. Watch them in action, and be sure to toss in off-the-wall, random questions during the presentation. This is important for gauging how they'll react when, say, an executive asks something ridiculous during a formal presentation. "You don't want to see them wince and look like the person is crazy before answering."
- Intuition: This is the hardest trait to define, Franks said. But you know people have intuition if they seem to have a knack for making the right decision, on the first shot, when presented with different options.
Analytics professionals should be evaluated on these five traits, Franks said, and you should always keep in mind that "there's a ton of art along with the science."
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