The Unseen Variables: Soft Skills You'll Actually Use as a Data Analyst

How Effective Communication and Emotional Intelligence Drive Analytical Success

The Unseen Variables: Soft Skills You'll Actually Use as a Data Analyst

Hey there, young Jedi of the Data Realm! So you've mastered the SQL queries (at a minimum bookmark our introduction to SQL right now) and you can Python your way out of a CSV labyrinth. Good for you!

But hold your horses; we’re just scratching the surface. Now, let's get to the meat and potatoes of what really makes a data analyst an indispensable asset: the oft-overlooked soft skills.

Soft skills? Isn’t this the age of data? you might ask.

We get you. You wouldn’t be the first one starting their career questioning whether technical skills would be far more valuable than anything else.

But here’s the kicker: technical skills are essential to get the job done. However soft skills are essential to keeping it and building a career from them.

Let’s explore which skills we believe you should focus on, and how to go about it.

Communication: The Art of Talking Numbers

What It Entails

Let's be real: Communication is a superpower in the data world. It’s not just slapping together a few sentences to explain what you’ve found; it's translating what for non-quants seems as the mysterious language of data into English—or whatever your team speaks.

Picture this: You've unearthed some groundbreaking insights from a massive dataset, but unless you communicate this well, it might as well be a hidden treasure that nobody knows about.

And this isn't just about what comes out of your mouth.

You've got emails, Slack messages, documentation, and oh, let’s not forget, those beautifully designed visual aids (PowerPoint, yay!) that turn raw numbers into a meaningful story.

Effective communication involves all these mediums and more.

Why Does This Matter for a Junior Data Analyst?

You're not just a junior data analyst; you're a beacon of enlightenment in the confusing world of data analytics. People rely on you because they don’t have the time (or skills, or desire) to explore data on their own.

You're the Gandalf guiding your stakeholders through the Middle Earth of data. If you can’t decode the runes and tell the story they conceal, then you're not fulfilling your potential.

Moreover, as a junior analyst, you're probably eager to make your mark and rise through the ranks. Guess what? Outstanding communication is your golden ticket. When senior management and other departments understand your findings, they take you seriously. No longer are you just the "new kid"; you become a force to be reckoned with and someone they promote.

How to Get Started

Learn the Lingo
Before you can be the "universal translator," you need to know the languages involved. That means understanding not just data jargon but also the language of the business, marketing, and even finance. Think of yourself as the Rosetta Stone of the corporate world.

Active Practice
You know what they say: Practice makes perfect. Grab any chance to share your findings. Even a water-cooler chat can be an opportunity to distill complex data into an easily digestible nugget. Over time, you'll get better at hitting the sweet spot between too much information and too little.

Got no more water-cooler chats because your business has gone fully remote? Join in virtual sessions your team may have (or bring back those water-cooler moments using Kosy Office).

Visualization Tools
Words are great, but pictures are worth a thousand of them. Learning tools like Tableau or Power BI (or whatever visualization tool your organization is most comfortable with) can elevate your communication game.

Visual aids make your points clearer, and they can often reveal patterns or insights that even you didn’t notice before.

Feedback Loops
After you've communicated, it's crucial to check how well your message landed. Did Tom from Marketing get the point or is he still in the dark? Use these feedback loops to adjust your communication style.

Courses and Workshops
Don't shy away from workshops that focus on communication skills. Public speaking courses, writing workshops, and even improv can improve your ability to express yourself clearly and convincingly.

Presentation Skills: From Data to Dramatic Theater

What It Entails

When we talk about presentation skills, we're venturing beyond the realm of bullet points and text-heavy slides.

This skill isn't just about throwing together a bunch of slides; it's about crafting a compelling narrative.

And when it comes to delivering the presentation, we're talking about pacing, pauses for effect, crisp visuals, real-world analogies, and an excellent Q&A session. Yes, you heard that right, handling questions from the audience isn't an afterthought; it's part of the act.

Why Does This Matter for a Junior Data Analyst?

In the age of 280 characters and 15-second videos, attention is a rare commodity. If you can't grab it, you lose it, often within the first few seconds.

Your presentation is your audition for the role of "go-to insights person" in your company. Mess it up, and you'll be typecast as the junior who still has training wheels on. Nail it, and you're the wunderkind everyone listens to at the next team meeting.

It's not just about impressing your boss; it's about establishing your brand. Think about it; if you can make data—which let's face it, can be dry as burnt toast—into something people look forward to, you're doing something right.

How to Get Started

Master Your Tools
Don't just be a user; become a maestro. PowerPoint, Google Slides, Prezi—whatever your tool of choice, you should be able to use it like an extension of yourself. Learn shortcuts for quick navigation, discover hidden features for dynamic animations, and create templates that can be reused and customized.

Structure Your Narrative
One word: Minto.

Take inspiration from those who make a living by putting their ideas onto paper (hello, McKinsey) and communicate your findings using the Minto pyramid principles.

Situation, complication, resolution, implication. Start with the situation. Lay out the problem statement like a dark twist. Alleviate the pain by showing a way out through your resolution (what you recommend to do) backed up with data findings, and close with the implications.

Make them laugh, make them ponder, make them question—and most importantly, make them want more.

Mock Presentations are Your Dress Rehearsals
We assume you have not presented much in the past. With that in mind, we recommend you run multiple rehearsals. Practicing in front of a mirror helps, but a live audience (like a trusted colleague or a mentor) provides invaluable feedback.

Record your practice sessions and play them back. Notice your tone, your pace, and your body language. Tweak and repeat until it's a performance worth a standing ovation.

Utilize Peer Feedback and Adjust
After your mock presentations, take the time to sit down with your 'audience' and ask them point-blank what worked and what didn't. Use this feedback as constructive criticism to fine-tune your future performances.

Remember, in the data analytics world, continuous improvement isn't just for algorithms; it applies to your presentation skills too.

Learn From the Pros
Ever wondered why TED Talks are so captivating? Study them. See how the experts command the room and keep the audience engaged.

Adopt their techniques, tailor them to your style, and you'll become the TED Talker of your office.

And in case you were wondering: all this applies to virtual meetings, too.

So there you have it. Presentation skills are more than just being able to string a few slides together. It's an art form that requires dedication, practice and a good measure of charisma.

Critical Thinking: The Curious Case of the Odd Outlier

What It Entails

Alright, padawan, this isn't just about being a glass-half-empty kind of analyst.

No, critical thinking is an active investigation.

Imagine you're an archaeologist, but instead of brushing off dinosaur bones, you're digging into layers of data. It's the art and science of dissecting information, and it involves more than just asking, "Why is this metric up?" It's also about pondering, "Could this metric have been influenced by external factors? What am I not seeing?"

You're not just taking the data at face value; you're poking it with a stick, flipping it upside-down, and maybe even tossing it in a blender to see what you get.

This means challenging established assumptions ("Do we really have to target this audience?"), evaluating systemic biases ("Is our data skewed because of our sample?"), and even questioning your own preconceptions ("Am I assuming a correlation where there isn’t one?").

Why Does This Matter for a Junior Data Analyst?

As a career starter, you have a unique advantage: a fresh set of eyes. When you walk into a room, you're not yet weighed down by "the way things have always been done around here." Your fresh perspective is a hot commodity that can identify new opportunities or hidden pitfalls.

Think of critical thinking as your lightsaber; it’s what separates the Jedis from the, well, non-Jedis in the data universe.

Being able to question the status quo can help you leapfrog from being the new kid on the block to being an invaluable, go-to resource in your team.

How to Get Started

Be Skeptical
Like a true detective, don't take alibis at face value. Question everything in the data you observe. For instance, when handed data that seems too good to be true, probe it for possible inconsistencies or outliers that could throw everything off balance.

Expand Your Mind
This isn't just some New Age mumbo-jumbo; expanding your thinking can actually make you a better analyst.

Consider reading outside your field or enrolling in courses that challenge you. Philosophy, strategy games, or even complex narratives like those found in mystery novels can help you look at things from various angles. Why not start with Oblique Strategies?

Reflect and Journal
Keeping a record of your thought process can help you track your growth over time. After analyzing a dataset or solving a problem, jot down the questions that guided you and the assumptions you had to challenge. Review this over time to see how your approach evolves.

Peer Reviews
Present your analysis methods and conclusions to peers or mentors for evaluation. They can offer additional perspectives that you may not have considered, helping you refine your critical thinking skills.

Stay Curious
Actively seek to understand not just the "what," but also the "why" and the "how."

Whenever you come across new information or a different method of analysis, delve deeper. Read whitepapers, research articles, or even forum discussions to expand your knowledge base.

So are you ready to sharpen that intellect? Maybe ponder signing up for that philosophy course or a workshop on cognitive biases?

Problem-Solving: The Data Detective

What It Entails

Hold onto your magnifying glasses! Problem-solving is all about getting your hands dirty when a mystery surfaces in your data.

Imagine you're Sherlock Holmes, but instead of solving murders, you're dissecting data discrepancies and debugging code.

Watson can take the day off because you've got SQL (and Python or R) on your side.

Why Does This Matter for a Junior Data Analyst?

When you crack a case that's had everyone else stumped, you're not just fixing a problem, you're stapling your resume to everyone's brain. You’re screaming "Hey, look at me! I’m an asset!" but without the awkward self-promotion.

Being the problem-solver isn't just about finding errors; it's about showcasing your analytical prowess and solidifying your position as a valuable team member.

The more problems you solve for your stakeholders, the more indispensable you become. Pretty neat, huh?

How to Get Started

Case Studies
Throw on your detective coat and dive into the archives. Look at past projects where things didn't go as planned. How were the issues resolved? What could have been done better? Analyze to your heart's content. It's like binge-watching a crime series but with Excel sheets (harsh truth…).

Learn from Others
Don't be shy; tap into the collective wisdom of your team or the hive mind of the Internet. Sites like Stack Overflow can offer you a lifeline when you're grappling with a particularly tricky problem.

Trial and Error
Look, even Sherlock had his missteps. Sometimes, the best way to arrive at a solution is by ruling out what doesn't work.

Run multiple tests, try different approaches, and don't be afraid to scrap it and start anew.

Don’t ever settle for what you know and can do. Keep adding arrows to your quiver. Familiarize yourself with data cleaning tools, or even take a course on advanced problem-solving methods.

The more skilled you are, the more adept you'll be at finding solutions.

Peer Evaluation
Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can spot what you missed. Make it a practice to have your solutions reviewed by peers or mentors. They can even be your peers such as other analysts. They can provide valuable feedback and maybe even introduce you to new methods of problem-solving.

Ready to get your detective hat on? How about revisiting an old project to find what could have been done differently as your first case?

Collaboration: The Data Dream Team

What It Entails

Data analysis isn’t a solo sport; it's a team game. Collaboration means understanding the roles of your teammates, effective communication (yes, it's so crucial we mentioned it twice), and sometimes leading and sometimes following.

You see, in business, winning with data isn't some lonesome cowboy ride into the sunset; it's more like assembling a superhero team to save the city (or at least the quarter's KPIs).

So hang up your lone wolf hat, because it's time to get your "Avengers Assemble" on.

In this squad, everyone has a unique power—engineers make the tech magic happen, web developers craft the digital stage you perform on, and you, as the data analyst, reveal the truths hidden in the shadows. It’s like being in a band where everyone plays a different instrument but aims for the same sweet symphony.

Why Does This Matter for a Junior Data Analyst?

In the corporate arena, being a star player is cool but being a team player is legendary.

Your analyses don't just sit pretty in a PowerPoint; they ripple through marketing, sales, finance, and even product development. You're not just crunching numbers; you're shaping strategies and influencing decisions.

Learning how to collaborate effectively can turbocharge your projects and broaden your understanding of how each department functions.

As you rub elbows with experts in other fields, you'll gain new insights and perspectives, making you a more versatile and, dare we say, indispensable analyst.

Moreover, it sets the stage for your growth and advancement—leadership loves a good collaborator.

How to Get Started

If we were to start out again, here’s what we would focus on.

Learn Team Dynamics
Invest some time in understanding who's who in your (virtual) office zoo. Know your specialists from your generalists and learn what makes each department tick.

And before you start reinventing the wheel, ask your colleagues for the latest org chart of your area. Chances are there won’t be any, so you might as well go the extra mile and create one. People appreciate self-starters.

Two-Way Communication
Sure, you've got mad skills in getting your point across, but can you catch as well as you pitch? Being a good listener is as crucial as being a good talker when it comes to team synergy.

At the beginning of your career, you should probably err on the side of listening more than you speak yourself.

Embrace Feedback
Let’s face it, even LeBron misses a shot sometimes. Be open to constructive criticism. It’s like free coaching that helps you up your game.

Share the Spotlight
You did some awesome data digging? Great!

Now make sure you give credit to the engineering folks who helped maintain the data infrastructure or the market researchers who collected the initial data.

Team recognition fosters a collaborative environment.

And you know what else fosters collaboration? The “little nifty tool” we’re so proud of: PushMetrics.

Equipping decision makers with data when and how they need it (any channel, any format, anyone?) – and all that largely automated? An analyst’s dream come true. Give it a spin if you have not done so already. (shameless plug to keep our marketing folks happy)


Let’s be clear: Soft skills make your hard skills more actionable, relatable, and impactful. They amplify your technical prowess, making you a data analyst who's not just proficient but also irreplaceable (and liked).

So are you ready to take the plunge and sharpen some of these skills? Perhaps a public speaking course? Or finding a mentor?

Julian Schulte
Julian Schulte

Related Articles

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest updates from the PushMetrics team.

Thank you for subscribing.

Start sending data-driven messages today

Sign up and start using PushMetrics for free.
Or schedule a demo and discuss your use case.